Life

The Ferrari Testarossa was the quintessential 1980s supercar

David Roy


THERE aren't many cars more quintessentially 1980s than the Ferrari Testarossa. Its status as the decade's must-have supercar was cemented on September 26 1986, when America's hottest TV cops, Crockett and Tubbs, shocked fans by swapping their black Ferrari Daytona Spyder for a gleaming white Testarossa which better matched Don Johnson's linen suits and dazzling Hollywood gnashers.

In fact, the Daytona convertible was actually a Corvette wearing a custom bodykit: a big 'no-no' for design-precious Ferrari, who quickly agreed to supply the Miami Vice producers with their newest model for the third series of the smash hit show – on the proviso its fake predecessor be blown up on-screen.

 

This dramatic switcheroo occurred just two years after the flat-12 powered Testarossa, its name a nod to Ferrari's Testa Rossa ('red head' in Italian) racers from the 1950s, first shocked and awed car fans on its public debut at the 1984 Paris Auto Salon.

While the wedge was already a popular shape for 1970s sports cars, the Leonardo Fioravanti-led team at Pininfarina brought the design squarely (pun intended) into the 1980s with the slab-like Testarossa, which featured straked radiator vents along its sides – a design cue echoed by horizontal grilles across its enormously wide rear panel – to create a unique and instantly iconic visual identity that couldn't have been more distinct from the more bulbous Boxer and 308 cars it replaced.

Suddenly, Magnum P.I.'s iconic 308 GTS looked a bit 'hairy chest and medallion' next to Crockett's Testarossa, which was definitely simpatico with Miami Vice's era-defining 'designer stubble and sunglasses at night' style.

 

 

September 1986 also saw Sega's latest racing game screech into arcades across the world: OutRun had kids literally queuing up to for a chance to take an ultra-rare Ferrari Testarossa Spider (in reality a one-off convertible variant commissioned by Fiat chairman Gianni Agnelli which was never mass-produced) on a speed limit busting spree across America's highways – or at least as far as their bulging pockets full of 10p coins would take them.

The game was an instant worldwide smash and was soon ported onto home computer platforms, further cementing the Testarossa's dream car status amongst those still far too young to drive, never mind actually afford, one of these £80k, 180mph machines – including my eight-year-old car-mad self.

The Testarossa is the very first Ferrari I can remember actually seeing up close, when someone – Charles Hurst in all likelihood – brought one over to the Ulster Motor Show at the King's Hall in Belfast. Sensibly, they put it on display behind a barrier to better keep the drooling hoards at bay, photographic evidence of which should appear below.

 

Don't worry, I eventually grew into those ears.

Almost 40 years later, the Testarossa remains a collectible icon. Gas Monkey Garage proprietor and former Fast N' Loud star turned You Tube sensation – 980k subscribers and counting – Richard Rawlings is a man who remembers its seismic impact all too well: that's why the car crazed Texan wheeler dealer made a whirlwind trip to Ireland from Dallas last Wednesday to look at buying five of them all at once.

The Testarossas were up for sale for an undisclosed sum as a job lot at Mallusk-based performance vehicle specialists J&F Group

"I graduated high school in 1987, and back then the Testarossa was *the* Ferrari," Rawlings told me when we stopped by the J&F Group showroom to witness him and his Gas Monkey Garage posse checking out this unique collection of screen-used examples which featured in last year's Mark Wahlberg sci-fi actioner, Infinite.

"They are super cars, and pretty different. So when we got a call from a friend of ours to say they had these Ferraris for sale here as a package, that interested me.

"I mean, who gets to go buy five Ferrari Testarossas at one time? That was literally 36 hours ago, so we booked some flights and here we are."

THE WHEEL DEAL: John Walsh Jnr of J&F Group, Richard Rawlings, and Chris Smith from Gas Monkey Garage Picture: Mal McCann

 

Four of the iconic 1980s supercars Rawlings and his YouTubers viewed at J&F's showroom were heavily customised for use as stunt vehicles in the aforementioned movie, including one Testarossa modified with a rear-facing steering wheel for high speed reversing manoeuvres.

All these 'gag' cars still wear their battle scars today – dents, scrapes, cracked windscreens and even fake 'stick-on' bullet holes – and have been stripped of their original flat-12 engines and trim. However, the Ferrari powerplants and interiors have been safely packed into crates and come as part of the sale just in case anyone is brave/foolish enough to undertake the mammoth restorations required to put them back on the road.

John Walsh jnr J&F Group, Richard Rawlings and Chris Smith from Gas Monkey in Dallas Texas. Picture Mal McCann

 

"We bought the cars a couple of years ago with the intention of rebuilding and selling them ourselves," explained John Walsh Junior, a partner at the family-run J&F Group.

"These particular cars are special, not just because of the movie but because Ferraris have become very very collectible over the last few years, particularly the older models like the Testarossa.

"About a month ago I had a brainwave and reached out to Gas Monkey Garage in Texas. I thought 'these guys are huge and it's what they do – they buy cars, they restore them and they rebuild them'.

"I didn't know whether anything would come of it or not, but here we are."

Despite their preferred tipple of Miller Lite beer being unavailable in Ireland to help ease jet-lag, the Gas Monkeys seemed to enjoy their visit to the J&F Group premises: Bud Light was deemed an acceptable substitute by Rawlings and co, who also met with a pair of well-known local fans, artist Terry Bradley and comedian Paddy McDonnell, while checking out the five Ferraris.

While the four stunt cars might have looked about as fresh as Infinite's reviews (17 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes), the screen-used 'hero' Testarossa used for close-ups with the artist formerly known as Marky Mark was also part of the mooted package deal.

 

John Walsh jnr J&F Group, Richard Rawlings and Chris Smith from Gas Monkey in Dallas Texas. Picture Mal McCann

 

This California-spec car is still in showroom condition and remains just as much of a head turner as when it rolled off the assembly line back in 1990 during the model's penultimate year of production.

"I just looked at all the movie cars in there and they are going to need a lot of work, so I don't know," admitted the Gas Monkey chief once he'd had a chance to look at all five of his potential purchases.

"This is really what we call in Texas 'a ghost chase'. You don't know if you're going to get a real something or if it's no good. But the cars are here and we're here – now we've got to figure out if we can get them bought."

Sadly, the post tyre-kicking negotiations took place behind closed doors, and there was still no word of any money actually changing hands as Drive went to press.

Did they seal the deal? We'll all just have to tune in to the next exciting instalment of Gas Monkey Garage to find out.

 

FERRARI TESTAROSSA: FACT FILE

  • Year launched: 1985
  • Price at launch: £80,000
  • Value today (Hagerty): £63,000 to £210,000
  • Engine type: rear-mounted, longitudinal flat-12 with twin overhead camshafts per bank, four valves per cylinder
  • Engine capacity: 4943.04cc
  • Top speed: 180mph
  • Acceleration (0-62mph): 5.8sec
  • Maximum Power: 390hp at 6300rpm
  • Maximum Torque: 361lb ft at 4500rpm
  • Weight: 1,506kg
  • Dimensions: 4.49m long, 1.98m wide, 1.13m high