I invite you to read my essay which is a nostalgic tribute to both my deceased great uncle and his iconic redhead, the Ferrari 512 TR. Writing this review has inspired a lot of bittersweet emotion just like this very vehicle might. I can remember as a young lad when he first bought it. The rush of going to visit him in Italy to go into his garage and run up to this car so I could touch it still brings butterflies to my stomach. I don't think I was alone to feel this way about the Ferrari Testarossa. With its distinctive styling it may very well rank as the most quintessential Ferrari ever built, and certainly the last one to Mr. Enzo Ferrari's specification of having 12 cylinders with the gorgeous red heads in the rear.
To properly understand this iconic and often misunderstood supercar, a prospective buyer should know very well why and the circumstances around which it was created. As the cost, maintenance and downsides of owning a Testarossa are no easy task, one has to fully reason with the time period that gave birth to it and grapple with what it is and what it is not before you can decide if you truly want one.
I have written this review in several sections to best assist the reader in proportion to their level of interest in this car. If you wish to learn more about this car so that you can more easily understand what it is and what it is not, I invite you to read my following history lesson in its entirety. It might even get you aroused
. Otherwise you can get your jollies by reading what it was like to drive this car by scrolling down to the driving impressions, leaving the following history lesson for the afficionados and conoscenti.
The Ferrari Testarossa project began in the early 1980's as Enzo Ferrari's answer to Ferruccio Lamborghini's dramatic Countach supercar. Having to compete against a more powerful Lambo sporting a bigger 12 cylinder 48 valve motor with no less than six double choke carburetors, the Ferrari 512 Berlinetta Boxer of the early 1980's was finding itself outclassed in the street, with resultant effects of its popularity on both little boys' bedroom walls and subsequent showroom sales. I should know; I not only had a poster of a red Countach up on my wall, but I also had a Trapper Keeper at school with it's 48 valve likness known as the "quattrovalvole" with the title outrageous
. Enter the even sexier, more dramatic and positively decadent red-headed Testarossa.
From the outset, all of the car was redesigned from the ground up to make men sigh as one would howl past and scream "I WANT IT!"
. Even its name was derived from an inuendo double entendre regarding its red painted cylinder heads to conjure ideas that would inspire enough lust to plunk down over a hundred grand in 1980's dollars for this thing. Indeed, Ferrari had learned its lessons well from the 512 BB. For one thing, the unloved Berlinetta Boxer had a front mounted radiator whose hoses that led to the engine compartment behind the seats would seep heat into the passenger compartment and roast the passengers with its toasty convection. The Testarossa was instead re-designed to have its radiator split into two, half on each side, with access to air thanks to the dramatic appearing strake intakes on each side. Because extra room was needed, the car was made nearly six feet
wide, making this car attain incredible girth. Thanks to this extra width, the lubrication system was designed as a dry sump
system. Instead of the traditional oil pan being installed below the motor, the gearbox was placed there while the oil reserves were placed on the side. The drawback of this system was of course that it took a long time for the motor oil to heat up and it was recommended that you let it idle for about 20 minutes after starting before you took the car for a drive.
Of course, due to weight distribution issues, the car was made to have a wider rear track than the front to help grip, which made this incredibly wide car even more daunting to drive.
To help make it more driver friendly than the ludicrously dangerous Countach, the rear suspension was also thoroughly reworked to give the driver at least some warning before the rear would want to swap ends with double struts. Most significant of all however, was the increased attention to detail and driver amenities which was a first for a supercar. Coming standard with frivolous creature comforts like adjustable leather seats, air conditioning and a radio, the Testarossa was also created to punish its driver less than any other supercar before it.
When the Testarossa was first introduced at the Paris auto show in 1984, it created a sensation in its wake. With dramatically revolutionary styling, it is no surprise the reception was quite polarizing and opinion was split pretty evenly between shock and awe. 25 years later, the car's horsepower and performance numbers have long been eclipsed by more modern and capable machines, but a good quarter century after it was introduced the most distinctive element of this car remains remains its styling. More than any other Ferrari ever made, this car will get you noticed, and how. While some may consider the styling too flamboyant, its purpose was to scream as loudly as possible that you had arrived and still remains one of the greatest reasons to recommend it. I certainly cannot think of a car more easily recognizable or that conjures quite so much attention!
Driving Impressions and Road Test
The model I had the chance to try was actually the 1991 Ferrari 512 TR, which was the updated version of the Testarossa first released in 1991. Though the Testarossa was "nicer" and more liveable than its predecessors which punished their owners, many drivers still found it highly intimidating to drive. Make no mistake, it was a cantankerous machine that made for a difficult endeavor to extract its maximum performance. The 512 TR was an improvement with slightly more forgiving suspensions, lower profile tyres and a reworked power-curve so the motor not only gave more peak power but across a greater range of revs.
