THOSE with a sense of nostalgia may record the passing of the beautiful front-engined 4.4-litre V12-cylinder Ferrari 365GTB/4 Daytona as a landmark in the history of high performance motoring. Between 1969 and ’73 it came to represent all the splendid open-road qualities which, somewhat romantically, have been associated with the marque ever since it began marketing big V12-engined sports cars in the early 1950s. In truth it was a magnificent machine and the writer’s memories of a long weekend spent at the wheel of a Daytona still tumble to the forefront of his mind at the slightest prompting. It’s hard to believe that it is a few months short of ten years since I drove away from Maranello Concessionaires’s distinctive premises on the Egham bypass in VES 6K, a scarlet Daytona owned by enthusiastic expatriate racing team owner Denys Dobbie — the man behind the DART racing team. At that time a new Daytona was priced at just over £10,500 in this country and, with the onset of the 1973 Arab-prompted oil crisis, their prices in the second-hand market tumbled to around £3,000. I do not dare even think what a decent example would cost today!
I am happy to report that, a decade later, Ferrari’s ultimate road car offering still stirs the same passionate enthusiasm within my veins. The 1982 Easter weekend has been spent in company with the latest Ferrari BB512i, £39,991.25 flagship of the Maranello fleet, and it left me stunned, simply stunned. Any road test of such a very high-performance machine is beset with pitfalls for the scribe to whom the task falls. It is easy to be blinded by such sheer performance into producing a goggle-eyed assessment of the product. So perhaps it is appropriate to take an early opportunity of making clear the fact that the fuel-injected Ferrari Berlinetta Boxer is not perfect. It has a gearchange which only a totally biased Ferrari enthusiast could describe as anything better than “acceptable”; its seats, whilst comfortable, are only adequate in terms of hip-hugging support; there is no room for any luggage of consequence and the penalty for incurring a flat tyre is the use of a “get-you-home” undersized spare which would probably attract disapproving glances from the local constabulary. These are valid criticisms. But, in the context of high performance motoring, they are probably not very relevant. Exaggerating them out of proportion would be like condemning the superb technological brilliance of Concorde simply because it cannot carry as many people as a Boeing 747 jumbo jet. They nonetheless remain, even if they are quite incidental to the car’s purpose in life.
Having said that, the car is a sheer, total joy to anybody who loves serious motoring. Its magnificent 180-degree, horizontally opposed 12-cylinder engine develops 340 b.h.p. at 5,700 r.p.m. with a turbine smoothness which must be absolutely unique, and not only will it rocket from standstill to 60 m.p.h. in an amazing 5.4 sec. (1.4 sec. faster than a Porsche 928S, for the record) but it will sustain this level of response right the way through its performance range up to a maximum of over 170 m.p.h. I am unable to verify this latter figure from first hand experience, but the BB512i’s behaviour at an indicated 156 m.p.h. gives me absolutely no reason to doubt its claimed ultimate capability. And, like so many other things in life, “it’s not what it does but the way that it does it”. The ride is splendid, the steering absolutely magnificent and the brakes tremendous. Finally, this Ferrari’s torque and flexibility means that it will run smoothly and without any fuss down to 18 m.p.h. in fifth gear and then surge away to the summit of its performance without a murmur or a shudder.
What’s more, the Berlinetta Boxer has a strong and unquestioned racing pedigree. By that I don’t mean that the car itself has achieved any great racing success (it hasn’t), but its development has come about as a direct by-product of the Ferran team’s whole racing approach. At the end of the 1960s the Ferrari Formula One team turned its attention to the development of the 3-litre flat-12-cylinder Grand Prix engine and, not surprisingly, this formed the basis of the Berlinetta Boxer power unit. I should add that there are not many cars propelled by road-developed derivatives of the Cosworth DFV V8 on the market at the moment!
