Road test - Ferrari Testarossa

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The range of Ferrari road cars has remained remarkably unchanged in recent years. With the exception of the Mondial, which arrived in 1980, all of the models available in the early eighties could be traced back to the early Seventies: the 400i was visually identical to the 365 GT4 2 + 2 of 1972, the 512 Boxer shape appeared in 1973, and even the 308 GTB, the youngster in the line-up, first reached the street in 1975. But, as if in compensation, the last two years have seen the entire Ferrari range revised to a greater or lesser extent.

Most radical, and surprising, was the reappearance of the GTO name on what was ostensibly a competition special, the longitudinallyengined twin-turbo V8, though tras competition history seems more likely to be based on prices realised at auction than on racing. That was based on a stretched 308, and the same basis has now been restyled, together with substantial mechanical modifications, to produce the 328 series. Again, the 400i has become the 412 with only minor alterations.

Against this background, the announcement of a completely new model reviving one of the great names in the marque ‘s history provoked more than passing interest. Called the Testarossa, the new car did not have the racing aspirations of the original TR, the slender spyder which carried off the World Sportscar Championship in 1958, 1960, and 1961. Both cars were 12-cylinder two-seaters, but the name can really only have nostalgic connotations, for the Eighties version was designed to replace the Boxer, and as such is a refined closed coupe with breathtaking performance and tremendous presence.

Words like ‘controversial’ inevitably have a negative connotation when referred to the styling of a car, and for all its striking, impressive, eye-catching qualities, the new Testarossa is not the visual success that its predecessor was. The Boxer’s lines, like so many of the most beautiful cars, were very clean and simple — there were no clever styling features, no unnecessary adornments, just an almost perfect proportioning which is virtually flawless from any angle. This in a way was the hurdle which Pininfarma had erected for itself when It came to the new car, for though it is essentially new, it uses the same overall packaging along with many of the same components, making it difficult to deviate from the proportions.

In fact, the profile of the two cars is remarkably similar, particularly around the area of the side windows and front wing, but what Pininfarina has done to reinforce a new identity is to emphasise the increased rear track of the Testarossa (up four inches over the Boxer) by tapering the rear sail panels in so that the rear view Is suggestive of a Group C sportscar with broad flat panels covering the rear wheels. However, this major feature trickles away to a more coachline as it runs forward to the front wing, giving a rather uncomfortable imbalance to the three-quarter view.

Be that as it may, the Testarossa is almost the only car, even amongst current production supercars, which approaches the street presence of the Lamborghini Countach, with the possible exception of the American Vector (a handsome 600 bhp brute of which only a handful have ever been made). Of course, only a small number of Testarossas has reached these shores, and Motor Sport was able to drive the first example to do so not retained by Maranello, the Ferrari importer. The car is one of several Ferraris owned and operated by HRD Racing, a London-based motor racing consultancy which not only hires out these cars, plus two Lamborghinis and a Lancia Stratos, for films aed promotional purposes, but also races two of the cars as well as undertaking other aspects such as tuition and management.

Having implied strong similarities between Boxer arid Testarossa, me now detail some mechanical differences. Unequal length wishbones are retained at all four corners, but the rear gains twin shock-absorbers as on the Porsche 959, together with the aforementioned increase in track. A criticism sometimes made of the Boxer was that when the tail started to break away it would do so very sharply indeed, and the intention in planting the wheels further apart is to reduce the load transfer between them, giving the inner more work to do and smoothing the transition to oversteer.

Under the huge engine-cover that lifts on twin gas-struts lies the other important change for the TR. Red crackle finish cam covers — the red heads that have given both cars their name-conceal new four-valve-per-cylinder heads which lift the 5-litre unit’s power by 30 bhp to 390 at 6300 rpm, with a huge torque figure of 362 lb ff at 4500 rpm. The block is relatively low, but surprisingly its breadth its easily into the Testarossa engine bay with plenty of room to get at the plugs — which ought to be a thing of the past with the electronic injection system fitted. With the Panels open the tubular steel frame can be clearly seen, and the impression is of a well put together vehicle, which has not always been true of Ferraris. Wiring and hydraulic runs are tidy, and there is plenty of space to work in. A much smaller panel in the nose lifts up to reveal a shallow luggage hold above the narrow spare tyre, neatly carpeted, with little access flaps for checking the fluids. It would probably hold a couple of soft bags, but there is room for two small suitcases within the cabin, on a padded shelf behind the seats equipped with luggage straps. This makes the car a capable tourer.