I was able to drive this car mostly on the country roads of southern Emilia Romagna and northern Le Marche which are sparsely traveled and allow for some fun. However, despite having multiple opportunities to drive it and enjoy it, I was not as adept at driving performance automobiles as I am today. Driving this wide beast was incredibly intimidating, starting from getting into it. Standing six foot four in my underwear, I had to practice some kind of kama sutra contortion to get into this sexy beast. My current hair style actually dates back to when I first drove this car. You see, I would get my hair spiked up in the style that is popular for young men in Italy, but given how I was absolutely crushed and mushed like a sardine, it got flattened forward. I kind of liked that flat forward look, and it stuck. Well, that's exactly how you sat in this thing: flat, forward, and with your arms far out.
Though the interior was of reasonable quality for a 1991, it was anything but comfortable. The seats themselves grabbed you about as passionately as you would grab a provocative redhead in the heat of passion. This meant that jaunts much longer than a trip to the grocery store made for the sharp thigh and lumbar support areas to dig into you all painful like. There may be no kinkier act of contortionism than the act of driving a Testarossa, inducing shots of sciatica on both sides of your unsuspecting back. The dashboard itself was well laid out easy to read and intuitive, with all the usual sports car gauges strewn about. Though many of the stalks, turn signals, and even the black shifter ball appeared as though they came from the 1980's Fiat parts bin, they tended to fit together better than you would expect from a car of that era, particularly one made in Italy. The air conditioning and HVAC switches were suprisingly hardy and did not feel like they were going to fall off every time they were actuated by the user which was impressive for a non-German European car of the era.
There is basically very little room for anything else that I already mentioned inside the car with the exception of a passenger who will sit as cramped as you. As wide as it is, don't even expect room for a duffle bag. There is a tiny, perhaps 6 inch by two feet storage bin right behind the seats, but since the engine is centrally located, that leaves no room for any storage space whatsoever. Even popping the front hood reveals little room for much more than a sack of toiletries as the forward area is chock full with electronics and spare tire.
Despite their forbidding lack of practicality, the reason why these cars had tremendous appeal was that on the road, it was as shockingly impressive to both driver and passerby. If you're in a Testarossa (or a 512 TR as in my case), pedestrians will stare at you. People will do stupid things like cut lanes or stop paying attention to anything else in front of them just to get a good look at you. Cars in front of you like 999cc 45 horsepower Opel Corsa's will all of a sudden drive much faster when they see your menacing, six foot wide silhouette in their rearview mirror.
Given the car's terrible visiblity to the sides and rear, the total lack of power steering, and the immediate rush of power with about a millimieter of throttle, it was daunting to drive in any kind of traffic or close quarters. Given how low this car was, getting into parking garages, over speed bumps or through overhands was at best an ordeal of waiting your 120,000 dollar car to suffer bottom damage. Parallel parking or making a three point turn was all but impossible, you were better off finding somwhere to turn off and U-Turn than fighting with its stiff steering, jerky throttle and difficult clutch. Did I mention how stiff the clutch and gearbox were? Both of them required a seemingly herculean, he-man strength of a weighlifter and grew quickly tiring. Did I mention to you that it required the strength of a weightlifter to actuate the clutch and shifter? It felt like some kind of nautilus machine just to work the darn things. Starting off the car in traffic was very hard as the sheer weight of clutch engagement followed by the rush of forward movement once engaged made it all to easy to rear end the cars in front of you. It was easier to wait until you had at least three or four car lengths before you made your starts. Combining 435 horsepower with incredibly tall gears and these difficult qualities, when stuck in thick traffic the best thing to do was starting the car in 3rd or 4th gear and cruise at 30km/hr (20 miles an hour) without even giving it gas so you didn't have to bother with a lot of shifting. Just to remind you the car was as miserable as you and totally out of its element in stop and go traffic, the fans would pop on as the car could not be sufficiently cooled at low speeds.
For this reason, quick drag strip starts, fast shifts and smooth driving were nearly impossible. The long accelerations were quite long, but in between the shifts were always slow, leading to a very "herky-jerky" driving style, almost as if it was a strobelighted stop motion sequence of extreme acceleration and noise followed by long pauses punctuated by grunts of effort for shifting. You see, driven slowly, this car felt way too fast. Driven fast, this thing was so mind blowingly fast as to terrify you through the long acceleration phase of the tall gears. However, there was a catch; torquey as this 5 liter flat 12 might be, you had to wait until 3500 RPM to truly get its lusty and seemingly infinite powerband. You see, driven at part throttle at low RPM's it lunged dangerously at the rears of the unsuspecting cars in front of you like some kind of predator, but floored under 3,500 RPM's it really didn't feel that special. I remember the first time driving it I was disappointed because the 5.0 liter flat-12 felt more like a 5.0 Mustang. Torquey, yes, eager, absolutely, but nothing earth shatteringly fast as I thought it would be. OK folks, now comes the good part. As the motor went on-cam at 3500RPM, you would feel a sudden thrust in the back reminiscent of a gorilla trying to choke you. Any car enthusiast with a reasonably fast car can brag that their ride can snap their passenger's necks. Have you ever snapped your own while driving? Thankfully the seatbacks were perfectly situated to catch the back of your skull and keep it riveted there as you felt the muscles in your face deform from the G-forces of the acceleration.