This 12-cylinder Ferrari first appeared eleven years ago in 4.4-litre form and grew to 5-litres in 1976. It has a bore and stroke of 82 mm. x 78 mm. for a total capacity of 4,942 c.c. and its fabulous power output is matched to equally impressive torque figures of 332.7 lb./ft. at 4,200 r.p.m. The engine is mounted over, mostly ahead, of the rear axle line, rather high in the chassis in order to accommodate the five-speed gearbox which is positioned beneath the cylinder block towards the rear. From the clutch at the ruear of the engine, the drive is taken through two 90-degree turns to the gearbox and differential.
The most recent addition to this engine’s specification is the Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection which supersedes the four triple choke downdraught Weber 401F3C carburetters which had been regular wear for the Boxer since the introduction of the original 4.4-litre model. In terms of sheer performance the incorporation of injection has made little difference to the car’s appeal, but the somewhat lumpy and temperamental starting procedure from cold with the Webers has been replaced by an instant, undoubting response every time you turn the key against the starter motor. Absolutely no throttle is needed, under any circumstances we found, to coax the Boxer into life. And once it has fired up it ticks over sweetly at 1,200 r.p.m. with never a trace of stalling. No, the main benefit of fuel injection comes with reduced fuel consumption. Although the average for our test only worked out at 14.7 m.p.g., this is because we were subjecting the beast to some pretty consistent high revving. Since injection has been added, the official fuel consumption test figures note an improvement from 10.4 to 12.9 m.p.g. in the urban cycle, 21.7 to 25.0 m.p.g. at a constant 56 m.p.h. and 18.7 to 19.5 m.p.g. at a constant 75 m.p.h. That keeps the Boxer within the vague bounds of respectability, although with the price tag offering insufficient change out of £40,000 to fill the tank up anyway (26.4 Imp. gallons) the question of economy is academic!
The entire BB mechanical package is clothed within a distinctive, timeless two-seater body designed by Pininfarina and built by Scaglietti. The heart of the Boxer is a tubular steel chassis which has been built up into a semi-monocoque in the cockpit area where the upper body panels are steel. Below the obvious “grooved” waistline the panels are fibreglass. Subrames go forward and rearward from the cockpit area to provide attachment points for the front suspension / steering and the engine / rear suspension respectively. The tip-forward nose section and the beautifully sculpted rear body section, which folds upwards and backwards, supported by hydraulic struts, to reveal the splendid engine bay, are fashioned out of aluminium. The high standard of paint finish, something that has not always been a prominent Ferrari feature, and the splendidly smooth fit of every joint are particularly noticeable when one examines the BB512 closely.
Inside the passenger cabin, the trim is a practical blend of luxury and durability. The seats, trimmed in leather and cloth, are adequately comfortable although they do not offer the lateral support demanded by a car of this performance. With the driver’s seat pushed as far back as it will go, and seat back itself reclined slightly, anybody up to 6′ 2″ can be accommodated without any drama. The driving position itself is Italianate without being absurd for those with long legs: I particularly liked the position of the pedals relative to each other although it should be possible to provide a bigger rest for one’s clutch foot. Black leather trim is everywhere and a splendid Pioneer stereo system is provided for those heathens who are not satisfied with the melodious, twelve cylinder rasp emanating from the engine bay. There are deep recesses for odds and ends in the door linings and all sorts of pouches, pockets and straps adjacent to the bulkhead behind the seats to make up for the fact that passengers cannot carry more than a toothbrush with them on long journeys. In that connection, the “luggage area” beneath the nose section also carries that “get-you-home” spare wheel, its cramped location begging the question as to precisely where one stows the deflated Michelin 240/55 VR 415 TRX tyre on its magnificent Ferrari cast light alloy wheel. A relative posed this question and I wrestled with it in my mind for some while before coming up with the logical solution. If your girlfriend objects to carrying it on her lap you can drop her at the side of the road and wait for your chauffeur to collect her in your Rolls or Mercedes. Ultimately, you can always get yourself another girlfriend, but those wheel / tyre combinations will cost you a great deal of money to replace!
