|Ferrari F512 M|
Flat 12, mid mounted
With the 365 GT4 BB introduced in 1973, Ferrari first used a mid-mounted engine in their top-of-the-line GT model. The 'BB' differed in all but its displacement from its predecessor, the 365 GTB/4 'Daytona'. Motor racing had proven in the preceding decade that mounting the engine behind the driver was an improvement over mounting it in front. In 1973 Ferrari followed this trend first set by Lamborghini's Miura in 1966.
Not only the location of 'BB's' engine differed from that of the 'Daytona', but also the configuration. Following the racing engines style, the 12 cylinder unit had a 180 degree V-angle, (flat, but not a 'boxer'). The biggest advantage of a flat engine is a lower centre of gravity, which improves handling. Ferrari however mounted the engine in the 'BB' on top of the gearbox to keep the wheelbase short, which unfortunately raised the centre of gravity height of the entire car.
In keeping Ferrari tradition, a steel tubular frame was used to mount the 4.4 liter engine and attach the all-round independent suspension. Pininfarina was responsible for a stunning body design, which combined the then popular 'wedge' with the round lines Pininfarina penned for so many Ferrari's before. One of the stylish body details were the six round tail lights combined with six exhaust pipes.
The reason why the 365 GT4 BB is not a very well known Ferrari, despite its historical importance, is its early retirement. To keep with Lamborghini's mid-engined supercar, the Countach, Ferrari introduced the 512 BB in 1976. The traditional policy of naming a car after its engine's unitary displacement was abandoned and replaced by a number indicating overall displacement and the number of cylinders. In the case of the 512 it was 5 liter and 12 cylinders.
Compared to the 365 GT4 BB, the biggest change was an increase in displacement to 5 liters. On the outside few things changed, except for the six taillights and exhaust pipes being replaced by four of each. In 1981 the six Weber Carburetors were replaced by a Fuel Injection system which proved to be more fuel efficient and more environmentally friendly, but a few horses were lost in the process.
Some customers constructed racing versions of the 365 GT4 BB and 512 BB, with some assistance from the factory for the 512's. Pininfarina designed a completely new 'silhouette' bodywork for the 512 BB LM, of which just the glasshouse was similar to that of the road car. The awkward engine position on top of the gearbox did not give the 512 BB LM the best handling and the mid-engined racers were rarely successful.
At the 1984 Paris Motorshow a legendary name was reintroduced in the Ferrari line-up; 'Testarossa'. It was first used as 'TR' almost thirty years earlier for Ferrari's four and twelve cylinder engined sports-prototype racers. Italian for 'red head', Testarossa referred to the bright red cylinder heads used on the engines. The most famous of these was the multiple 24 Hours of Le Mans winning 250 TR.
Technically the Testarossa was almost identical to the 512 BBi it replaced, but on the outside the two were quite different. Functionality was the entire reason why the Testarossa looked so different. The single rear mounted radiator used in the two 'BB' models was replaced by one on either side of the engine. The engine alone was already quite substantial in width, but with a radiator on either side, the complete package needed a two meter wide rear body to house it properly.
To accommodate this larger posterior, Pininfarina designed a completely new body. Gone was the sharp wedge-shaped nose and in came a rounder front fascia. The Testarossa's most characteristic exterior features were the radiator intakes which consisted of a set of five louvers on each door. This novelty was later incorporated in many other mid-engined supercars. The front mounted oil cooler was fed air through a small hole in the lip under the left headlight.
Another feature typical for early Testarossas was the single wing mirror mounted on the A-pillar. When revised traffic rules recalled for a second mirror, the position of the driver's side mirror was relocated to the more common position at the bottom of the A-pillar. Very little changed through the Testarossa's production life, which lasted until 1991.
The first real evolution of the Testarossa came in 1991 when the 512 TR was unveiled. The full Testarossa name was abandoned in favour of TR. Subtle changes were made to the exterior, including a new color coded front lip with two intakes. A final version was launched in 1994 in the form of the F512M. The M was for Modificato, Italian for modified. The most notable change was the replacement of the pop-up headlights with standard body-molded fixed units to save weight. The engine's horsepower rating grew from 390 bhp to 428 in 1991 and subsequently to 440 in 1994.
For the first time in Ferrari's history, customers weren't interested in converting the company's most exclusive Grand Tourer for track-use. The unconventional engine layout resulted in poor handling and made maintenance of the gearbox difficult. The availability of the 288 GTO and the F40 were more suited for track use, and therefore satisfied that interest.
The end of the line
The basic chassis and engine design of 1973 served for three decades, making it one of the longest running production Ferrari series ever.
Of the five versions, the Testarossa is by far the most famous. For many generations the Testarossa was the Ferrari despite its complete lack of racing heritage and the previously mentioned more exotic Ferrari models produced in the same decade.
A completely new replacement for the flat-12 engined GT was unveiled in 1997, the 550 Maranello. Like the 365 GT/4 BB's predecessor, the 'Daytona', the new GT was once again front engined. The engine itself was also more conventional with a 65 degree V-angle.
Article by Wouter Melissen, last updated on January 01, 2005
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