Dream Machines

With one, you just flex the big toe of your right foot and the rev-counter needle leaps a few hundred rpm. With the other, you stab the throttle and it pulls away with the relentlessness of an electric motor, the rate at which it accelerates being the only audible key to which gear has been selected.

I'm talking about the difference between two delectable Ferraris: the former, the splendid four-cam 3.3-litre V12 275GTB/4 of 1968 vintage, the latter a current Testarossa, today's flagship of the Maranello marque's range.

The gulf between the two cars is enormous, reflecting just how the world of the specialist high-performance road car has changed philosophically over two turbulent decades. The 275GTB is every inch a racer, a front-engined joy in which the suggestion of installing a radio would be regarded as heresy. The in-car entertainment is provided by that glorious, raucous V12 scream from beneath the bonnet.

In the Testarossa you glide along in remarkably insulated, leather-trimmed luxury, with two-grand's worth of Pioneer stereo system battling away against the thump of huge rear tyres against the concrete-blocked sections of the M25.

The 275GTB/4 was one of those mouth-watering confections which helped consolidate my personal interest in fast cars back in the late 1960s. I well recall flicking through the pages of Autosport and envying Derek Bell for having one, not to mention Paddy McNally, a member of the staff who paraded around in one. True dream-machine stuff.

Happily, despite my basic enthusiasm developing a healthy coating of cynicism (thanks to 13 years of Formula One reporting!) I am happy to report that when I had my first encounter with one of these terrific machines, the reality was every bit as joyful as the dream had been.

It was to my old friend Terry Hoyle that I turned to make the dream come true. Hoyle, who made his name and reputation building some of the best rally engines in the business for Ford and Audi, is one of that large band of fanatical Ferrari enthusiasts whose whole life is lived in the shadow of the Prancing Horse. Four years ago he let us loose in his Lusso which, after seven years, he sold last year to finance the purchase of his 275GTB/4.

This dark blue example, formerly belonging to the Ferrari stable of Swiss fan Albert Obrist, was first registered on February 27, 1968. One of 27 RHD models, its chassis number (10995) suggests only six more 275GTB/4s came off the production line in its wake, before the model came to the end of its life. I won't begin to discuss what such a pristine machine is worth, but suffice it to say that it is considerably more than the £84,000 which it will cost you to acquire a current Testarossa.

The heart of it all is a light alloy 60° V12, having a bore and stroke of 77 x 58.8 mm and a capacity of 3285.7cc. In four-cam form it develops 300 bhp at 8000 rpm, equipped as it is with six twin-choke Weber 40DCN/17 carburetters, the power transmitted through a five-speed gearbox in unit with the differential.

Early 275s had the drive transmitted to this rear-mounted 'box by means of a slender shaft, but on the later four-cam cars, the shaft ran inside a rigidly fixed torque tube, preventing all manner of minor problems caused by the engine and gearbox getting slightly out of line when a lot of torque was put through the transmission. This modification also had the by-product of slightly stiffening up the chassis, although any improvement in handling as a result seemed hardly perceptible at the time.

Designed by Ferrari's favoured designer, Pininfarina, the 275 bodies were built in Modena by Scaglietti who also manufactured the chassis frames. All the steel body panels were hand-made, there being insufficient a production run to justify the making of expensive presses; the doors, bonnet and boot lid were crafted from aluminium alloy, although complete alloy bodies could also be specified at a considerable additional cost. Every one is slightly different.

Internally the GTB, whilst not exactly spartan, was not trimmed in a lavish manner. The seats are small and functional, the instrumentation purposeful and uncomplicated. Behind the seats there is a small carpeted platform which will accommodate a couple of overnight bags, but there is no more to it than that. Electrically-operated window lifts on Terry's car testify to the fact that it is one of the last of the line.

There are also tell-tale signs that this is an elderly design — although surprisingly few, all things considered. The seats are not adjustable, so it is impossible to escape from the short-leg-long-arm syndrome which has pervaded the interior design of most Italian cars for as long as I can recall. I found that a bit of a shame because, unlike some of its rivals, the 275GTB/4 has ample-sized pedals with more than sufficient free space around and between them.

Facing ahead over the bulging front wings, one's view is dominated by that wonderful, wood-rimmed three-spoke Ferrari steering wheel with the black prancing horse on the yellow horn button in the centre. The gear lever looks too far forward to be operated comfortably — something which it is not — while the handbrake is halfway to the bulkhead, hidden under the fascia, and extremely difficult to reach, particularly once you have strapped yourself in.

