Miami Heat in the Air Tonight
If you attend a Concours d’Lemons event and happen upon a clapped-out 1980s Camaro puffed up with a wide-body kit and door-size side strakes, blame the Ferrari Testarossa. But don’t hold a grudge, because the Testarossa is an iconic 1980s wild child that belongs in every Ferrari collection.
Ferrari’s Testarossa burst onto the scene for 1985, Maranello’s answer to the way-over-the-top Lamborghini Countach. The Testarossa showed up the same year as the TV hit “Miami Vice,” and the car would later get its own starring role on the show. The two seemed made for each other.
Gooding and Company’s Amelia Island auction sold a 1990 Testarossa with just 13,000 miles for $103,040. That was in line with the pre-sale estimate, and on target for the $105,000 that Hagerty values a concours-condition model.
The espresso must have been flowing freely in the Pininfarina studios while design work was underway for the Testarossa, which succeeded the Berlinetta Boxer series that debuted in the mid-1970s. And, maybe the designers were listening to Mötley Crüe at full blast while they worked.
The Testarossa’s front end looked tame enough, making the car look like a wider cousin to the 308/328 series. But when your eyeballs landed on the side – Oh, man! What is that? The Testarossa was wider in the back than the front, and with huge grilles – side strakes, as they were called – filling nearly the entire door and continuing into the quarter panel.
The grilles were functional, funneling air to the side-mounted radiators, and the slatted motif continued with the taillights. Ferrari liked the strakes so much it put smaller versions on the 348 series a few years later. The wide-body straked look sparked an aftermarket customizing trend that saw similar appendages grow on everything from Camaros to blinged-out Mercedes coupes.
What’s in a Name?
The Testarossa was by far Ferrari’s most extroverted design. Fortunately for the extroverts drawn to it, the maniacal 12-cylinder mid-engine sports car had the power and performance to back up its “I demand that you look at me” body.
The Testarossa name was somewhat historical, a one-word rendition of “Testa Rossa” used on 1950s Ferrari sports racers. On those cars, the translation to “red head” reflected the engine’s red cam covers.
The Testarossa engine was a continuation of the 512 BB powerplant, a 4.9-liter 180-degree 12-cylinder that traced back to the mid-1970s Ferrari Berlinetta Boxer. With a five-speed manual transmission, the Testarossa was just flat quick. The U.S.-spec model put out 380 horsepower and 354 lb-ft of torque. Those were huge numbers in the mid-1980s. Another huge number was the Testarossa’s weight of nearly 3,800 pounds, though the rip-roaring 12 easily shrugged of that mass.
Car & Driver took a Testarossa from 0-60 in 5 seconds and tore up the quarter-mile in 13.3 seconds at 107 mph. The top speed was 176 mph. Further, the cost of that speed was about $100,000 in 1985.
As Seen on TV
If the Ferrari Testarossa did not exist in the 1980s, the producers of “Miami Vice” might have needed to invent it. The show portrayed a glamorized version of that city’s violent drug trade through the lens of its hero vice squad detectives, James “Sonny” Crockett, played by Don Johnson, and Ricardo “Rico” Tubbs, played by Philip Michael Thomas. The production values, high-fashion wardrobes and pop/rock music soundtrack captured the MTV video vibe – and a chunk of the MTV audience.
These high-fashion young cops were supposed to blend in with the Miami underworld for sting operations, hence use of a high-end sports car confiscated from a drug dealer. Through the first two seasons, the “squad car” was a Ferrari Daytona Spider, or rather, a McBurnie replica built on a Corvette chassis.
Ferrari’s legal eagles, however, had gone after and successfully shut down McBurnie for copying its classic Daytona’s design. Ferrari North America then provided the TV show with the real thing, a new white Testarossa. (The stunt car was a replica of that, built around a De Tomaso Pantera.) It was like a Batmobile for the 1980s Dynamic Duo.
Mullet v Mustache
Ferrari was getting massive testosterone-fueled TV exposure at the time. “Magnum, P.I” had been on the air since 1980, starring a red Ferrari 308 GTS and co-starring Tom Selleck. Fortunately, the shows were on different nights, avoiding an epic network battle between Crockett’s mullet and Magnum’s mustache.
The Testarossa was a global supercar hit, with Ferrari making 7,200 over seven years. A 1992 redesign turned the car into the 512 TR, and then a final revision changed it to the 512 M. By then, people were pretty tired of those side strakes.
For some fun 1980s guilty pleasures, add a Testarossa to your collection and start streaming Miami Vice. In the meantime, take a little night ride through Miami with Sonny.
Written by Jim Koscs, Audamotive Communications