Journal: Driven by Design: Ferrari Testarossa

Driven by Design: Ferrari Testarossa

By Yoav Gilad
February 6, 2014

(This article is part of the Driven by Design series.)

Photography by David Marvier for Petrolicious; Bottom right painting by Yoav Gilad

Before we really begin, I must confess that I dislike the Ferrari Testarossa’s form. Styling is always subjective and this is one car that is just far too exaggerated for me. I won’t use the term “cheese grater” in this article, however, and recognize that the Testarossa’s absurd cues have helped it reach its iconic status. And while I may not like the shape, it is a successful design and that is something that everybody, whether they enjoy the design or not, must respect.

The Ferrari Testarossa was the Berlinetta Boxer 512’s successor, designed to address the BB’s shortcomings. The Boxer had a central, front-mounted radiator that was plumbed through the cockpit to the mid-mounted engine, which resulted in a continuously hot cabin. When the Testarossa’s development began, Pininfarina explored options to remedy this situation, eventually deciding to split the radiator in two and move it amidships.

Not only did this lower cabin temperatures (and increase front luggage space), but it also allowed designers to experiment with the modified mid-engined proportions that it’s now so famous for. Considered in any view except pure side, the width that the side radiators necessitate communicate the Ferrari’s power very convincingly. However, it does still have a mid-engined proportion (as it should).

The gesture or theme of the car can be described in two strokes: first, the sweep of the rear fender beginning at the front bumper cut-line and second, the hood leading into the fast windshield rising over the large, open greenhouse. Perhaps most surprising is that the front overhang is so long. This was a concession to [marginally] better front luggage space (another issue owners had with the BB). The large front overhang, along with the square, flat back conspire to make the Ferrari seem large for a sports car; however, the boxer-12 (low center of gravity) and aforementioned large greenhouse are what make the Testarossa such a good car to drive.

With regard to surfacing, Ferrari didn’t break much new ground on this car. There is a clear evolution from the BB 512. But it is important to note that in pure side view, the curve that forms the top of the rear fender also communicates the Ferrari’s power as it sweeps up from the front wheel.

Details are largely sparse as was the style in the 1980s with most trim painted in body color. Perhaps the best details are the horizontal slats that span the Testrossa’s rear accentuating what is already an exceptionally wide backside. Sir-Mix-a-Lot would approve (and did, he owned a black 1987 Testarossa). In fact, the rear view is probably the Ferrari’s best angle, which is fortunate because it’s the one most people will probably see on the road.

Hopefully, you can tell that this article is winding down and yet we haven’t covered the elephant in the room, the symbol of the Testarossa’s essence: those side strakes. The original design called for the ducts to be large and open. You can imagine the designers, leaning over sketches and clay, lit cigarette in one hand, thinking, “bigger. More open, more air!” as if designing the intakes for an F-14 Tomcat. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on your perspective, the strakes were required because laws in several countries prevented such large openings.

The strakes are what helped to elevate the Testarossa to iconic status. But they also cause it to look cartoonish. As explained earlier, the car’s design is successful because it improved on its predecessor’s shortcomings and also stands on its own. It has a clear theme and communicates its purpose honestly. There is beauty in that but it also happens to look like an eighth-grader’s study hall sketch, and that, to me, is not beautiful. By the way: cheese grater. Sue me.

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Eddie Relvas
Eddie Relvas(@eddie124)
7 years ago

I never really liked the Testarossa as I like cars with a different design language, this for me is too suave to be a true Ferrari, and it is a [i]granturismo[/i] at heart. My icon of the 80’s era was another model on a completely different tone… the 288 GTO. Now that is a sublime-looking thing, not a bad curve on it! And it was born to race, not crawl boulevards… even if it never did truly make good on that racing stuff. But it’s oh-so-sexy and dripping with intent… love it!

7 years ago

Testarossa has always been one of my favourite “red”, even if I love it in different colors such as black or dark blue.
I own a special Testarossa, here you can see it 😉

Andreas Lavesson
Andreas Lavesson(@andreas)
7 years ago

I’ve always liked the look of the Testarossa. I loved it as a child, even had one on my pillowcase, and the emotions haven’t faded yet. To me, it’s one of the prettiest cars of the 80’s and probably one of the first cars that made an withstanding impression in my early childhood.

Also, and I’m not picking on you Yoav, I find it interesting that you describe the Testarossa’s styling as “far too exaggerated” while at the same time being in the market for a Countach. As I said, I’m not trying to be mean, I just find that peculiar.

Andreas Lavesson
Andreas Lavesson(@andreas)
7 years ago
Reply to  Yoav Gilad

Fair enough. Personally, I’m afraid I don’t have an artistic gene what so ever and the only thing I know about design is “I like this, but not that”. As a future engineer I’m starting to develop an eye for if a design is difficult to produce or requires an “excessive” amount of material. But that’s it and that’s also why I find these “design excursions” so fascinating.

