Why you’d want one
Lighter, more powerful and more aerodynamic than the Ferrari Berlinetta Boxer from which it was developed, the Testarossa featured four-valve heads, improved fuel injection and electronic ignition.
Pininfarina’s dramatic styling emphasised the car’s 6ft 6in (1.98m) width, which resulted from placing radiators either side of the already seriously wide engine, to reduce cockpit heat resulting from piping to front radiators on the BB.
It looks absolutely stunning – but progress on narrow New Forest roads was rather stilted during our photoshoot because the Ferrari simply could not pass oncoming traffic without one or the other taking to the verge.
Away from narrow country lanes, the Testarossa is an effortless continent-muncher, and surprisingly relaxing to drive thanks to its enormous torque and competent electronic engine control.
Motor couldn’t stop praising the flat-12 unit in its 1985 test: ‘For its reserves of turbine-smooth power between 1000 and 7000 revs, there is no other engine made that can match it.’ It sounds brilliant, too (Motor eulogised even more about that).
Fuel consumption of 12.1mpg during that magazine test wasn’t at all bad, and 15mpg is achievable in normal use. As the road test pointed out, Ferrari had just launched the full-fat 288GTO – but the Testarossa wasn’t meant to be a homologation special road-racer. It was a highly competent grand tourer with aircon as standard, and its handling and steering were geared a little more that way than press-on drivers might choose – although that hasn’t stopped some from going racing over the years.
A decent front boot and a well behind the seats swallows a fair amount of luggage, and the factory seven-piece leather set (a £1591 extra) remains a highly desirable bonus today.
The high single mirror on early cars (now referred to as monospecchio examples) gave a great rear view but could hide oncoming traffic, and was soon replaced by two more conventional, lower-mounted mirrors.
The Testarossa was a volume-production Ferrari, with 7177 of the original model built, plus 2280 of the subsequent 512TR and 501 of the F512M. The 512TR responded far better when driven hard, and the F512M was finer still.
UK right-hookers are significantly rarer than left-hand drive, with production of 438 Testarossas, 88 512TRs (38 of them with ABS) and 41 F512Ms.
From behind the wheel, the Testarossa is hugely impressive. Check that all of the instruments work; some switchgear is shared with cars as mundane as the Fiat Uno, but at least it’s cheap to replace. The helm is heavy when parking, but an electric power-steering conversion is available for around £3500.
See image above for trouble spots.
Red cam covers go with the Testarossa – ‘red head’ – name. The well-developed flat-12 engine received 48 valves in this application and is reliable if well maintained: inspect the service history.
Infrequent use leads to gummed-up fuel metering heads, resulting in poor starting. Electrical issues are rare.
The dogleg five-speed transmission can baulk when cold, but is strong and pure Ferrari. The 512TR clutch is a good upgrade for earlier cars.
A stainless exhaust was standard; many will have been upgraded but, if so, make sure it doesn’t spoil the engine’s sound or performance.
All Testarossas had leather trim; check for wear on bolsters and for damage to seat mechanisms. New dash tops cost up to £2000 to sort.
Michelin TRX tyres for the early cars are hard to find and £400-500 each; 16in tyres are cheap for the front but £300-500 at the rear. Check their age.
On the road
Phenomenal performance and a completely untemperamental, hugely flexible engine characterise the Testarossa; any car that does not exude that character needs work.
Used parts can be found – Testarossas have been broken after crash damage – and many ancillaries are shared with other marques, which helps keep costs down.
Infrequent use can lead to dried-out fuel residue fouling the K-Jetronic (or later Motronic) injection systems, but any Bosch specialist should be able to sort it out.
Engines are described as bombproof by specialists, but if the worst was to happen, secondhand units can be found for less than £20k. Annual servicing, even if minimal miles are covered, is advisable and every three years the engine has to come out for drive belt replacement.
Up to 1991 it drops out below, complete with the suspension, but from the 512TR on it has to come out of the top, which is more costly. Check the service history to see if it really is what it’s claimed to be, with no gaps, and ideally looked after by a reputable specialist.
