Written by Barbara Toombs
Back in the early 1970s, Enzo Ferrari decided to capitalize on the success of his marque’s mid-engine V6 Dino sports car – considered quite daring for a production car at the time – and at long last satisfy the market’s yearning for a mid-engine 12-cylinder Ferrari. But rather than turn to a V12 as most people expected, he surprised everyone by opting for a flat-12 engine.
Nicknamed the “boxer” because its horizontally opposed pistons moved like a boxer throwing jabs, the engine was no stranger to the Ferrari stable, having been used in its Formula 1 and hill-climb cars in the ’60s and ’70s.
Designer Sergio Pininfarina was thrilled. “I very much liked the Boxer engine because of its space architecture,” he said. “For years I had to fight with a high engine and a large radiator because the engine’s height automatically (dictated) the radiator’s height. The boxer engine was lower, making everything easier.”
He set to work designing the world’s first road-going flat-12 engine car, using 1968’s P6 racing prototype as the starting point. The result was the Ferrari 365 GT4 BB. The title followed standard Ferrari practice, with the number “365” referring to the swept volume of a single cylinder, the number “4” relating to the total number of camshafts and the “BB” standing for Berlinetta (literally meaning “little saloon” in Italian) Boxer. The prototype debuted at the 1971 Turin Auto Show; production began in 1973.
The 365 GT4 BB’s performance, however, did not quite live up to its expectations, and, in 1976, refinement issues were addressed with the introduction of the Ferrari 512 BB; the new name signifying the engine’s 5 liters and 12 cylinders. Road & Track magazine deemed it “the best all-around sports and GT car” they had ever tested.
The most refined version of the series, however, was introduced at the 1981 Frankfurt Show: the fuel-injected Ferrari 512 BBi. It would prove the most popular of the BBs. Although it looked almost identical to its predecessor, the fuel-injected motor produced cleaner emissions and offered a better balance of performance and daily-driver temperament.
Heading to Florida to take its turn under the spotlights on the Barrett-Jackson Palm Beach auction block is a fine example of a 1983 Ferrari 512 BBi (Lot #733), appropriately dressed in Rosso Corsa with a black leather interior and one of only 1,007 produced. According to the consignor, it has been a California car since new, when it was sold by Ferrari of La Jolla. It’s had one California owner for the past 30 years, who has kept the car in tip-top shape right through its 60,000-kilometer engine-out service in 1998, just before the car went into long-term storage. Now, with just over 65,000 kilometers (40,000 miles) on the odometer, this Ferrari is ready to prance once again.
“It was something special,” coachbuilder Sergio Scaglietti – whose firm made the bodies – once said of the 512 BBi. “It was the last car where we made everything by hand.” With the close of Boxer production coming in 1984, this rare car represents another important milestone in Ferrari history, and it can be yours.
For up-to-date information on this vehicle, click HERE.