It’s always good to get a second point of view. Who knows, I might learn something. I would personally put both the Testarossa and Countach in the over-the-top-category, but that’s also why I like them so much. Maybe I should start thinking about why I categorize like I do and why I like a particular design…

JanMichael Franklin
JanMichael Franklin(@jmfranklin)
7 years ago

I remember the first time I ever saw a Testarossa. I was on my way to Santa Cruz and I saw one on the winding highway on the way in. Pictures do not do justice to just how low and wide these cars are. Cool, even if not your cup of tea.

7 years ago

I think you forgot to mention, that the very first year of the Testarossa had one of the best looking side mirror (just one, on the driver’s side, if I remember correctly).
By the way, Testarossa was my second Ferrari experience (drive, not own), and I didn’t think it handled good at all. As a matter of fact, it didn’t really handle, mostly because low-center of gravity my arse, they put the heavy engine on top of the transmission. My third Ferrari experience was 348. That car really ruined my Ferrari fantasy.

7 years ago
Reply to  JB21

You know what, I’d forgive all its shortcomings and the temptation to go for the 512TR just to have that mirror.

Anne Kromhout
Anne Kromhout(@fb_530191805)
7 years ago

I really love what you guys are doing but…

…higher. res. pictures.

Stephen Stuart
Stephen Stuart(@stephenacworth)
7 years ago

The Boxer was (is) a more beautiful car…

Future Doc
Future Doc(@futuredoc)
7 years ago

I always had an irrational love for the Testarossa… despite not being a Ferrari fan. It had always been the top of my list… including other Ferraris from the 80s. I would rather have the Testarossa. I said it was an irrational love.

Matthew Lange
Matthew Lange(@365daytonafan)
7 years ago

Over the years my liking for the Testarossa shape has ebbed and flowed. When my Dad brought one new in 1985 my 12 year old self thought it looked fantastic. When my Dad sold it a few years later my 18 year old self thought it looked very dated especially the 16″ wheels that looked small as 17″ had become the norm for performance cars. The 18″ shod 512TR worked a lot better except Pininfarina also reprofiled the rear buttresses that makes it look slightly heavier in profile. As for the final F512M I’m in the minority in liking the alloy wheels but the Perspex covered lights look awful.
All of the Testarossa variants are IMO very colour dependent unlike the previous Boxer and look best in metallics. Ferrari also encountered a packaging issue with the flat 12 and ended up having to fit the gearbox under the engine raising the COG. Ferrari partially fixed this with a revised chassis on the 512TR lowering the engine by about an inch. For that reason that would be my pick of the Testarossas.

Jeff Leon
Jeff Leon(@jeffries)
7 years ago

You picked a great set of shots to sell us! Dented and sprayed! Thanks Yoav! 😉

Nothing can compare to its proportion, theme and detail –the Testarossa commands attention.

This car is subtle and vulgar at the same time. I cannot think of another car that does this and is successful. The strakes are in your face but the surface work is pure. The exhaust valance is a hammered mess but I am happy that is all of the bad body work this car has. Other Italian cars don’t fare as well as the Testarossa’s panels.

The details are detailed. The Testarossa is precise throughout. Every trim piece is art. An example are the slates on the rear end and bonnet. Those are all anodized aluminum.

I’m a fan of the early years. I love the Italian way of problem solving. When regulation says the side mirror vision must not be blocked by the body… they mount it up high and that made a legend. I also love their “clever” way of notching the hood to clear the wiper. Everything about this car is extreme –but from both ends.

As far as themes go the other poster icon, the Countach, has an original theme, but once you start approaching the car it falls apart (literally too :D). The graphics aren’t interacting and the form is crude. The fit and finish is also of the same level.

Comparing this to the Boxer isn’t fair for the Boxer. That car carries the same form and theme of the 308. Nothing original and nothing luring about it. But it had a great motor that would be fixed for the Testarossaa. The BB wasn’t a global car. The Testarossa was. It was a huge success for Ferrari.

The Testarossa is an icon.

Jeff Leon
Jeff Leon(@jeffries)
7 years ago
Reply to  Yoav Gilad

I did. But I did it just for you. 😀

Peppino Muraca
Peppino Muraca(@fb_35301315)
7 years ago

[code type=”xml”][/code]
this is a Koeing testarossa where they would remove the strakes.

7 years ago

Interesting bit about the designers and the side strakes due to regulations. You’ve got me wondering now what a testarossa would look like without those strakes on it (probably pretty cool). Also, in looking at the BB 512 before it, I agree that the BB is a much prettier car, especially from a profile view.

Dustin Rittle
Dustin Rittle(@mosler)
7 years ago

I was never a big fan of the Ferrari Testarossa. On my list of fave Ferrari it was near the bottom of the list but after reading this article I’m starting to change my mind about it. Im really diggin’ the flat 12 engine for the exhaust sound and for just being a little different then the usual V-12 Ferrari. Now when it comes to the design of this Ferrari i do like the wide stance at the back of the car as well as the side strakes that flow back to the rear mounted side radiators. I guess some cars are worth giving a second look at. thanks for a great article Petrolicious!