It was hard to find a place with enough room for this pony to play it's trick, but once located, pounding that pedal to the metal can unleash one of the most incredible engine notes you would ever hear. Forget those sissy high pitched V-tec's with the fart cans or those hillbilly, monotone V-8's that sound like someone from down home town ate too many beans. This thing was a horizontally opposed flat 12 with 48 valves most of which were located less than two feet from your ears. You had a very nice intake roar, an exhaust thrum, and plenty of mechanical clacking all in perfect symphony like a Baritone, a Soprano and an Alto all singing as one. It truly will be a pity to deplete the world's fossil fuel supply elaving it more polluted having wasted it with Chevy Suburban SUV's blocking the left lane at 60 miles per hour. If this twelve cylinder banshee wailed in anger just one time, it would have been worth it.
Handling wise, this beast was another story. Again, when driven far beneath its capacity, it was incredibly easy to drive. The car was so low with such wide tyres and high handling limits that taking hairpin turns at 35 miles per hour was a leisurely affair. Once you got going the power steering would become more lively and you could take moderate speed turns driving at 5/10ths with just one finger on the wheel. Given its width and its twitchiness at the limit due to the mid engine design, however, exploiting it at the limit was best reserved for professional drivers on a racetrack. You see, this car was very neutral in its handling which meant that boneheaded maneuvers like giving it too much gas or suddenly braking in mid-corner would not be tolerated like your normally understeering passenger car. The Testarossa could very easily swap ends with little warning and often would give such dangerously nasty mule-kicks to riders that did not know how to finesse it. I don't think this was necessarily a (Miami) vice of the car. When you're driving at 160 miles per hour in a constant radius bend on a racetrack where this car belongs, you want to be able to squeeze on that throttle and rotate the rear end. However, when driving 8 or 9/10ths on a very tight curve in wet roads in such a wide car, such behavior could lead to unintended consequences. Most owners were then happy to leave it in 3rd gear and jostle it along making some noise and thunder while still staying well within its limits.
You see, while it's 4.8 second 0-60 time and 430 horsepower don't seem terribly impressive for today's standards, you have to remember that this car was made in 1991. As such, you were totally on your own with regards to all that mid engined, twitchy hindquartered rear wheel drive zoom. Most of today's stability controlled 500 or 600 plus horsepower wonders like the new Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano don't even require you to do much past mash the gas and turn the wheel. That's right, the new cars will pretty much drive themselves around the track, taking care of all traction control and braking for you. They are so easy to drive that hack automotive journalists can reach lap times only a few tenths of a second behind those of Ferrari test pilots, no skill or effort involved. All you need to drive one of the newer supercar beauties is a checkbook fat enough to afford the quarter million dollars they cost. This is not so with cars like the Ferrari Testarossa and its ilk. You really, really
have to know what you're doing because it would be very easy for an overly enthusiastic and under qualified driver to very quickly lose control at speeds that lend to killing yourself in a car like this. It's hard as hell to drive and hard on you as well, but it's precisely where the charm lies, for its lesser looking paper numbers belie how much more involving and entertaining it is with respect to the newer, but more anesthetic supercars that have come to replace it.
Maintenance and Expenses
OUCH! This is where a high maintenance thoroughbred like the 512 TR will pack a double whammy in the case against owning one. Since even well kept examples are not going for much more than 70,000 dollars, new twentysomething millionaires may be tempted at the low cost of entry, but should be warned that the costs of ownership will within short order add up to an amount that can buy you a brand new "ordinary" car every few years. The insurance for this car will be astronomical and this alone will easily reach the high four figures if not five figures outright.
Secondly, a Ferrari, especially one of this era, is designed for maximum performance and this was before the time when even the average family sedan could pull 0-60's in the 5 second range. The hardware necessary for such feats of grandeur was very rare for roadcars, not built for durability and astronomically expensive to replace. For example the brakes, which by the way were competitive with the best in today's market, required special pads that would literally rot if not used for more than a month or so. Therefore, if you had to garage the car for any length of time, it would lose a lot of its stopping power and you had to bring it back to the dealer to have the pads changed for a few thousand dollars. The motor also included timing belts, not chains, that needed replacement or at least recalibration every ten to fifteen thousand miles which cost many thousands of dollars. After about twenty thousand miles, the motor itself would need an overhaul which was a very labor intesive task as it would have to be removed in pieces from the rear in order to access the transmission as well. Keep in mind though that since only the dealer had access to spare parts from the factory, and realistically speaking, only there could you get any kind of maintenance or repair, you were charged accordingly. Even the most banal of trips, oil changes or maintenance tasks would cost thousands just to get in the door, parts and labor not included!
