Ferrari Testarossa

Few Ferrari­ ­introductions could match the polarizing effect of the Ferrari Testarossa upon its unveiling at the 1984 Paris Motor Show. A Motor Trend poll of automotive design chiefs elicited reactions from “I hate it” to “exciting, aggressive, and awesome.”

The marketplace sided with the latter. Buyers lined up for Ferrari’s 512 BBi replacement, and Testarossa-inspired bodyside strakes and outrigger mirrors soon appeared on new models from other automakers and became staples of aftermarket catalogs.

The 1990 Ferrari Testarossa.
The 1990 Ferrari Testarossa appeared on television
in "Miami Vice." See more exotic car photos.

The Testarossa was named for Ferrari’s famed sports-racing car of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Its groundbreaking styling was a response to engineering requirements and a backlash against the conservatism that blanketed Europe and Italy’s automotive manufacturers during the most of the 1970s.

For much of that tumultuous decade, automobiles were reviled as a waste of natural resources. The continent’s growing socialist and communist influences meant displays of material wealth were increasingly scorned. The goal of individual achievement at work was questioned. Terrorism became a growth industry in Italy and Germany, and the power of unions increased tremendously. Automotive design and engineering progress suffered.

That changed in Italy in the early 1980s with “The March of 40,000” when Fiat’s workforce rebelled against the unions’ clout. Organized labor’s pull slowly diminished over time, and Italy heaved a sigh of relief. With the lid off the kettle, creativity was free to boil. The result was what Sergio Pininfarina called “an exaggeration in flamboyance.”

That may have described the Testarossa’s astonishing looks. But there was engineering and wind tunnel testing behind the ebullient shape. The track, for example, was much wider at the rear than the front for stability and handling. And the straked air intakes fed radiators efficiently located at the sides rather than in the front as on the 512 BBi.

The 1990 Ferrari Testarossa, rear view.
The 1990 Ferrari Testarossa featured a larger back end
for stability.

The Testarossa was roomier, more refined, and comfortable than the 512 BBi. It retained a flat-12 engine of 4942cc, but added four-valve heads and other mechanical changes for an output of 390 horsepower on European cars, 380 for U.S.-spec versions.

The new car had particular significance for America as the first 12-cylinder Ferrari offered in the States since 1973’s Daytona. Once it hit U.S. shores, it was clearly the fastest production car available.

Motor Trend’s test example hit 60 mph in 5.29 seconds, 100 in 11.3. “Once you get beyond the way you expect its size and weight to feel,” the magazine noted, “the Testarossa is surprisingly cooperative and unintimidating to drive -- particularly in comparison to its Boxer forerunner ... It’s an all-around delight to drive, fast or slow, and is a hospitable grand tourer.”

Such friendly road manners and exposure in the trendsetting TV series Miami Vice helped the Testarossa become Ferrari’s most-popular 12-cylinder model by a wide margin, with more than 7,000 sold.

The 1995 Ferrari F512M.
The 1995 Ferrari F512M was produced for four years,
and more than 500 were sold.

Ferrari turned up the wick with the 512 TR, which was launched in 1992, appropriately enough, at the Los Angeles Auto Show. It looked much the same as the Testarossa, save larger wheels and a smaller, more-traditionally shaped grille. Powertrain modifications bumped horsepower to 428.

“Ferrari is back where it belongs, making the finest supercar in production,” Autocar declared. “This goes beyond the best engine there is, past its superb handling and massive presence and visits those places where supercars rarely venture. It’s quiet, comfortable and amazingly easy to drive ... ”

Ferrari sold almost 2300 512 TRs in under three years. Even a decade after the original design broke cover, the modern Testarossa formula showed it was good for one final version. The F512M introduced at 1994’s Paris Auto Show added its “M” for modificata. Principal areas addressed were weight, horsepower, and aesthetics.

Most obvious was the last, the M honoring the Daytona and other classic Ferrari models with exposed headlamps covered by a clear panel and a return to four circular taillights. Horsepower increased to 448, and Ferrari optimistically claimed a top speed of 196 mph. The F512M was in production until 1996, with just over 500 sold.

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
275 GTS
308 and 328
360 and F430
250 GT Coupe
Dino 246 GT
250 GT Spyder California
330 GTC
288 GTO
612 Scaglietti

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