Boxer in the red corner

RetroSeries 1981



Ferrari arrived late to the mid-engine party, but it was worth the wait

WHEN the rear-engined revolution hit Formula One in 1958-59, Enzo Ferrari was famously dismissive of the British garagisti.

According to Enzo, racing cars had V12 engines mounted up front.

Phil Hill’s 1960 victory in, appropriately, the Italian GP at Monza in a Ferrari 246 would be the last ever for a front-engined car. In 1961, Hill’s engine sat behind him – and to devastating effect as he won the world championship.

Ferrari built a mid-engined V12 sports-racer, the 250LM, in 1963.

But even in 1968, in the face of Lamborghini’s game-changing Miura and Enzo’s own econo-line Dino V6, he considered a mid-mounted V12 too hardcore for customers. Ferrari’s 1968 flagship 365 GTB/4 ‘Daytona’ still led with its pistons.

But the horse had already bolted. That same year, a Pininfarina concept, the P6 Berlinetta Speciale, had pointed the way for Ferrari’s first mid-engined flagship, the 365 GT4 BB that would be shown in 1971, and enter production in 1973.

The BB (for Berlinetta Boxer) introduced a cab-forward proportion, dictated by the longitudinal mounting of a 4.4-litre flat-12 engine. At 1160kg, the car was very demanding to drive, particularly for Ferrari’s familiar clientele. Still, sales were strong at 387 units – despite the car not being sold in the US.

That changed for 1976 and the facelifted 512 BB, now with a 4.9-litre dry-sumped engine. A slightly wider body clothed a 43mm rear track increase, and gained a front spoiler, NACA ducts in the flanks, and four (rather than six) tail-lights.

The 512 was actually less powerful than the 365 (with 268kW vs 283kW) and had gained a massive 240kg, but was praised for its driveability and reliability. In 1981, the BB’s four-piece orchestra of Weber carbs gave way to Bosch K-Jetronic mechanical injection for the 512 BBi, pictured on these pages.

Power dropped yet again (to 250kW), weight increased yet again (by 99kg, to 1499) and the BBi’s 14.2-second standing 400m time had put on half a second. The 280km/h top speed was 22km/h slower. But the BBi was also the most popular, with 1007 produced before it made room for the lardy Testarossa in 1984.

What might have pleased Enzo most of all was that the Lamborghini Countach, in a 17-year run, reached only 85 percent of the 2323 sales that his BBs had racked up in just 11 years.

Fast & factual05


Lounge furniture

Los Angeles architect Holder Schubert took a leaf out of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off with his home, building the hillside living room around his ’84 512 BBi


Track mark

Ferrari’s US agent, Luigi Chinetti, was behind the wild, 350kW 512 BB LM racer, of which 25 were built. Best result was fifth at Le Mans in ’81 2 h


Time warp

In August 2014, RM Auctions sold an as-new, one-owner, US model 512 BB with just 715km on the odo for $US473,000 ($622,500)


12 for 23

The mid-engined 12-cylinder Ferrari reign lasted 23 years, until the lardy and unloved Testarossa/512M series was discontinued in 1996


Video star

BB 512’s big star turn is in the massively permed and musically rancid 1984 Sammy Hagar music video, I Can’t Drive 55

In detail

Formula for success

FLAT-12 configuration was shared with Ferrari’s then current 312B Formula One car, though the BB’s internals were closer to the Daytona’s 60-degree V12. Four cams were belt-driven, operating two valves per pot.

Five-speed gearbox was below the engine, sacrificing low centre of gravity for compactness.

Room to move

THE BB series was well-equipped, with air-conditioning, power windows and a radio – all options on the Daytona – now standard.

Mid-engined layout offered more room for the two occupants, but despite a new-fangled space-saver spare, luggage space was useless. Interior design was a nice mix of late-70s angles and classic Italian, with “lollipop” toggle switches a novel (and fragile) feature.

Boxer’s bones

AS WAS Ferrari’s habit, the BBs were built around a steel tube spaceframe with front and rear sub-frames. Panels were a mix of steel cabin, aluminium doors and lids, and fibreglass front and rear lower clips. Underneath were double-wishbone suspensions with coils. The rear featured dual dampers.

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