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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Ferrari Testarossa (1984-1996): Tame Design in Hindsight?

Considering the current decadal design idiom of the latest offerings of Montezemolo-era cars (FF, F12, Italia, to name some), is the Ferrari Testarossa, 512TR, and 512M, of 1984-1996, a relatively tame design platform in hindsight? Are the side strakes really such purveyors of extravagance and flamboyance? 

To backtrack into some context briefly, in 1982 Pininfarina was commissioned to style a 12-cylinder Ferrari with radiators in the flanks like a racing car, with GT-level luggage and storage space, user comfort, and top-tier Ferrari performance and image. The Testarossa was among the first Ferraris to be shaped partly by the wind tunnel to enhance aerodynamics, promote low cabin noise, and increase high speed stability.

Rear location of the radiators made the car's aerodynamics even more important as passive direction of air to and from the engine bay had to be very effective. In achieving this feat, Pininfarina's design and engineering of the Testarossa project became, seemingly overnight, the most recognizable and influential car of a generation. It became, as in the Lamborghini Countach, the unequivocal exotic dream car to have. On posters affixed across the world, in the rooms and garages of kids and adult children alike, the Ferrari Testarossa is unmistakable, bold, and impossible to ignore, cherished to this day by a devoted cult.

Of note, the Testarossa's roofline exactly matches that of the straked flank below it. And with the traditional Ferrari identifiers present (such as the egg crate grille, recessed headlamps of the era), the new elements (such as rectangular rear lights and the broad, squared, rear flanks) mark a bit of a departure. Early Testarossas feature a single mirror located halfway up the driver's side A-pillar, on stalks. But clearly the Testarossa's most defining and controversial image is that of the five body strakes that cover the side intakes and stretch between the ridges just below the door mirrors. Today most, or at least many, Ferrari fans regard these as extreme design aesthetics, dated, even hideous. But is this necessarily really true? 

Individual tastes and perceptions notwithstanding, is the Ferrari Testarossa, 512TR, and 512M, made from 1984 through 1996, respectively, actually a tame (even tasteful) design in hindsight? Are the side strakes really that outlandish compared to the more recent 458 Italia's bizarre front end? Or to the new F12's strange cartoonish front fascia? Or what about the FF, with it's entirely non-confomist Breadvan shape, with similarly strange front end? Do these design showboats, Italia, F12, FF, boast restraint --or do they go beyond what one would consider to be in good taste? 

By comparison, is not the Testarossa quite conservative and understated, being a basically squarish wedge design with retractable headlamps? Save for the wide track and strakes, Ferraris had become what the TR represented at the time, with the 348 and 355 following in its shadow. It would seem that the front end of any TR, particularly the non "M" version, can actuality pass for austere and tastefully restrained. One could even say it appears "normal," in its design idiom of the time. But yet it is forever "outrageous." 

In a strange twist of fate, perhaps it is the time that the TR was trapped in, when new, which forever entraps it into its continual stigma of being the gauche, strake-riddled, testa rossa/red-headed stepchild today. Alas, I tip my hat and embrace Testarossa, the black sheep that it is for so many Ferraristi


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    1. I wouldn't really worry too much about that. Internet content such as blogs are going to be rewritten, copied, shared, or stolen. That is part of the culture. However most of it is never written in a book format. If you are the true author of a book then your blog can live again in the book and the world will know it is you who wrote it originally. Same here on this blog --I wrote this stuff originally in this form. And if you used others' content for your book (or blog) you can cite the source as a link. The point of internet culture is to redirect the reader to other content which bolsters your own.

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    1. Thank you, anonymous for your link and for your supportive comments. I will probably be doing more articles on the Ferrari TR in the near future. It is a car that continues to elicit controversy after all of these years.