Hidden gem

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The 40-year-old Ferrari that could become a future classic

How do you follow a car like the Daytona? Well, if you were the engineers at Maranello in the 1970s, you tore up the rule book, created a flat-12 and for the first time mounted it in the middle of the car.

Ferrari launched the 365GT Berlinetta Boxer in 1973, at the birth of the supercar era, putting it up against the Lamborghini Miura and Countach. But it was the updated version of that car, the 512BB, that re-established the marque at the top of the supercar hierarchy.

Launched in 1976 at the Paris motor show, the new 512BB had an engine increased from 4.4 to 5.0 litres and also abandoned Ferrari’s practice of denoting a model by the capacity of an individual cylinder. Instead it adopted a new nomenclature where ‘512’ indicated five litres and 12 cylinders.

The engine layout mimicked that in Ferrari’s Formula 1 racers of the time: flat-12 cars claimed the constructors’ championship in 1975, ’76, ’77 and ’79, while the Ferrari 312T carried Niki Lauda to championship titles in 1975 and ’77 and Jody Scheckter was likewise successful in 1979.

Perhaps not surprisingly for a car with such pedigree, the 512BB was said to be the fastest road car in the world with a top speed of 188mph – a claim that at the time was seen as outlandish by many. In fact, in 1978 Autocar felt moved to put it to the test, with disappointing results.

“Try as we might,” the magazine reported, “we could persuade no more than a mean 163mph at 5975rpm from the beast, while the car’s electronic speedometer read 174mph.”

Despite its outright speed the 512BB did not make much of a name for itself on the track. Partly this was due to the fact that Ferrari, concentrating as it was on F1, didn’t operate a works sports car team for much of the 1970s, leaving entries in this arena in the hands of privateers. Another factor was the unusual engine architecture, with the flat-12 block mounted above the gearbox, giving it a high centre of gravity and a reputation for snap oversteeer. But even when the Boxer did head to the track, from 1978 with the 512BB LM, results confirmed rather than challenged Ferrari’s underwhelming record with sports cars – the car recorded a single class win at Le Mans, in 1981.

Despite, or perhaps because of this, the 512BB has never quite made it into the pantheon of Ferrari greats, being seen by some as a curio rather than a thoroughbred. But that might be about to change, according to Tom Hartley, the specialist supercar dealer who has been in the industry for 40 years.

Hartley has for sale a 1979 example that is one of only 101 right-hand-drive cars made. More unusually for a Ferrari of this vintage it has had only one owner: a London hotelier, who bought the car new before moving to Lanzarote. The 512BB went with him, remaining there until earlier this year when Hartley bought it and transported it back to the UK.

“It is very unusual to find such a low-mileage example,” says Hartley. “The car has had a complete overhaul including a complete engine rebuild by Graypaul [the renowned Ferrari restorer]. The bodywork was in very good order and it only has 21,000 miles on it.”

Hartley says that the 1979 car, which is offered for £299,950, is undervalued at the moment and predicts that its value will increase. “I see it very much in the same bracket as the Porsche Turbo. With low interest rates and any gains in value being tax-free cars of this era are increasingly popular and that is set to continue.”