Ferrari 512 BBi Berlinetta Boxer

Enzo Ferrari wasn’t blind to the success of the Dino, or to the market’s yearning for a midengine 12-cylinder Ferrari. When finally he decided to make one, however, he surprised most everyone by using a “flat-12” engine rather than a V-12.

The 1975 Ferrari 365 GT4/BB.
The 1975 Ferrari 365 GT4/BB's top half was painted differently from the bottom half.
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The engine design was dubbed a “boxer” because the pistons were opposed parallel to one another and moved like a boxer throwing jabs. Ferrari had used the flat-12 configuration for years. It appeared first in its Formula 1 cars in 1964 and ‘65, then in 1969’s undefeated hillclimb champion, the Ferrari 212 E Montagna. Ferrari’s 1970 and ‘71 F1 machines also were flat-12 powered.

“I very much liked the Boxer engine because of its space architecture,” Sergio Pininfarina said. “For years I had to fight with a high engine and a large radiator because the engine’s height automatically (dictated) the radiator’s height ... The boxer engine was lower, making everything easier.”

This was the world’s first roadgoing flat-12 engine. But the fact that it displaced the same 4.4-liters as the Daytona’s V-12 allowed Ferrari to use components already in production, including pistons and connecting rods. This Ferrari engine was also the first in any high-performance sports car with camshafts driven by belts rather than by chains. That made it quieter, less costly to build, and easier to service. The transmission was offset to the left, with the gearbox located ahead of the final drive to provide room for the engine oil sump.

The flat-12 engine of the Ferrari 365 GT4/BB.
The flat-12 engine of the Ferrari 365 GT4/BB.

The chassis was a semimonocoque design around the cabin, with tubular subframes front and rear. Suspension was independent all-around.

Pininfarina used 1968’s P6 racing prototype as the design’s starting point. Making the Ferrari 365 GT4/BB’s lower portions a different color from the top was a styling touch from the designer’s 1956’s Superfast I showcar. “The idea was to ‘cut’ the car in two to make it look slender,” Pininfarina explained.

The prototype Boxer made its debut at the Turin Auto Show in 1971, its top speed listed at a heady 188 mph. But it would be two years before it entered production. And the world that greeted Ferrari’s fastest car was far different from the one that worshipped the Daytona. The oil crisis, political strife, crippling strikes, and material shortages affected the Boxer’s build quality and production process.

That may very well have affected its performance, and any performance deficit was a damage to its reputation. For while every magazine met or exceeded the Daytona’s 174-mph claimed top speed, none got close to the Boxer’s quoted maximum. For example, in its June 1975 road test, Road & Track called the Boxer “the fastest road car we’ve ever tested.” But the 175 mph it recorded was well short of 188.

Worse, acceleration times were disappointing; R&T needed 7.2 seconds to hit 60, some 2 seconds off factory figures. A slipping clutch and a transmission that frequently remained in neutral when upshifting at redline certainly didn’t help. And at speeds above 130, the front became light on undulating roads.

Other magazines encountered similar problems, but when a 365 BB was right, it was really right. Mel Nichols clocked 0-60 in 5.4 seconds and 0-100 in 11.3 in a CAR road test that lauded the Ferrari effusively.

Refinement issues were addressed in 1976, with introduction of the Ferrari 512 BB. The new name signified the engine's 5.0-liters and 12 cylinders. Rear track increased 1.7 inches, and the body was 2 inches wider and 1.5 inches longer. The front end had a small chin spoiler, and NACA ducts helped rear brake cooling.

The 1983 Ferrari 512 BBi.
The 1983 Ferrari 512 BBi was more refined than the 365 BB.

Road & Track tested a federalized Ferrari 512 in March 1978. Sixty now took 5.5 seconds and 100 took 13.2. Though the editors didn't record its actual maximum speed, they marveled at its ability to keep accelerating, easily running it beyond 150 mph. "The 512 (is) the best all-around sports & GT car we have ever tested,” they concluded.

At 1981’s Frankfurt Show, Ferrari introduced the most refined version of the series, the fuel-injected Ferrari 512 BBi. This would prove the most-popular of the BBs. The Ferrari 512 BBi looked almost identical to its predecessor, save minor exterior details such as badging, but its flat-12 featured Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection instead of multiple carburetors and used a Digiplex ignition system.

The close of Boxer production in 1984 represented yet another milestone in Ferrari history. “It was something special,” said coachbuilder Sergio Scaglietti, whose firm made the bodies. “It was the last car where we made everything by hand.”

Learn about these other great Ferrari Road Cars:

166 MM
250 GT SWB
365 CaliforniaTestarossa
212 Inter
400 Superamerica
365 GT 2+2
340 America
250 GTE
365 GTB/4 Daytona
375 America
250 GT/L Lusso
365 GTC/4
456 GT
375 MM
330 GT 2+2
512 BBi
250 Europa GT
500 Superfast
250 GT Boano
275 GTB/4
308 GT4
550 and 575
410 Superamerica
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308 and 328
360 and F430
250 GT Coupe
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250 GT Spyder California
330 GTC
288 GTO
612 Scaglietti

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