Ferrari Boxer – 20 years on

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Ferrari Berlinetta Boxer 365/512

Think of the great sports cars and one name that inevitably comes to mind is that of Ferrari. For more than forty years Ferrari has been building cars that impress not only by their performance but also by their appearance. Enthusiasts around the world have been awed as Ferrari has produced classic after classic. But Ferrari was, and still is, known first and foremost as a racing car manufacturer, and where the Ferrari competition cars led the production cars followed. In the early Sixties mid-mounted engines became de rigeur in racing, which makes the Berlinetta Boxer, the first 12-cylinder Ferrari road car to mount the engine behind the driver, an important milestone in the Ferrari lineage. But why did the Italian manufacturer go for a flat-12 engine instead of the V-12 which has become synonymous with the name Ferrari? There were a number of reasons: one was that Ferrari was running flat-12 engines in both its successful sports-racing and grand prix cars at the time, and secondly there were a number of technical advantages – the most important being that the shallowness of the engine allowed it to be mounted above the gearbox thereby reducing considerably the amount of space needed for the transmission system. In 1973 the Berlinetta Boxer went on sale with a 4.4-litre engine. Although this appeared to be a new engine, and even a new concept to some, it was really no more than a widened out and flattened Daytona engine: it had the same twin cams per cylinder configuration, the bore and stroke were the same and even the compression ratio was the same. The BB’s oversquare bore and stroke of 88.1 x 71 mm created an engine with 365cc per cylinder (hence the designation 365GT4BB) and a total capacity of 4390cc. Ferrari claimed that the new BB engine produced 380bhp at 7,700 rpm, compared to the Daytona’s 352bhp. According to the Ferrari sales brochure maximum speed attainable in each gear was 54, 80, 108, 138 and 188mph: not mentioned in the brochure was the fact that about 60mph could also be achieved in reverse – if you were brave enough! In 1978 Ferrari presented a new Boxer, the 512BB. At first glance it would seem that Ferrari replaced the 4.4-litre Boxer with the 5-litre car in order to increase the performance and keep its place as the manufacturer of the world’s Number One sports car, but further investigation reveals that increasing performance wasn’t the main effect. With alterations to the compression ratio and the camshaft timings the new 5-litre was more tractable than the 365. Some people revelled in the 365’s camminess and high rev limits, but Ferrari’s intention with the BB512 was to maintain the performance while improving the drivability. Accordingly the new car was surprisingly listed as less powerful than the 4.4, with a claimed 360bhp at 6,800 rpm, although the torque was up at 331 fr lb at 4,300 rpm. At first glance the BB512 looked the same as a 365. In fact the tail was longer and had more louvres, and the wheel arches were flared to cover wider rear tyres.

Under the skin there were many different technical features, but a major change was the switch to a dry-sump system to counteract any oil-surge problems that might be caused by the 512’s higher cornering ability. The BB512 was highly regarded at the time. John Bolster drove one and commented “… soon I was driving happily away in what is probably the fastest practical road-going car in the world. By ‘practical’ I mean that it will crawl in traffic all day without the suspicion of a misfire or the slightest rise in temperature. Meanwhile, the occupants can keep equally cool with refrigerated air-conditioning and the built-in stereo equipment is ready to while away a dreary hour.” In fact Bolster seemed to find hardly anything wrong with the BB and he summed up by saying “For sheer engineering excellence, it is supreme.” High praise indeed. Entitled “Now, The Ferrari 512 BBi” the press release for the 1981 Motorfair introduced the British motoring enthusiasts to the latest update of the BB. “The Ferrari 512BBi, flagship of the Ferrari range, now has fuel injection giving it quieter and smoother performance. This classic Pininfarina-styled body, built by Scarlietti (sic), is a pure 2-seater GT of utter luxury. Powered by its 4,942cc flat 12-cylinder engine, the new twin Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection systems enable it to smoothly surge forward to cover the standing kilometre in 25.1 secs and 0-400 metres in 14.2 secs. It produces a maximum bhp of 330bhp at 5,700rpm with a maximum 6,600rpm.” (The more eagle-eyed among you will have noticed that as the engine has got bigger the power output has got smaller, but that’s a story for another time.) Another crucial change centred around the tyres, which were now Michelin TRXs. The fitting of these lower profile tyres meant that new wheels were also needed, but more importantly, that the suspension was also modified. Not radically changed or altered, but adjusted to obtain the best performance from the new rubber. Externally the BB512i was little changed from its predecessor. The front grille was shortened slightly to reveal the previously hidden foglights, and turn indicators were incorporated into the leading edge of the front bumper. At the rear there was a new panel below the bumper which had reversing lights set into it, but that was about it. All in all the Boxer lasted eleven years and went through three evolutionary changes, but the basic concept still lives through the Testarossa and the present 512TR. With the advent of the Berlinetta Boxer Ferrari produced a car that had handling to match the power. It’s little wonder then that many owners consider the Berlinetta Boxer to be superior to its front-engined predecessors, and more exciting than the newer, and softer, Testarossa.