A Ferrari 365 GT4 BB Spices Up The Nighttime Scenery Of London’s Borough Market
Photography by Virgiliu Andone
There are certain cars that perfectly encapsulate the era of their creation. Sometimes these realizations come with the benefit of hindsight, but I think the truly definitive cars are immediately recognizable as such. As such, they become so central to how we perceive their period’s style and attitude that it can be difficult to place them in a modern context—you simply cannot imagine these machines in any other setting than the one they were born into.
The Lamborghini Countach is the poster child of the 1970s’ extreme automotive aesthetic, while the F40 explains the 1980s’ zeitgeist and the McLaren F1 the 1990s’. It’s not only supercars that have this ability, though, for in the fledgling years of the supercar—the 1960s—we are just as likely to associate the decade’s automotive excellence with machines like the Cobra or Camaro as we are the Miura.
The cars that become part of pop culture receive most of the attention, they gather the clichéd accolades from people with surface level knowledge and lukewarm “passion,” and they adorn most of the posters. It’s all understandable, if a bit repetitive, and it can have the unfortunate effect of making these genuinely amazing cars a bit dull. Dig a little bit deeper into the treasure trove of the classic car world and you will often find vehicles and stories that speak to you on a deeper level than the crowd favorites. I’m not saying that the cars I’ve mentioned are crap—they are the opposite—or that the Ferrari 365 GT4 BB is an obscurity amongst car enthusiasts, but it’s a few orders of magnitude less talked about than the typical fare.
Unlike the mega-popular, era-defining cars are ones that seem to belong to no specific context, cars that blend flavors from different trends and periods of time into intoxicatingly beautiful melanges that somehow remain coherent despite their resistance to neat categorization. To me and many other fans, a perfect example is this Ferrari. Everybody is entitled to his or her opinion, and I’m not here to try to tell you that you’re wrong for letting this car define the 1970s automotive landscape, but the original Berlinetta Boxer has always been more fluid in my mind.
To try to better understand the car, the owner and I took it to the streets around Borough Market. Even though we are in partial lockdown in London, some people still gather around this hub of activity to share a couple drinks with friends on a warm summer Friday night. It is the place to go to in London if you are after specialty foods and delicacies. As the day draws to a close and the city lights take over for the setting sun, most of the stalls are empty, and the catch of the day is already being browned in butter in some high end restaurant elsewhere, destined for some take-away delivery, given the circumstances.
The unusual serenity of the scene in this usually completely thronged area allows us to appreciate the delicate Victorian wrought iron vaults, dwarfed by the massive railway bridges criss-crossing above, that are themselves dwarfed by the towering Shard. It should not work aesthetically, this multi-layered juxtaposition. But it does. It’s actually a spectacularly cool place, a testament to the blending of time and function.
Maybe it’s the very context of the market, where different shapes and textures are expected to go well together, creating the visually rich landscape that is beautiful precisely because of the differences within, not in spite of them. Whatever it is, it seems to permeate the streets surrounding the stalls, and we are more than happy to add to this mixture of style with this exotic Italian form.
The intense red color and the spectacular proportions should make this still-fresh Italian spice an enviable addition to the inventory of the market that has everything. Under the wrought iron vaults that garnish the historic building, the car takes on the flavor of Jules Verne, evoking visions of an improbable future, particularly in the very late hours when most of the people in this city have gone to sleep and the only other humans around us are the bakers getting ready for them to wake up. This car a vessel from a distant world, a product of genius engineering and design.
Just a stone’s throw away is the primary filming location for Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, which we honored during our flyby with the six pan flute barrels of the BB’s exhaust exit. No victims of this time around though, just the rapt attention of a few night owls walking home. They all know they are looking at a Ferrari, but I would wager that none of them could name it. A couple of police cars drive by, and at a stoplight one of the onlookers asks us if we are being chased. They say it in jest I’m sure, but that’s the impact of this car. It compels outlandish thinking.
Styled by the legendary Pininfarina designer Leonardo Fioravanti, the Berlinetta Boxer is a car that Ferrari had two minds about producing. Even when it finally got the go ahead however, it was never exported to America, as il Commendatore did not see the point of owning such a car in country with a speed limit of 55mph and increasingly strict emissions requirements.
This car was a very significant step for the company, as it was the first Ferrari-badged mid-engined road car. The Dino never got those coveted prancing horse identifiers from the factory, contrary to what you’ll find on “100% original” 206s and 246s at most car meets. A bit late to the mid-engine game, not just after the Miura, but also after the Countach LP500 prototype was shown, the 365 GT4 BB designers kept their cool and did not worry themselves with trying to rush this car. Instead, it seems they had been dreaming about this machine for many years before unveiling it. And it is far from a copycat.
There is distinct racing car flavor in the BB that you don’t get in its rivals. It feels like a car that could have originated from the legendary P series of Ferrari sports prototypes. To me, it evokes the late 1960s in its general attitude, the early 1970s in its design, and the 1980s in its excessiveness. It refuses to succumb to any one definition, but with that said, it is all business. Its huge rear haunches and predator nose act as a warning before you get in. This is a serious car that isn’t concerned with catering to anybody. If you are uncertain about your abilities, just stay away.
In that sense, it’s a pretty ’60s-feeling car, right? Well, that is until you pop up the twin-lensed headlights. As soon as you do that, you are transported to the world of early-’80s 8-bit video games. Yes, there were cars with pop-ups before that time, but that decade is the first connotation. In no other car does the identity change so radically with just one switch—while the Countach’s similar headlight design is a logical extension of its straight lines, the BB’s lights stand in contrast to its curvaceous flanks. It’s just incredible how much an absurd piece of legislation resulted in the most iconic, perplexing of solutions. It was all to get around headlight height and the interdiction of having plastic covers, as illustrated prior by the 365 GTB/4 Daytona’s transformation for the US market.
In the Friday night traffic, the BB turns the streets into its own surreal stage. Everything else becomes just malleable context, specs of culture gravitating around this mad machine. Everybody looks, but few understand. This thing is still the alien it was nearly half a century ago. Don’t try to cage it as a product of a specific time, just let it entrance you like a half-shadowed beauty at the other end of a smoke-swirled bar.