Vintage R&T Reviews: Ferrari Berlinetta Boxer and Lamborghini Countach, And Some Additional Eye Candy

(Update: the missing last two pages of the BB review are now there)

We don’t do exotics often here at CC, but these two deserve a backwards look, given how iconic they turned out to be. Well, that applies much more to the Countach, which unlike the BB, was eventually federalized and sold in the US, and became the pin up of choice (along with Farah Fawcett) for boys of a certain age in the mid 70s. And that has to include more than a few of you. And yes, I’ll include Farah at the end, if it will entice you to make the jump. As well as some automotive equivalent (or even superior) eye candy.

Let’s do the BB first, as it’s the older of the two cars here. I’ll let the text describe the technical aspects of the first production mid-engine Ferrari (The Dino was technically not a Ferrari), which needless to say was the biggest sea change in the history of that storied brand. Front V12 engines had been the norm since the first 125S of 1947, with its tiny 1.5 L V12. The Daytona was the last of the line, in terms of the highest-performance road going Farraris, and it did valiant battle against the revolutionary mid-engine Lamborghini Miura, but the writing was on the wall.

The BB also broke ground stylistically, as was of course necessary for such a change in proportions. It, and every subsequent mid-engine Ferrari—with the sole exception of the Bertone-styled 308 GT4—have their roots and inspiration in Pininfarina’s 1965 Dino Berlinetta Speciale. The DNA in this low and svelte race-car inspired mid-engine coupe are on full display in today’s 488.

I’m getting distracted by this eye candy already, but can you blame me?  Oh, and before I forget, this very car, in original condition, was sold just last week at auction for $4.7 million. And that’s with an empty engine case and transmission. Look, but don’t try to drive. Fine art is more expensive than ever.

The next step was the 1966 365P Berlinetta Special, of which only two were built, It has a V12 in the middle, and was actually built on a racing chassis. Note the wild middle driving position, flanked by two seats somewhat to the rear.

The “Tre Posti” was a pet project of Sergio Pininfarina, and was shown at all the major auto shows in 1966 along with the new Lamborghini Miura. Enzo Ferrari felt that the 380 hp car would be “too dangerous”, and did not allow it to be developed into a production Miura-fighter. Bad call.

Even though the Daytona acquitted itself in both looks and performance, the mid-engine revolution could not be held back any longer, and Ferrari had no choice but to develop its successor in that format. It was previewed as the 1971 365 GT4 Berlinetta Boxer. Ironically, its flat 12 cylinder engine was not a genuine boxer with opposing piston crank throws 180° apart, but was a V12 with its cylinder banks widened to 180°, but opposing pistons sharing the same crank throw. But it was very beautiful, despite the minor deceit in its lyrical name. The production version wasn’t ready until 1973.

As I alluded to at the top, the BB was never federalized, but a few examples ended up in the US, one way or another. Interestingly, this example was previously owned by a Kuwait sheik before being sold to the current owner. I say that because in the winter of 1976-1976, my last in Iowa City, there was a yellow BB being driven around downtown and the campus by what appeared to be an Arab student. I was utterly blown away the first time I saw it, since I knew their status. And here was one being puttered around all winter in the horrible snow, sludge and of course salt. It was really painful to watch, with its flanks sullied by grey salty grime. I wonder if this tested one was the same one? Was the Kuwait sheik’s son at the UI that winter?

Like so many first-generation mid engine cars, the ergonomics sucked, big time. No seat-back angle adjustment. No steering wheel adjustment. No arm rests (!). Etc. But it ran like the wind, and was the fastest car ever tested by R&T. Top speed was an honest 175 mph. Lower speed acceleration numbers weren’t as impressive as might be expected, due to a recalcitrant clutch and gearbox.

But once under way, the BB picked up its skirts and scooted right along. Handling “is an enthusiast’s delight”, and the BB set a record in the slalom test. There was plenty of understeer built in, until the throttle is put to use in changing that to power oversteer. And a 5 liter version was already in the works.

On the next object of veneration. This is not a proper R&T review, but more of a driving impression, since there was no actual testing. But driving a Countach was undoubtedly a highly memorable experience, especially taking it up to 174 mph on a California freeway during the 55 mph era. The first ticket came within the first 30 minutes of the drive from LA to Phoenix, when they weren’t even trying to go fast. Doing 55 in a Countach is nigh near impossible.

Since the B&W shots don’t do it justice, let’s take a quick detour and spend a few minutes with Marcello Gandini’s (as of yet unsullied) masterpiece. He had also designed the Miura, although there’s absolutely no continuity between them, unlike the Pininfarina blood line. This is the initial production version, the LP400 from 1973.

It was a revolutionary shape, to put it mildly, when the LP500 prototype first appeared. This was really radical for 1971; totally blew me away, just as the Miura had in 1966. Sadly, only this original prototype properly shows the form that Gandini was going for, even the first production version of 1973 had have modifications to keep the V12 cool. Never mind the later fender flares and wings that came later; “spoilers” in the true sense of the word.

Needless to say, the scissors doors become iconic, and will forever be know as “Lambo doors”. Are folks still putting Lambo door kits on regular cars? Or has that enduring fad finally petered out?

Back to the article. I’ve digressed way too much, and it’s getting late, so you can read it without my Cliff Notes version.

I love that drawing at the bottom. Don’t you wish you had done that when you were a kid? Isn’t it the ultimate super car? Everything since then is just a regurgitation of the the same theme.

So which Lambo poster was up on your bedroom wall?

If you did have one of those, no doubt you also had this.