Published servicing costs are less than £1000 for the basic service and under £2000 for the cambelt service, but you need to budget £3500+ a year to keep a Testarossa in tip-top condition; for example, last year’s service on the car in our photos included cambelts, re-crackled cam covers, cleaned/painted suspension, a brake fluid change, an air-con recharge and a full clean and polish inside and out, totalling £15,500.
What to pay
- Show/rebuilt: £125,000
- Average: £95,000
- High mileage: £70,000
- Show/rebuilt: £150,000
- Average: £125,000
- High mileage: £95,000
- Show/rebuilt: £175,000
- Average: £140,000
- High mileage: £110,000
(LHD 30% lower)
1984 Oct Testarossa introduced: single high-mounted external mirror, Michelin TRX 415 or Goodyear 16in tyres on single-bolt knock-off mag alloys (standardised to 16in by 1986)
1986 Unique Testarossa Spider built for Gianni Agnelli; a few unofficial conversions followed
1987 Single mirror lowered, then second mirror added
1988 Five-stud alloys replace knock-offs
1991 Oct 512TR: 416bhp, 362lb ft thanks in part to higher compression, stronger engine castings, bigger inlet valves, revised cams, Motronic injection, 0-60mph in 5 secs
1993 Oct Anti-lock brakes added
1994 Oct F512M (Modificato) with covered headlights, Naca ducts, round rear lights
1996 Production ends
The owner's view
Paul Whitbread bought his Testarossa in 2015: “Playing Outrun in my youth, I said that one day I’d have one – I love those unique and radical looks.
“After inspecting high-milers in poor condition, a friend located an effectively one-owner, UK-spec RHD car with sub-4000 miles that had spent 10 years in storage. Without starting the engine, I had it transported to Grimaldi for a complete engine-out refurb.
“It’s all too easy to over-restore a car like this, but we wanted to keep as much originality as possible. Some hoses, timing belts and seals needed to be changed, but the engine was in fantastic shape. The fuel injectors were balanced, the seats and headlining treated, the wheels refurbished and new tyres were fitted. I’m now getting the car Classiche-certified by Ferrari.”
Aston Martin V8 Vantage
Beautifully finished, refined, rapid and great to drive, the V8 Vantage was remarkably close to the Testarossa on performance: a distinctly British supercar.
1977-’89 • 534 built • price now: £200-450,000
A crazy, uncompromised supercar with great handling, the Countach out-accelerated a Testarossa but couldn’t match its top speed. Now highly collectable.
1974-’90 • 2049 • price now: £250k-1m
Ferrari Testarossa: the Classic & Sports Car verdict
If you want a seriously dramatic-looking and driving classic Ferrari supercar that you can be reasonably confident won’t bite you back with horrendous surprise bills, the Testarossa is that car.
But buy carefully, get a prospective purchase checked out by an expert who knows them, and look after it with regular servicing and detailing. And use it: too many sit around all year.
- A dependable classic Ferrari supercar
- At home loping along open roads, but also fun to drive in the twisties
- Most have been cherished
- Too wide for some roads
- Costly to run
- Many on the market at present are overpriced
Images: Tony Baker
Sold/number built 1984-’96/9958
Construction steel chassis/inner shell, roof and doors; aluminium wings, bonnet and bootlid
Engine all-alloy, dohc-per-bank, 48-valve 4942cc flat-12, with Bosch K-Jetronic injection
Max power 390bhp @ 6300rpm to 434bhp @ 6750rpm
Max torque 361lb ft @ 4500rpm to 368lb ft @ 5500rpm
Transmission five-speed manual, driving rear wheels via a limited-slip differential
Suspension double wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers (double at rear), anti-roll bar
Steering rack and pinion
Brakes ventilated discs, with servo
Length 14ft 81/2 in (4486mm)
Width 6ft 6in (1976mm)
Height 3ft 81/2 in (1130mm)
Wheelbase 8ft 41/2 in (2550mm)
Weight 3610-3527lb (1641-1603kg)
0-60mph 5.5-4.8 secs
Top speed 181-196mph
Price new £123,119 (1991)
BUY A CLASSIC FERRARI TESTAROSSA