Spending An Afternoon With The Last Flat-Twelve Ferrari, The F512 M
Photography by Marco Annunziata
A true product of its time, the car that launched a thousand body kits, the Ferrari Testarossa is one of the most well-known supercars ever built. Added to the public consciousness in the mid 1980s, the Testarossa enjoyed a very long production run during a period of time when the fruits of capitalism were fully flaunted. Before it was replaced over a decade after its inception, the mid-engine flat-twelve Ferrari was treated to two significant updates, first as the 512 TR, and finally as the F512 M, the rarest of the lot. About 10,000 of the famous side-strake supercars were built between 1984 and 1996, but only 501 of these were Ms.
The final form of what started out as the Testarossa ten years prior was revealed in the autumn of 1994, featuring a revised and more powerful version of the 4.9L flat-twelve, along with a series of visual changes to make the 1980s design keep up with the new look of the ’90s. Produced for only a short time (1994 to 1996), the F512 M is one of the rarest “modern” production Ferraris, and one of the brand’s more polarizing designs.
The original Pininfarina lines were mostly retained over the course of the Testarossa’s progression into the F512 M, but the once-straight-line-dominated machine was softened and updated around the edges for its final iteration—namely with some rounded bodywork, a more comfort-oriented interior, a softer wheel design, and most noticeably, the absence of the original pop-up headlights in favor of the somewhat anachronistic-looking clear-lensed units that are a hallmark of the F512 M. The rear end was also treated to a controversial update, ditching the taillights partially hidden between the black slatted rear grille for an almost Enzo-esque set of small circular lights. It’s a similar aesthetic tale to the original Countach versus the 25th Anniversary edition, but love or hate the F512 M, it is an undeniably significant piece of prancing horse history, as it remains the last Ferrari produced with a flat-twelve.
Inside there were just a few changes, the original wraparound dashboard already neutered into something more sedate in the F512 M’s predecessor, the 512 TR. For this final update, the car received a new aluminum pedal design, a more functional steering wheel, a contemporary air-conditioning system, and an option to spec lightweight composite bucket seats, as equipped in the beautiful example pictured here.
I met this car’s owner, Stefano, a true Ferrari enthusiast, a while back when I started to shoot some of his collection, and he made it clear that this was one of his favorites. A rarity, a true modern classic collectible, and an interesting manifestation of a supercar that’s arguably stuck between two decades, the F512 M commands the highest prices of the Testarossa-512 TR-F512 M trio and attracts the most dedicated Ferrari enthusiasts.
“I have always loved the Ferrari Testarossa,” Stefano says. “I believe that this Pininfarina design is an absolute masterpiece, and I think that on this particular model the visible headlights are a detail that makes the car much more aggressive than the previous ones.” A rare proponent of the non-pop-up nose, Stefano is not beyond criticizing the F512 M’s look. “One of the changes that I’m still processing is the design of the alloy wheels. I think those of the previous model are more elegant and suitable for the Testarossa, but maybe I’ll change my mind,” he says with a small shrug and a smile.
Some collectors seek out the very first versions of iconic cars, hunting for the brochure spec cars that broke new ground. Others prefer to shop at the end of the line, wanting the cars that have had all the early kinks ironed away. Stefano clearly belongs to the latter group. ”I believe that for all cars and above all for Ferraris, the rule applies that the latest versions of a model are the best. Not surprisingly in the F512 M, the letter M means modificata, ‘modified,’ but also migliorata, ‘improved.’”
Subjectivity aside, its hard to argue against him. The 512 TR shed weight, added power, and tightened up the chassis compared to the original Testarossa, and the F512 M continued that trend, ending up with the best power-to-weight ratio of the three. Improvements were not revolutionary—more extensive use of lightweight alloys and further development of the valvetrain and engine management were the main drivers—but the result was a 434-horsepower car that could get to 60mph from a dig in less than five seconds and go on to nip at the edge of 200mph.
“Driving this car is a thrilling experience, especially if you get out of a modern performance car and immediately into this Ferrari—you will find yourself in a completely different dimension. Everything is hard, but perfectly calibrated for what this car has to offer to those who appreciate what it’s like to drive it. The steering wheel, the pedals, the gear lever, all take you back to a time before the onset of electronics to help you drive. Even if there is already ABS on this car, it belongs to an older time,” Stefano tells me.
“When you accelerate, listening to the natural aspiration behind you is something that will make any true enthusiast happy,” he continues, “You need to know it well, however, and not ask it what it is not able to give. The brakes, for example, are absolutely not suitable for use on the track.
“I’ve never taken the F512 M to the track however, and I don’t think I will because it’s not its turf. I have driven racing cars on many circuits, and for production sports cars I would certainly prefer to have fun with a BMW M3 or a Porsche 911 on circuits like Mugello or Imola, which I think are, together with Spa, the three most beautiful circuits in the world,” he muses.
Stefano’s F512 M left the Maranello factory in 1996, the last year of manufacture before the lineage that began with the Berlinetta Boxer in the 1970s died out, replaced in the lineup with the front-engine V12 grand tourers like the Maranello—of which Stefano owns a rare Barchetta Pininfarina version previously featured on Petrolicious. As he mentioned early in our conversation, Stefano prefers the final editions, but he’s far from being close-minded on the subject. “I have never owned other versions of the Testarossa,” he says, “although I have driven a 512 TR of a dear friend of mine several times and enjoyed it. I would eventually like to find a first series Testarossa to own, possibly in silver, which I think is very suitable for its lines.”
Despite the scarcity of the F512 M in comparison to the 512 TR and Testarossa, Stefano’s search was not as grueling or time consuming as I would have assumed. Sometimes these things just have a way of falling into our laps.
“I had the opportunity to buy this car about 10 years ago,” he recalls, “when the owner of the Ferrari workshop in Modena where I am a customer told me that one of his other clients had bought it brand new, and wanted to sell it. When I went to see it I bought it almost immediately, because it was in perfect condition, and a car I had always been intrigued by. Another detail that makes it even more unique is the rare optional carbon shell seats, the same as in the F50,” Stefano adds.
Nearly everything about this F512 M is original. Besides the regular consumables like fluids and rubber and plugs, nothing has been changed, barring from the installation of a mobile phone by the first owner—and at least this is arguably a pretty cool period-correct modification.
The only significant expense that Stefano had to incur in the maintenance of his F512 M was the replacement of the timing belt. In order to do this job, it’s necessary to remove all of the mechanicals, pluck the engine out, and put it on the bench. And in the world of special Ferraris, that kind of effort is far from unheard of. Otherwise, it has so few kilometers that it still has its original brakes and clutch, and has never had a problem with either.
Although Stefano owns and appreciates the merits of both, he tells me that “Between the F512 M and the 550 Maranello that replaced it, there are no connection points. They are the results of totally different constructive philosophies and with design characteristics and mechanical settings at the antipodes. One thing they have in common however is their magnificent sound,” he admits.
“If I had been able to participate in the development of this car I would certainly have added power steering because it is undoubtedly a very heavy car to handle in small spaces, but it’s a minor concern. The sound coming from the engine behind you is so satisfying, though. The small complaints are easily drowned out.”