Ferrari Berlinetta Boxer
I can trace my obsession with the Ferrari Berlinetta Boxer back to one beautiful summer’s day in June 1976. I know the date because I was 11 years old and this was my last year at primary school and I saw it sitting with my friend David Waltham and we were experiencing that famous heatwave. Me and Dave would sit by the A-Road and watch as the lights made their cycle through the filter to London and out to the further reaches of Kent. We’d sit there telling lies and exaggerating, messing about, giving each other dead arms and pretending to smoke menthol fags and sucking on jubbilies – all the usual things a preteen in the 1970s would do. But the main thing we would do was that we would watch cars. We would watch cars and dream of being old enough, rich enough, manly enough – free enough – to jump behind the wheel, take to the road and to never come back.
The BB – I can see it now – burned onto my brain as that image is – it was light blue and beautiful – with a high cream coloured interior. It pulled up at the traffic lights tight to the line and we both got up and approached the car with open mouths. It was driven by a beautiful lady in a white dress. In my memory, she looked like Farah Fawcett. She smiled at us. And we touched the left front side wing. She gave us the thumbs up sign – the lights changed to green and she pulled away, slowly. That sight, of this vision of glamour at the wheel of this classic seventies supercar changed my life forever. Of course we were of the Top Trump generation and our dads all drove Dagenham Dustbins that emerged from Fords’ just across the river – our older brothers, their first sons inherited their first Cortinas and Escorts and made them look like a Halfords Ram Raid – and although the best of the Dagenham bunch, the Capris and the Mexicos and the jacked up Consuls in Custom Car magazine – they occupied a place in our imaginations alright. But far to the forefront where the Countachs, the Porsche Turbos and the Ferrari BBs of course – the ones who would win your round hands down – and one that would make everything seem as if everything were possible – if only for one fleeting throw of the card.
The Berlinetta Boxer was in many ways, the slightly more refined rake to the Countach’s outrageous testosterone jacked mentalist alter-ego. Look at the Countach of the late seventies – it’s an exaggerated geometric irony – all vectors and hard edges, wings, angled planes and scissor doors. It’s as if the Marcello Gandini was hopped up on Martinis and Aqua De Parma and given free reign by Bertone to take the mickey. The BB, on the other hand, is refined, understated – about as subtle as a supercar made in Modena has ever been. The differences between the two are analogous, in fact to the broader differences between Pininfarina and Bertone, the carrozeria that produced them respectively. We won’t mention the tractor making cliché, but the Ferrari just smelled of a classier type of exotic – and it was this type of softer-edged stylishness that had me salivating. If the Countach was the raging bull, the BB was, svelte feline – feminine, almost. Have a look out there on the internet – and you’ll read period accounts that the Berlinetta Boxer was a reluctant product from Enzo Ferrari. He had championed the idea of the low, mid-engined, race-derived car for the road – but to date, he had deemed that the public wouldn’t be able to handle 12 cylinders in this format. Thus the ‘Dino’ – named after his young son – were released with V6 engines and a price tags more befitting a youngish playboy. But when the hugely loved Daytona had to be phased out – the 365GT BB arrived – and according to contemporary reports at early showings didn’t impress.
The 365 GT4 version of the BB was never my favourite – I had always lusted after the 512 – for some reason, this designation seems more glamorous – more of a leap from the 364 designation of the Daytona. It must have been the 365 I saw that day – the 512 came later and, strangely, with less performance – but the notable chin spoiler that made the car so period correct. But sometimes, it’s enough to have that formative automotive moment there, in my mind, removed of all detail, liberated from all necessity of having to get facts correct.
I saw that car and I was never the same again. And I’ve been chasing that automotive dream I glimpsed ever since.
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