Pace and Grace

We spend a day eating up the miles in three of Maranello’s big, fast, luxurious four-seaters.

January 11, 2018
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Although beloved by their owners, Ferrari’s 2+2s have never for the rest of us generated the excitement of their two-seat stablemates. That’s certainly understandable: The four-seaters lack a direct racing heritage, their designs aren’t as exotic, and they’re intended for touring rather than tearing up mountain passes and racetracks.

Nonetheless, these are pure-bred Prancing Horses and therefore deserving of attention, even though I’ll admit to owning a few (admittedly uninformed) prejudices against the breed. Today, I’m lucky enough to be presented with not one but three of these big GTs. All belong to a serious collector based on the east coast of South Africa, so I’ve travelled to Durban to meet him and get my first taste of the 400, 456M, and 612 Scaglietti.

ESSENTIALLY A LARGER-ENGINED VERSION of the 365 GT4 2+2 that was introduced in 1972, the angular 400 can easily be viewed as the least “Ferrari-like” design of its era—but look closer and you’ll see clear connections to the iconic Daytona around the mid-line, the rear overhangs, and even straight from the rear. I think it’s the least-attractive car here, but over the course of the day, and in the time since, the 400’s shape has grown on me. At least a little.

I open the hood and discover a gargantuan 4.8-liter V12 that completely fills the expansive engine bay. The convoluted piping and wiring would surely give any mechanic fits, although I’m more interested in the engine’s performance. I don’t expect fireworks, but I do wonder if the modest (in modern terms) 340 bhp will be enough to push the Ferrari along at even an honest pace.

This 400 wasn’t well cared for by its previous owners (as is, regrettably, the case with many of these cars), so parts of the interior have been reupholstered, including the door panels and seats. The front seats are by far the cushiest of any in the three Ferraris present, while the rears are, by a small margin, the least appealing. It seems ergonomics in general were not considered all that important back in the 1970s; once settled into my ideal driving position, I can’t properly see the gauges.

No matter. When I turn the key, the V12 rumbles to life, and when I lean on the accelerator I’m treated to a fruity, rough song from the four exhaust pipes that protrude from underneath the angled rear bumper. The throttle pedal has a very long travel, and once I’m cruising along I need to push it all the way to the floor to prompt the three-speed GM Turbo Hydra-Matic transmission to select a lower gear.

Once that happens, the 400 accelerates with a more-than-acceptable level of enthusiasm. I had expected a lazy response, but the V12 feels happy, and delivers its best, when I use the full rev range.

While it’s difficult to assess the 400 in light of its newer, more sophisticated siblings, this Ferrari feels much more like a fast tourer than a GT, let alone a sports car. I can imagine happily spending a fair number of hours behind the wheel covering long distances, even though the car is louder and has a less compliant ride than the others. On the other hand, the 400’s trunk is by far the largest of all three cars, able to swallow the luggage of four adults—even if those adults couldn’t happily all fit in the cockpit.

Away from the straight and narrow, the 400 feels heavy; it doesn’t inspire sporting confidence or like to be chucked into back-to-back corners. On the plus side, the brakes work better than expected, and produce less nose dive than anticipated, while the smaller-than-original steering wheel allows a more direct connection to the front wheels. The only time I miss the larger wooden original is when wrestling with the non-power steering at parking-lot speeds.

I admit I had low expectations for the 400, but I end up liking it more than predicted. It’s definitely a classic car, for better or worse, with a distinct character. I haven’t driven a 400 equipped with a manual transmission, and suspect it would be the enthusiast’s first choice, allowing for less slip in the drivetrain and more involvement for the driver.

Also from Issue 164

  • 250 GT Tour de France
  • Inside Ferrari Classiche
  • Legends: F2003-GA
  • Inaugural CentoMiglia rally
  • Ferrari in F1: Part 1
  • Market Update: Road-car prices
  • F1: Out With a Whimper
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