Revolution

Ferrari reinvented itself with the Berlinetta Boxer, the company’s first mid-engine 12-cylinder road car.

April 21, 2016
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Enzo Ferrari stubbornly resisted the mid-engine revolution that swept through Formula 1 racing in the late 1950s, and well into the 1960s he remained content to place his road cars’ V12 engines ahead of their drivers. But Lamborghini’s introduction of the exotic mid-engine Miura in 1966 instantly changed the playing field. It was clear Maranello would have to respond to the challenge from its Sant’Agata Bolognese rival.

Ferrari’s belated riposte arrived in prototype form at the 1971 Turin Auto Show. Although built on Daytona-derived underpinnings, the 365 GT/4 Berlinetta Boxer bore little resemblance to its front-engine predecessor. Underneath its stunningly sleek Pininfarina skin, the BB, like Ferrari’s contemporary F1 cars, featured a flat-12 engine in place of the traditional 60° V12. The new 4.4-liter engine, which sat atop a five-speed transaxle to centralize masses, was said to deliver 380 horsepower, good for an astonishing 188-mph top speed. The BB was the instant star of the Turin Show.

By the time the production 365 GT/4 BB arrived in 1973, however, its star wasn’t shining quite so brightly. For one thing, the Miura had been replaced by the even more outrageous Countach. For another, the first worldwide oil crisis sent gasoline prices rocketing higher and exotic-car demand plummeting. Making matters worse, the BB overpromised and underdelivered; no magazine was able to come close to Ferrari’s claimed top speed, and the car suffered from front-end lift at triple-digit speeds. Perhaps the worst news of all was that the newest Prancing Horse did not meet the emissions requirements of Ferrari’s largest customer, the United States.

The Boxer’s fundamentals were sound, however, and the arrival of the 5-liter 512 BB in 1976 changed the model’s fortunes for the better. The enlarged engine featured dry-sump lubrication and offered more torque and much-improved driveability (assisted by a friendlier dual-disc clutch and a synchronized reverse gear, the latter a Ferrari first). Longer, wider bodywork and a revised nose increased high-speed stability, while the distinctive two-tone paint scheme (as seen on page 55) became optional. Where Road & Track had encountered several issues with a 365 it tested in 1975, in 1978 it described a Federalized 512 BB as “the best all-around Sports & GT car we have ever tested.”

In 1981, with an eye on ever-tightening worldwide emissions regulations, Ferrari replaced the 512 BB’s carburetors with Bosch fuel injection. The resulting 512 BBi was cleaner (although still not exported to the U.S.) and produced more power lower in the rev range than its predecessors, making it the most user-friendly (if not the most exciting) Boxer to date, as well as the most popular. BBi production ended in 1984.

Although arguably Ferrari’s first supercar, thanks to its mid-mounted 12-cylinder engine, the Berlinetta Boxer has traditionally been overshadowed by both its predecessor, the Daytona, and its replacement, the U.S.-legal Testarossa. At the same time, there has always been a strong contingent that has lauded the BB’s historical significance, performance, and beauty. Today, with prices falling and all variants being old enough to be exempt from U.S. smog and safety requirements, the Boxer deserves a fresh look from enthusiasts who have been priced out of the recent market rise.

 

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