The Ferrari Testarossa is a mid-engine sports coupe that was unveiled to huge acclaim at the 1984 Paris Motor Show. A replacement for the popular 512 BBi, the name means "red head" and was a throwback to Ferrari's famed sports racing 250 Testa Rossa of the late 1950s, but the similarities stopped at the name. The most recognisable features of the reborn Pininfarnina-styled Testarossa were the deep horizontal strakes that ran the length of both doors, feeding air into the side-mounted radiators. The world had never seen such a car, and it polarized those who saw it.
The Ferrari Testarossa's 380 horsepower came from a mid-mounted, 4.9-litre, 48-valve, flat-12 which produced 361 ft-lb of torque — enough to propel the car to 60 mph in just over five seconds on its way to a top speed just shy of 180 mph. A five-speed gearbox put all that power to the rear wheels, and suspension was independent all around, with unequal-length upper and lower A-arms, coil springs, hydraulic shocks, and anti-roll bars. Big ventilated disc brakes completed the mechanical package.
Even at 1,656 kg the Testarossa was a nimble, forgiving machine, and the motoring press praised it for its road manners. Even today the car feels light, poised and quick, and is a very easy car to drive.
Not much changed on the Testarossa during its seven-year production. While originally fitted with only a two-stemmed driver's side outside mirror mounted half way up the A-pillar, in 1987 it was moved to the A-pillar base and a passenger mirror was added. A passive restraint system was also added that year.
Early high-mirror cars tend to demand a premium in value over their later cousins, and similarly right-hand drive models are more desirable in the UK than their imported cousins.
After more than 7,000 cars had been built, Ferrari Testarossa production concluded at the end of 1991, and the model gave way to the Ferrari 512 TR. While similar in outward appearance to the Testarossa, the 512 TR's front-end was revised and it received a slightly modified tail, both of which improved aerodynamic efficiency. Interior changes were made as well, which enhanced the car's ergonomics.
The most important changes, however, occurred under the bonnet. The engine was lowered in the car by three centimetres, which in turn lowered the centre of gravity and improved performance. Horsepower increased to 420 which cut the 0–60 mph time down to just under five seconds and bumped top speed to over 190 mph.
The Ferrari 512 TR lasted until 1994, when the Ferrari F512 M (for Modificata) entered production. It was largely the same as its predecessors, though the pop-up headlights were replaced by more traditional fixed units, twin NACA ducts were mounted on the hood to increase interior ventilation, and the squared taillights of the Testarossa were replaced with circular lights. Thanks to weight-saving measures, the F512 M is 150 pounds less than the Testarossa and power increased to 432 hp. Production of the F512 M ended in 1996.
Like the Lamborghini Countach, the Testarossa embodies the flash of the 1980s, and it became something of a cultural phenomenon, most notably as the automotive star of Miami Vice and the subject of millions of Athena posters. Today the exterior styling remains instantly recognisable, and the interior a true product of its time with orange dials and plastic switchgear reminiscent of a Fiat Uno. That said, it is still a nice place to be, and in the last few years the model experienced a real resurgence in interest. As with many previously affordable performance cars, make sure any prospective purchase has been properly maintained or properly restored, but otherwise these iconic sports cars still have very few alternatives: maybe the BMW M1, Lamborghini Countach or Lotus Esprit each offer some of what the Ferrari provides in one package.