Cars We Love: 1985-1991 Ferrari Testarossa

In the mid-eighties, the Testarossa was exactly the car that Ferrari needed to rebuild their American market, which had been decimated by the absence of a top-of-the-line twelve-cylinder GT. The predecessor 512 Berlinetta Boxer didn’t meet U.S. emission standards and was never approved for sale in the U.S. The Testarossa was the right car for the times and succeeded beyond Ferrari’s wildest dreams. It was featured in the hit TV series Miami Vice and the cars sold faster than Ferrari could make them – some buyers had to wait almost two years to get one. The Testarossa soon became an icon of the eighties.

Unique design of the Testarossa

By the early eighties, Ferrari needed to think about replacing its premier GT car, the twelve-cylinder 512i Berlinetta Boxer and turned to their favorite design house, Pininfarina. Designers Leonardo Fioravanti and Emanuele Nicosia created a design for a two-seat GT coupe. It featured a mid-mounted rear engine and a five-speed transmission driving the rear wheels that used side-mounted radiators and a wider body to cure cockpit heat and cramped luggage space issues of the 512 BB. The signature of the Testarossa design were the strakes along the sides of the car to direct air into the side radiators.

Making its debut at the 1984 Paris Auto Show, the new Testarossa design was polarizing –viewers either loved it or hated it; some of the latter referred to the side strakes as “cheese graters” or “egg slicers.”  Going into production in late 1984 as a 1985 model, the Testarossa immediately caught on with buyers. It arrived in the marketplace just as the classic and supercar boom of the eighties was beginning and sales skyrocketed – the Testarossa caught the outrageous vibe and excesses of the eighties. In six years of production, Ferrari made 7,177 Testarossas, a huge production run for a small manufacturer such as Ferrari.

Paying homage to the original Testa Rossa

The new Ferrari for 1985 was named the Testarossa in homage to the Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa, the 1957 World Sportscar Champion. “Testa Rossa” means “red head” in Italian and refers to the red-painted cam covers on the Colombo-designed, three liter twelve-cylinder engine. The 250 Testa Rossa was strictly a racing car and, as you might imagine, with a 300 horsepower engine in a car weighing only 1,750 pounds, its performance was startling. The 250 Testa Rossa and its progeny were the overall winners in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1958, 1960, and 1961.

Ferrari does not re-use a car name very often, as the factory wishes to present each new car as being the latest and greatest. However, the 250 Testa Rossa was one of the greatest race cars in Ferrari history, so it was deemed appropriate to honor past and present greatness with the same name. Only 34 250 Testa Rossas were ever made and the nineteen cars with the original pontoon-fendered body style are considered to be the most valuable. One sold for $16.4 million in 2011, but that sale price pales by comparison with an unrestored 1957 250 Testa Rossa, which reportedly sold for over $39 million in a private sale in 2014.

Specifications and value

The Testarossa’s 4.9 liter, flat 12-cylinder engine, with double overhead cams on each engine bank to operate four valves per cylinder, produced 390 horsepower (380 in the U.S.) that could motivate you from 0 to 60 mph in 5.3 seconds, send you through the quarter mile in 13.5 seconds, and if you were really brave, take you to a top speed of 180 mph. Weighing about 3,700 pounds, the Testarossa is no lightweight, but the double wishbone front and rear suspensions and wide tires made the car very nimble, with good road manners.

Our friends at Hagerty estimate the average value of a 1985 Ferrari Testarossa to be about $83,000, with a range of $136,000 for a Testarossa in number one concours condition to $62,000 for one in number four fair condition. The values for cars in numbers one and two condition peaked in January 2017 and have declined a bit since then. The data were current as of September 2017. Maintenance plays a large part in the value of a particular Testarossa, especially cam drive belt maintenance. Servicing the cam drive belts requires the entire drivetrain and rear suspension to be removed from the car as a unit, which can be enormously expensive. If you’re considering buying, always insist on seeing all of the car’s maintenance records to avoid unpleasant surprises down the road.

Miami Vice

Few television shows have captured the essence of their era as well as “Miami Vice.” From Crockett’s and Tubbs’ trend-setting attire and the sweet tunes of then-hip artists like Phil Collins, Patti LaBelle, and John Lennon wafting through the background, to the bright neon atmosphere of Miami and the vicious sounds of the Ferrari snarling into the night, it all screamed 1980s coolness. Miami Vice was an institution between 1985 and 1990, and one of NBC’s biggest hits. It ranked in the top ten Nielsen ratings for the first three seasons and was twice nominated for an Emmy. The show’s theme won an American Music Award and a Grammy for the best instrumental score. For its legion of fans, 10:00 p.m. on Friday nights was a time to be in front of the TV.

For the first two seasons, undercover detectives Crockett and Tubbs pursued high-rolling drug dealers in a Ferrari Daytona Spyder – or so it seemed. In actuality, the car had a modified Corvette chassis with a fiberglass body that looked like a Daytona Spyder. When Enzo Ferrari found out about the producers misrepresenting his beloved Ferrari name, he threatened them with a lawsuit. A settlement was negotiated in which Miami Vice would give up using the faux Ferrari for the real thing. Ferrari agreed to give the show two new Ferrari Testarossas. As fate would have it, Signore Ferrari was a Miami Vice fan and he no doubt welcomed the vast exposure the Testarossa would garner with “Sonny” Crockett behind the wheel. Both cars were originally black, but since much of the shooting took place at night, they were repainted white to show up better on the TV screen. One Testarossa was used for the hard driving scenes, while the other was saved for close-up shots while cruising around Miami.

Our photo of the white Testarossa with the “Miami Vice” license plate is the actual Ferrari that was used for the close-up shots, which was recently sold by Adams Classic and Collector Cars of Buford, Georgia. We’d like to give Rich Adams a big ‘Thank you’ for letting us use the photo of the car in his showroom.

Enough talking–let’s go for a ride in a Testarossa! We have another fine video by filmmaker Robbert Alblas who, via his camera magic, will take us on a spirited ride through the twists and turns of the Great Saint Bernard Pass in Switzerland. Thank you, Robbert. Gentlemen, and ladies, start your smiles!











Photos by: Emperornie, Valder137, Thesupermat, Brett Weinstein, dave_7, Adam Classic and Collector Cars, Mr. choppers

Video by: Robbert Alblas

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