Curbside Classic: 1987 Ferrari Testarossa – Falling Flat (Twelve)

What do you picture in your mind when you hear or read the name Ferrari? Ever since I was young, the most outrageous Maranello machine was the Testarossa. It was on TV, in magazines, on posters in some of my school buddies’ rooms. So when I think Ferrari, I tend to visualize this. Though not in this colour, of course.

That’s not to say that I have any love for the Testarossa. Objectively, the design is not a great aesthetic feat, with that huge front overhang, those ludicrous (and highly influential) side air intakes and that venetian-blind rear end. But it did sell like crazy and many folks seemed to think it was the eighth wonder of the ‘80s, so in the collective consciousness (and my personal one) it went, warts and all.

I will confess that the rear is pretty good, especially from this Out Run point of view. Boy did I waste a fortune in quarters playing that game back in the day. Yes, that’s my Testarossa frame of reference – though I was certainly aware of it, I didn’t watch Miami Vice back then.

But back to the actual rear end design. It took a lot of guts for Pininfarina to ditch the imperative circular taillights in favour of this radical rectangular rear. Iconoclasm is not necessarily a bad thing. To my eyes, this is the best part of the whole design by a mile.

But man is the rest clunky. It doesn’t even have the Countach, the 911 or the Pantera’s excuse of having been bastardized over an extremely long production run. They did refresh it with the 1992-96 512TR (which will also have its day on CC, just you be warned), but that was a rather minor facelift. Only the front end was really affected, as well. From its launch back in late 1984, the Testarossa was deemed perfect by both its maker and the folks who could afford one.

Whoever could afford this particular one also had an unconventional taste in colours – assuming this is how it was ordered back then. That’s what attracted me to this particular car: the overwhelming majority of Testarossas were red, though some did come out in white, black, grey or yellow. I’m not sure I would have bothered writing this post had it been red. That would have been a little on the nose. And that nose is too damn big. So this one sort of blue me (and the nose) away.

Beyond the model’s looks and this one’s odd colour, the Testarossa was certainly worthy of the Ferrari name. The all-alloy 4.9 litre 48-valve so-called “boxer” 12-cyl. (actually a flattened, 180-degree V12) was a technical tour de force, for sure. With 380hp to play with (for North America and Japan, which was 10hp less than non-catalytic Euro-spec models), this big blue battleship can really move. Which is more than can be said for the Mondial.

The angular theme is carried on to the interior, as was to be expected. Somehow though, it all looks pretty good, yet quintessentially ‘80s.

The famous Ferrari shifter gate is almost buried in there, and the placement of the knobs and buttons on next to the gear lever looks a bit random – but then, where else could they have gone? A car like this needs toys and a few creature comforts, after all.

With over 7000 units made from 1984 to 1991, the Testarossa was one of Ferrari’s greatest hits, certainly for their larger cars. Add the 512TR that followed it, and over 10,000 “flat” twelves were prowling the roads by the late ‘90s. Everybody in show-biz, sports and high finance – if they didn’t put all their money up their nose – splurged on The Greatest Sports Car in the World, as the Ferrari was decreed near-unanimously by the trade press at the time.

Both because and in spite of its very real dynamic qualities, the Testarossa thus became the ultimate glitterati-mobile of the flashiest decade of the postwar era. I guess that Ferraris were always sort of meant to be that, but their relative rarity, along with the Scuderia side of the company, kept the mystique alive up to that point. The fact that they made so many of these (again, all things being relative) kind of dented the marque’s image for some, as if this 12-cyl. Italian supercar had become a sort of Benz SL with a glandular issue. This was further compounded by an epidemic of fiberglass air intakes, which were grafted to the flanks of all manner of vehicles in the ‘80s and ‘90s, as well as the many full-body kit “Fiero Testarossas” of various quality that plagued the world.

All of this was completely outside Ferrari’s control, of course, and it feels unfair to blame them or PF for the Testarossa’s success. Should they have played it like the F40 by limiting production (and driving up prices) in service of some armchair tifosi’s notion of brand identity? No. They were right to strike while the iron (or GRP) was hot and make as many of these as they could. That’s how carmakers stay afloat, isn’t it? But equally, it doesn’t mean I have to like it. Many better Ferraris models exist. They’re just harder to come by.


Related posts:


Curbside Classic: Ferrari Testarossa – The Thrill Is Gone, For Now, by PN

On The Go Outtake: 1989 Ferrari Testarossa – If Ferrari Were British This Would Be The Ferrari Ginger, by Jim Klein