Interior trim is all of leather, with thick carpet covering the broad wheel-arches which project internally, though without getting in the way, but the severe fascia looks far from luxurious. In the binnacle are speedometer, tachometer, oil pressure and water temperature, while oil temperature and the fuel gauge together with various warning lights, air-conditioning, and window switches, are relegated to the centre console beside the gear lever with its traditional round knob. The foglarnp switch is mounted in the roof panel, while there is an oddment tray by the passenger, plus a map socket behind.

It is not difficult to find a comfortable driving position behind the slim leather-clad wheel, adjustable for height, and there is just about room for the net to play over the small pedals. It takes a longish pull at the starter to start the engine, using no throttle but being ready to catch it the moment it fires, and the smoothness of it is eerie. It is very quiet, but the revs leap with the slightest twitch of the right foot, and the lever clicks positively Into first as the clutch comes up: not heavy, just silky-smooth as the big car eases forwards. Wide as the car is, it can be placed very accurately as the curve of the front wings gives a good impression of its breadth, and the solid, not quite heavy, feel of the wheel is beautifully crisp above 20 mph, the only penalty being the sharp response to holes.

In every ratio the same sweet pulling power seems to be available, effortless and finely controllable through the long-travel throttle pedal, and it is a lovely sensation to hear the gearlever click into the next slot and feel the big machine surge forward with a muted growl. From inside the car at least, little engine noise was to be heard, a disappointment in some ways, but indicative of the sort of refinement which should make long fast journeys a real pleasure.

With its relatively upright seating position and smooth long-travel controls, the performance of the Testarossa can be tapped comfortably and confidently, and the level of that ability in all areas is very high indeed. It is only coasting at 40 mph, corning awake at 70, and alive at 100, absolutely stable both laterally and vertically, but instantly ready to change direction or velocity either way—and there is another 35 mph to come in fourth, and a final figure of 180 to aim for in the right circumstances. Michelin TRX rubber is the regular fitment on Ferrari cars, and the ultra low 45% profile on the Testarossa’s 240 and 280 width front and rears give a vacuum-like grip that really needs a closed circuit to stretch them and the suspension to any extent. Pushing into a series of alternating bends, the car balances itself very quickly after the initial understeer phase even with light throttle, and more power simply makes it squat and leap forward on the desired line.

There appears lobe generous travel in the suspension, as the chassis remains undisturbed over large road deflections, and the spring rates would seem to be tuned towards the comfortable rather than competition — the ride is surprisingly gentle. though in no sense soft. Tyre noise is present over cats-eyes and the like, inevitably, but less acceptable is the slightly wandery feel under light braking over irregularities. Perhaps this is to do with the anti-dive geometry, as it is not apparent under heavy braking. Pressing the brake pedal produces a two-stage effect — gentle retardation changes to strong with only a small increase in pressure, but the feel of the system is good.

The seats look rather flat, but do resist the sideways pull In faster bends, and all-round vision is good, even over the shoulder, where the sail panels are relieved by glass behind the door line. The striking projecting mirror offers a broad unobstructed view behind, but can get in the way at roundabouts and junctions, being just at eye-level, and while the instruments are easily visible, I found the mock-digital digits on the otherwise traditional round dials less legible than they should be. Being arranged for left-hand drive, the gear lever was a little far away, but otherwise the driver finds everything to hand, including the fall-away handbrake beside the seat.

Practicality is perhaps not high on the list of criteria on which to budge such goal but it is particularly impressive tolled luggage space and a tractable fuss-free engine combined with such blistering performance and overall ability. Instant response to any demand for acceleration, no hesitation whatsoever about pitching in to any bend you approach, all this is part of its excellent road manners. The car can reel in and spit out ordinary traffic in a glorious headlong rush without itself feeling rushed -there always seems to be time to react to the next traffic situation, or to adjust any manoeuvre even in the middle of it. Perhaps this sort of car lacks that certain urgency which some high-performance cars, particularly competition-derived road cars, exude, for while the big red Ferrari is as willing as one could wish to sprint ahead, it is equally happy relaxing in a traffic stream where no overtaking is possible even for a car like this. There are cars which, without being intractable, are only fun when pressing on hard, which imparts its own degree of excitement to the driver trying to keep it on the boil.

But a criticism of a car’s competence is no criticism at all. The Testarossa provides something that cannot be measured as value for money. It appears well-built and nicely finished. it looks stunning, and generates attention like Joan Collins. But what in the end will most delight the owner are its dynamic ability and that glorious engine. The satisfaction from these cannot really be priced. G.C.