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The radically aggressive styling of the Ferrari Testarossa took the world by storm when unveiled at the Paris Motor Show in 1984. Few cars in history have so dramatically influenced pop culture and automotive design. Adolescent boys covered their walls with Testarossa posters, millionaires drove Testarossas as a testament to their taste, and celebrities drove Testarossas to flaunt their fame. For many, Testarossa ownership was the ultimate status symbol.
Rocketing the Testarossa from 0–60mph in under 5.2 seconds was a magnificent 4.9-liter flat twelve-cylinder engine with four valves per cylinder and double overhead camshafts — the most powerful production engine of its day. The impressive 390 horsepower (440 hp on later models) and 490 newton metres of torque peaked at relatively low rpm to deliver pleasingly smooth response at all revolutions. Such tractable power was unheard of in supercars and contributed to the Testarossa’s robust sales.
One of the Testarossa’s most distinctive features, the flamboyant side strakes, were an outgrowth of Pininfarina’s solution to problems plaguing the Ferrari Berlinetta Boxer, namely lack of luggage space and radiator-induced cabin heat. Radiators were mounted Formula-One-style on the sides of the Testarossa, instead of the front, to amply resolve both issues. Since the radiator vents were larger than allowed in some countries, strakes were stretched from the door panels to the edges of the vents to divide them into smaller, more regulation-friendly openings. The public loved them and companies imitated them on products ranging from the Pontiac Fiero to the Honda VFR superbike.
Other popular design features included large retractable headlights, a long sweeping windshield, star-patterned wheels secured by a single nut (later five nuts), vents on the engine cover, a black louvre across the extra-wide tail, and red panels on the camshaft covers that gave the Testarossa its testosteronish name that actually means “red head” in Italian. Many of its features were bold for their time and helped make the Testarossa an instant classic.
The leather interior of the Testarossa is comfortable and refined. Even large drivers can position themselves comfortably by adjusting the tiltable steering wheel and supportive, power leather seats. The ride is quiet and enjoyable with excellent all-around visibility, powerful air conditioning, large easy-to-read meters and an authentic gate shifter for the five-speed manual transmission. Driving a Testarossa requires a little more concentration than driving today’s computer-assisted supercars. But it rewards with an addictive engine roar and unparalleled exhilaration.
Handling is excellent at all speeds thanks to a 40:60 (front to rear) weight distribution that was further improved in later models, four-wheel independent suspension, highly efficient ventilated disc brakes and streamlined aerodynamics with an impressive 0.36 drag coefficient. At high speeds, air passing through the radiators out vents in the engine lid and louvre creates a powerful downforce that significantly improves stability and eliminates the need for a spoiler.
As Ferrari’s top-of-the-line model, the Testarossa was priced well beyond the reach of most enthusiasts. It cost as much as $220,000 in the US and £136,500 in the UK. Yet demand was strong throughout most of its 1984-1996 production run. Now secondhand Testarossas can be purchased for a fraction of the original price, although their value has been steadily rising in recent years.
The pristine Ferrari Testarossa in stunning Enzo racing red shown in the accompanying photo was recently purchased at a very competitive price from a used car auction in Japan, where over 150,000 secondhand vehicles go on auction every week to provide unrivaled opportunities for value.
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