A trip in a Ferrari Boxer and to Maranello

"MMM, would you like to try it ?" Just seven words spoken by former sporting and GT racing specialist Mike Salmon, but they brightened what had already been an interesting morning into an extraordinary day, for "it" was a Ferrari Berlinetta Boxer.

The Boxer is a legend built on boggling facts, a logical extension of racing practice, adapted to produce a stupendous road car. The flat-12 engine (like all current Ferrari models, except the 365 GT4, it has belt-driven overhead camshafts) displacing 4,390 c.c. and featuring such thoughtful features as transistorised ignition by Marelli and four triple-choke Weber downdraught 40 IF 3C carburetters. In this "cooking" detuned form the engine develops 380 b.h.p. In a car of this sleek shape and weighing just 2,472 lb., 380 horsepower is enough to produce performance claims such as a standing quarter-mile in 13.7 sec., a second gear worth 10 m.p.h. in excess of Britain's highest speed limit, and a maximum speed quoted as 188 m.p.h. at 7,000 r.p.m., even though the engine could safely run another 700 r.p.m. further up the scale.

Has the 200 m.p.h. road car arrived ? Well we certainly were not going to discover on the Egham Bypass! In fact colleagues report that a 5-litre derivative of the Boxer is undergoing extensive pre-production trial at the Ferrari test track, so it shouldn't be very long before that speed is available to a surprisingly large public. Large? Certainly, for in Britain alone Maranello concessionaires have sold over 50 Boxers. Since these vehicles now retail for £17,486.82, this is a performance that puts many of the expensive car makers to shame and would be rather more than some manufacturers have been known to make of mundane production machinery destined to be fiddled through the homologation process for international motor sport.

If this surprising number of Boxers gives the purchaser twinges of anxious anticipation that he might encounter them at every street corner, easing the clutch home in the first of the Boxer's five speeds (in the only ZF gearbox currently used by Ferrari) should dispel any fears. If you sit and imagine the sheer pleasure of driving a properly engineered and balanced true GT car, that retains a strong dose of individual spirit, then the Boxer fulfils those dreams.

Our demonstrator blended swiftly into the Surrey traffic, clutch, gearbox and extrovert engine producing the punchy acceleration of an American muscle car with the sheer sophistication of European chassis engineering. The figures recorded on those large red dials placed in front of the driver to transmit speed, and engine r.p.m. related astonishingly quick acceleration and speeds, which the stability of the car suppresses so efficiently that 110 m.p.h. would feel like 60 m.p.h. attained in a modern 2-litre sports model.

In this short acquaintance the 215 section Michelins, four-wheel ventilated disc brakes and limited slip differential were merely working at a tenth of what one could expect, which merely whets the appetite for a chance to live with a Boxer for a while. Most journalists who have experience in these supercars seem to plump for the Turbo Porsche, but one has to remember who Ferrari customers are. According to Maranello concessionaires they really have two kinds of buyer, those who saw the value offered in the original V6 Dino, and many of these were younger buyers: but the regular customer tends to cover under 10,000 miles a year in his Ferrari, have a 3-4 car stable for practical purposes and be over 40 years old. This writer would have to wait until the pleasure was hardly worthwhile even to acquire a Dino, but that does not alter the fact that Ferrari produce an honest car.

Recently Maranello concessionaires have been re-organising, and our interesting morning had been spent viewing the results. A new service centre and headquarters has been established at Crabtree Road, Thorpe, Surrey. The famous Tower Garage on the Egham Bypass is retained for Maranello and their latest acquisition, Weber Carburetters, the concession still under the management of Mike Walton, as it was when it belonged to Fiat GB.

These splendid Thorpe headquarters form a tremendous contrast to the early days of Maranello in this country. In 1960 Col. Ronnie Hoare returned to Britain with the Ferrari concession, which he established in a servicing bay at F. English of Bournemouth (the Ford Dealers, and Maranello's parent UK company). From these the concession progressed, after six very enthusiastic racing years, to "a hole in the wall at Chiswick" (1967) and thence to Egham. The new headquarters, actually they have been operational since January 1st, are under overall managership of former Bristol Street Motors employee David Grayson, who is in charge of 34 personnel devoted to offering every maintenance facility.

The site splits into three main areas. First there is a store-room holding approximately £150,000 of parts for use in situ, or through the 18 Ferrari distributorships that serve an estimated 2,000 examples of the marque currently residing in Britain. Secondly there is a fully equipped restoration/body repair workshop (which sub-divides into paintwork under the charge of Mick Wheatley and panel repairs under Mick Osgood). Finally, there is a superb general workshop, which on the occasion of our visit boasted a Testa Rossa just a couple of berths away from the 1972 312P sports racer and innumerable desirable road cars. Part of the main workshop includes an engine overhaul bay, where a cheerful small team of mechanics take the Maranello masterpieces apart in conditions similar to those of a large manufacturer's clinical competition department.

Both Maranello and the Boxer are worthy of enthusiasm, thought it's best not to get carried away. We have recently encountered two cut-price Ferrari owners, enthusiasts who bought examples of the marque from the 1960s, and should have checked the rust problem on their cars, which were inadequately protected by Ferrari's present-day standards.—J.W.