Slam, sorry shut, the driver's door and it is time for a dose of instant front-engined Maranello nostalgia. The engine fires up sweetly with a well-oiled rasp which sends shudders of delight down one's spine.

Just like its successor, the 365GTB Daytona, once on the move the 275GTB/4 seems to shrink around its driver until, after a few miles, you begin to feel as though you are driving something with the dimensions of a Lotus Elan. The ride is choppy at low speeds but, as with all thoroughbreds, it evens out slightly at higher speeds, and this Ferrari V12 really carries its years extremely well indeed.

Directional stability is superb, the initially notchy gearchange loosens up slightly, and you start feeling confident that the car's four-disc brake set-up will actually arrest its progress with suitable promptness should there be any sort of emergency. Then it began raining quite heavily, and the value of the 275GTB/4 began cropping up in my mind with increasing frequency. "If you bash it, you buy it," joked Terry cheerfully, although I am not totally certain he meant it as a joke.

Its low-speed flexibility beyond doubt, the 3.3-litre V12 really gets into its stride over 4000 rpm, and the surge of power carrying it onwards from 60 mph in fifth gear alone was unquestionably impressive. It is a tantalising beast which has an enormous amount to offer the skilled driver once he has become accustomed to it; by the same token, driven modestly, it is a very forgiving machine, a safe car with plenty in reserve.

At the other end of the scale, 6800 rpm in fourth amounts to 122 mph and, if you can coax your precious jewel round to 7500 rpm in fifth, as has been claimed by acknowledged Ferrariste Ian Webb, with a gearing of 22 mph per 1000 rpm, that amounts to 165 mph. Back in 1967-68 that was very quick indeed. In my book, it still is.

DSJ tells me that, when the 275GTB/4 was in its prime, it was described by many Italians in the know as poderoso which, if I have understood him correctly, means slightly bloated and portly. I suppose it did look a bit like that when lined up against the 250GTO and others of that ilk, but, if anything, it seems to have slimmed down in the mind's eye over the intervening years. I feel it blends a well-balanced profile with just enough punchy good looks to give it a classically refined, almost timeless, aura. You would not catch me climbing over it to get at a 1968 Porsche, that's for sure, Jenks!

Wing your way across 20 years — and two fuel crises — and you arrive at the flat-12 engined Testarossa. Just as everybody loved the idea of driving behind a classic V12 bred from the Le Mans winners in the 1960s, so it is equally impressive to waft down motorways in the Testarossa, secure in the knowledge that Niki Lauda's two Ferrari World Championships were won by a flat-12-cylinder engine from which the one purring away behind your left shoulder is derived.

When I say "purring away", I am talking about breezing along in fifth at about 85 mph, at which point this modern, injected 12-cylinder has not a care in the world. As I say, if it wasn't for the harsh ride, the bump steer and the low driving position, you could be relaxing in limousine lunacy. Then you change down into second — and hope you are quick enough to grab third before the electronic rev-limiter cuts in. . .

Suddenly you have 390 bhp working hard for you in one direction, that 82 x 78mm flat-12 hurling you towards the horizon amidst a glorious cacophony of sound. Not as melodious as the 275GTB/4, more a harsh flat metallic bark, but every bit as attractive to the true Ferrari buff in its own way.

The Testarossa is a spectacularly styled creation, with heavily louvred panels on its doors ducting cooling air into the engine compartment. Devout Ferrari fans say that its lines are not so well balanced as the 512BBi (the beloved Berlinetta Boxer which it supplanted in the Maranello range) but that is a purely subjective opinion. I found it breathtakingly impressive, both to look at and to drive.

Unlike the 275GTB/4, the Testarossa feels a big car. Its rack-and-pinion steering is wearisome at low speeds and, unless corners are approached with a firm and constant throttle application, it yaws onto understeer. It is not taut, forgiving and agile in the manner of a Ferrari 328, let us say.

Yet, once you have mastered the knack of manoeuvring the beast, placing more-than-usual reliance on those huge rear-view mirrors, a whole new driving technique unfolds before you. It has reasonably positioned pedals, the usual quaint Ferrari gearchange, incredible torque and remarkable flexibility. After three days with the Testarossa, I was convinced it was as easy, docile and forgiving to drive as my Sierra XR4x4. A tribute, perhaps, to its Jekyll and Hyde character.

Which one would I have? Please don't make me answer that question for fear of offending Shaun Bealey at Maranello Concessionaires or Terry Hoyle. Truth be told, I'd have them both, of course, as I still adore Ferraris with an almost childlike relish. AH