Overall there are few studies chronicalling the Testarossa's and 512TR's reliability. Though less tempermental than exotics that came before them, their electronics, transmissions, brake systems and swiveling headlights were always giving their owners chances to curse. So, unlike today's quarter million dollar dreamboats that can be driven on a daily basis for tens of thousands of miles carefree with just the occasional fluid, gasoline, oil, tyre and battery change, Testarossas truly test your resolve to own them through and through should you elect to drive yours for any significant amounts.
It must also be said that a car like this cannot skimp out on any
maintenance. While you might be totally content to let that wobbly CV joint rattle until the wheel is ready to fall off your 1991 Honda Civic, old Ferraris are powerful and demanding to drive even in perfect working order without the typical 20 year old car niggles to reduce safety and driveability. Should you decide to drive your Ferrari to its limits, you won't live long enough to realize why leaving floppy shocks or neglecting the twenty thousand dollar service interval is a bad idea as you're careening by a corner at 150 miles per hour.
I would recommend that if you still desire this car, or perhaps something like it, given how numerous, expensive and meticulous its maintenance tasks must be I would go out of my way to buy one from a dealer that specializes in this kind of car. At the very least, I would be aggressive about the previous owner having some kind of certification thereof with as a bare minumum a complete repair history with all the receipts for whatever was done to the car.
As one can readily discern, a Ferrari Testarossa 512 TR is not for everyone. Even posessing the prohibitive financial resources to own one is not enough. Most drivers, spoiled my very liveable modern designs, will find them punishing to drive, less capable and more dangerous than cars costing far less. Good examples can fetch as much as 75,000 dollars, and that buys you a lot of fast cars these days, including the much more affordable and capable Corvettes, not to mention the insane Z-06 and upcoming ZR-1. If you are in the market for a Testarossa, you'll need a lot more than the checkbook to support one, that's for sure!
You will also need a deep passion for what this car is. It's charms are quite significant as Testarossas are unique. Although you might be staring at a lot of other lesser cars' tail-lights, most onlookers will be gawking at you. Its dangers aside, you will have the thrill of driving a highly involving car whose seat of the pants feel alone more than compensates to set it apart from just about anything else on the road. On the other hand, this car's drawbacks are also significant in that it is as horrendously uncomfortable as it is ludicrously impractical.
Do remember that most Testarossas are not considered historical ferraris and as such the value will likely not appreciate, and possible continue to drop with respect to inflation for the foreseable future. Do not buy one for the purposes of speculation thinking you can flip it in a short time. The maintenance alone will nail you and more than likely you will end up selling it for the same or less than what you found it for. To be happy with your purchase, you have to be drawn by the mystique of the era that this mount so embodies, perhaps in a slightly silly adolescent way. But, if you really would like to kindle that boyish dream of yours from 20 years ago, it sure beats blowing 75 grand in Las Vegas or on drugs
If you do want to make the best use of 75,000 dollars,
1. Max out your 401!
2.Find a good investment company that has no load, low expense funds
3. Invest in index over active funds whenever possible
4. Don't try to beat, outguess or time the market, because it is smarter than anyone else, including the so called professionals.
I think the Ferrari 512 TR is an incredibly attractive car that helps fan stupendous emotions yet also requires you to swallow some strongly unattractive qualities. Though surpassed in terms of performance, its iconic styling makes it one of the most recognizable vehicles, and certainly one of the most recognizable Ferrari's ever made. Driving one, even twenty years later, makes an indelible statement stronger than just about any other car can make. If you can afford the price of entry, you have to decide if all the sex and stimulation this redhead will give you will be worth the low back pains and holes in your wallet it will provoke.
This concludes my review of the Ferrari 512 TR.
By the way, my wife is a red head, but a low maintenance red headed sweetheart. I must have really been onto something when I fell in love with the Testa Rossa as a boy!
Thanks for reading and Ciao!!!!
If you enjoyed this essay, here are more essays for you to read on dreamy high performance cars:
Mercedes SL 55 AMG
Alfa 164 Turbo
Alfa Romeo SZ
Peugeot 106 Rallye
Subaru Impreza WRX STI
Lancia Rally 037 Evoluzione I
Amount Paid (US$):
1991Model and Options:
512 TR had no separate lines, but this one was red