The traditional “open gate” Ferrari gearchange is positioned on the left of the dividing console between the two footwells: the right side for Europeans, but the wrong side for the out-of-step British. It’s reasonably precise once you’re warmed-up and under way, but it does require firm and complete depression of the clutch pedal before a gear will engage properly. And there is no question about it, the clutch movement is long and pretty heavy. Add to that the fact that first gear inevitably proved a pig to engage and short drivers will find they have a difficult time. To depress the clutch and push the long-throw gear-lever into either second or fourth requires considerable effort. In fact, such is the performance of the BB512i that one begins to think that an automatic gearbox is a virtual necessity for a car of this ilk; there just doesn’t seem to be time for mundane tasks such as changing gear when you’re motoring hard with this Ferrari!
From within the glove-like cocoon of the BB512i cockpit, the driver faces the world from behind a magnificent, evocative Nardi three-spoke, leather covered steering wheel, the Ferrari badge on the boss concealing a strident sounding horn the like of which will advertise your arrival several miles in advance — a useful adjunct to a 170 m.p.h. capability! Under a hooded panel immediately ahead of the driver is a 200 m.p.h./320 k.p.h. Veglia Borletti speedometer with a matching rev.-counter which has a shaded area at 6,500 r.p.m. and a firm, thick red line at 7,000 r.p.m. Between these two large dials nestle oil pressure and water temperature gauges. Far to the left is a fuel gauge and ammeter, plus a warning light which will indicate whether or not the rear body section is correctly secured, while to the right there is a quartz clock and an oil temperature gauge.
On first acquaintance with the Boxer, the steering (non-power-assisted) seems tediously heavy. But whilst this may prove a trifle frustrating when you’re trying to park the beast. once the Boxer gets into its stride this impression is quickly dispelled. The unobtrusive and undramatic way in which the 12-cylinder engine delivers its power snakes acclimatising oneself to the car an easy and pleasurable task. With an overall length of 14′ 4″ and a width of 6 0″ this is a large two-seater machine, but forward visibility is excellent even though it’s difficult to pick up a precise reference point on the bulbous front wings. Rearward visibility is more restricted, but electrically adjustable door mirrors on either side, controlled by the driver from the central console, help in the task of watching those impressively large rear wheel arches.
The average driver can only scratch the surface of the Ferrari Boxer’s performance, of that there is little doubt in my mind. If you can keep your eyes away from that rapidly plummeting fuel gauge needle, there is an overwhelming temptation to wind up that superb engine at every available opportunity. For normal enthusiastic motoring, you can “row” the Boxer along in second and third, revelling in its shattering acceleration, responsiveness and manoeuvrability, whilst at the same time keeping more-or-less on the right side of the law. If you time things correctly and take a pride in your driving, traffic jams can become a thing of the past. The Boxer can flash past an obstruction in the proverbial winking of an eye, whilst other road users are still wondering whether or not they should try to overtake. The rack and pinion steering is superbly responsive and, for all practical purposes, the handling is absolutely neutral. Pressing hard, on a long bumpy, high speed corner. the Boxer will show a hint of understeer, but simply in terms of pressure through the steering, not a trace of lost adhesion. Anybody who actually induced a BB512i to break away through sheer hard cornering on a dry road would be either suicidal or named Villeneuve or Pironi!
Aside from the aforementioned flexibility, a tribute to the stupendous amount of torque developed, the Boxer sustains its acceleration in one long surge from rest up to the maximum reaches of its ability. Changing from fourth to fifth at a relatively modest 118 m.p.h., the shattering response continues unabated. And to accompany that high speed, the car has a firmly reassuring feel to it. The ride is smooth, although the odd pothole gives it quite a jolt, and the wind noise is no minimal as to be unnoticed in the wake of that glorious mechanical crescendo from the
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