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The Definitive 80s Supercar

Ferrari signifies over half a century of progression in the pursuit of motoring perfection. Enzo Ferrari may have been a stubborn old man stuck in his ways, but he would go on to pilot his motorsport company into the history books of evocative design, balls-to-the-wall driving experiences and ear piercing screams from the prancing horse’s iconic engine range.

No other car manufacturer does it quite like Ferrari and no one will ever quite capture the spirit of a thoroughbred for the road better than they do. You don’t have to be a mechanical engineer to understand the basic formula that puts these Italian stallions at the cutting edge of racing technology. They are lightweight, beautifully shaped and paired with a dynamic chassis to cradle a howling animal-like powerhouse. They all share a completely uncompromising drive to succeed and even though not every vehicle has won its birthright race, they still manage to capture the hearts of enthusiasts and collectors the world over.

So come the 1980s with dipping sales across a conservative Europe. Ferrari needed to appeal to its more affluent American audience and capture the emerging nouveau riche of the Western Gulf. So they took to the drawing boards and created one of the most beautifully unconventional supercars to spawn from the red brick factory in Modena. This is the story of the Testarossa.

The Testarossa was born into a decade of shoulder pads, Miami Vice and tape decks. With sales being lost to the tractor builders down the road, Ferrari needed to craft a 1980s icon to appeal to growing consumer demand. Designed by Pininfarina, the Testarossa looks like something from a music video set on the foreshore of Miami’s hotel beach strip. Many vehicles represent a different decade in style and characteristics, and the Testarossa is no stranger to this. With a low stance, square but subtle rear end and of course pop up headlights, this car lives and breathes 1980s grand touring.

The styling of the Testarossa was a big statement at the time for Ferrari as a whole. Coming off the back foot of some of the most elegant designs like the 250 GTO, 275 SWB, 375 Daytona or the 275 NART Spyder, placing the Testarossa next to these red velvet beauties, the Testarossa sticks out like a Casio wristwatch among handcrafted Rolexes.  

Not to say that the Testarossa isn’t lung emptying beautiful, it was at the time a very different direction for the brand which would go on to shape many of Ferrari’s future vehicles. The whole design of the vehicle was in comparison, unconventional to the Ferraris of the 60’s. Gone were the featherlight, silk draped race horses, and into the dawn of the 1980s futurism digitised space rocket. No denying it is a large car. From the front overhang housing the pop-up headlights, the body carries very distinctive bold lines through the radiator vents on the doors and into the square stanced rear-end. With proportionally perfect A & C pillars the car's profile flows seamlessly like the blade of a knife. It is a representation of innovation and change, which is what the Italian car maker needed at the time. They needed something bold that would rattle the cage at Lamborghini.

The rear end of the car is the best angle to capture to define the very reason why the Testarossa is great. From the rear square on, you can see the rear track is visibly wider than the front, all to house the radiator and flat-twelve behemoth that powers the car in the middle. You can see the statement slated taillights, a nod to the decade it exists in, the trademark Ferrari logo and perhaps one of the most famous words ever to be fitted to the vehicle. Testarossa. ‘Redhead.’

This shining metallic black example is thought to be one of three cars ever built in this guise. It is a perfect example of where Ferrari was at the time, and for Ferrari owner and enthusiast; David Bevacqua, it is the car he has spent his life searching for. Ever since being a young lad growing up in between Perth and Italy, David was captured by its remarkable shape, raw flat twelve sound and the 1980s presence. It is the Ferrari David would dream about for the rest of his life, and after owning numerous vehicles including a Fiat 600 Multipla, a couple of Nissan GT-Rs, a Ferrari 348 and an AMG Mercedes, David finally found his dream vehicle in the USA. Purchasing and delivering the vehicle to Western Australia, it is now home to a proper enthusiast.

The Testarossa dances along the fine line of supercar and grand tourer, it is the Ferrari for everyday. Its interior is spacious and comfortable. With a small parcel shelf behind the seats, and ample headspace despite its low profile, the Testarossa is a very comfortable car. But in true Italian car-making rhetoric, it comes with a festoon of gadgets and buttons, however they are never where you’d think they'd be or alternatively, they’re completely useless.

Take the passenger side rear-view mirror. It's a wide car and yes indeed a handy feature for such an expensive super-tourer. But when you eventually fold your fragile skeleton into the small canyon that is the driver seat and look across to see who is in the right lane, the mirror is completely skewered by the A-pillar. This isn’t the only mistake, half the buttons for any of the controls only make sense to the dyslexic and the pedals are hidden way up inside the transmission tunnel.

But it doesn’t matter, you wouldn't care if the tyres were made of clay, or if the gear stick was covered in razors, because when you crank over that flat twelve, you are reminded very quickly that it’s a proper red-blooded Ferrari. Starting the Miami Vice superstar isn’t the normal get in and go routine. The 4.9L Flat Twelve contains a monumental amount of oil and water circulating through its chambers and needs time to warm and stretch. The idle is throaty, raw and unstable, it coughs, sputters and twitches as hot oil and unburnt fuel pop and crackle from its quad exhaust tips. Once the car is settled and ripe for picking, simply select a gear via the metal on metal gated selector and suddenly you as a driver are thrown back into the 1980s feeling like Tubbs and Crockett.

Its noise isn’t the normal howl from the V12s that Ferrari’s big cruisers usually house. When extorting the engine's rev range, it really is an Italian opera with low revving baritones and high tenor screams on the limiter. It is twitchy, aggressive and visceral. It feels like a thoroughbred, regardless of this being the Ferrari for everyday, it becomes so much more alive with the marriage of the flat twelve cylinder engine. Pulling away from the line the engine releases its many torques through every mile munching gear, it’s like opening the paddock gate and having 390 rampant horses thunder past you. The Testarossa may be a gentle giant by Ferrari standards but always provides power on demand for whenever your foot is feeling itchy.

The wider rear end feels planted with the optioned 288 GTO wheels and tyres, and the front feels light and poised through the steering. Despite its size, silly pedal placement and stupid mirror system, it is a joy to experience. Everything feels natural and very well managed. You aren't really driving a car as much as you are orchestrating a symphony of motorsport, and the gearbox is the conductor’s wand. When you are exercising every horsepower out of the engine, the manual changes are made even more of an event with the petrolhead-praised gated selector. The brakes are heavy yet give plenty of feedback, and the power delivery is addictive. It may very well be the most unconventional Ferrari of its time, but is a perfect example of how Ferrari can adapt to a market and dominate it.

David is a true car collector and doesn’t have any intention of parting ways with his acquired love. For David it is a car that is an experience. It isn’t driven everyday nor is it used every week. It is a car that when the sun is out and the temperature is right, when he gets to turn over the engine and awake all 390 horses, there isn’t anything quite like it. The Testarossa is raw, intoxicating, comfortable, unconventionally designed and girthy. But is an utterly brilliant memory of the 1980s grand touring supercar.