Enzo Ferrari was a man of conviction but he also knew how not to be closed minded. In the face of the success of the Lamborghini Miura with its rear mounted V12 engine, the master of Maranello decided to go back to the drawing board. The front engined Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona was still selling in sufficient numbers but the future seemed to be leaning towards the rear for sportscars of the future. For this reason in 1968 the development of an ultra sporty prototype based on this type of architecture was launched. This gave birth to the Ferrari 365 GT4 BB and all of its descendants, the 512 BB (1976) and the 512 BBi (1981): a legend was born.
The initial basis of the project was established in 1968 with the presentation by Pininfarina of the Ferrari P6 concept car drawn by Leonardo Fioravanti. If the rear design would not survive to integrate the production model, the front strongly inspired the final design of the future Berlinetta Boxer and all of the following generations of the Berlinetta (308, 288, 328 and even through the F355). A whole brand style was born, immediately identifiable as a Ferrari, to last for the next 30 years to come.
However, back in 1968 the centre mounted “boxer” engined berlinetta was just a sketch. The newest model at the time, which was the Daytona, was true to the traditional front motor concept of the ‘Commandatore’. ‘Horses were made to pull the wagon, not to push it’, he had first said at sight of the Lamborghini Miura, proof of his doubts about this formula. However only imbeciles never change their minds, and Enzo was anything but an imbecile.
If until then he refused such a configuration on a Ferrari, he did not hesitate with his second brand, Dino, as a tribute to his late son, with the Dino 208 GTS and its 2 litre central positioned V6, that was introduced in 1967. (This was also a good way to differentiate the Ferrari Dino from the FIAT Dinos that had the same motor but in front).
In any case Enzo Ferrari, although doubtful, tested the formula and let himself be convinced of the centrally mounted motor configuration for its balance and road handling. Yet, it was important not to be in a hurry: the concept P6 would only give life to a finished and realistic version named the Berlinetta Boxer in 1971, three whole years later. Then it was necessary to wait until 1973 to see the launch of the 365 GT4 BB production series. The long gestation period allowed the Maranello engineers to perfect their product and for the designers to judge what the public’s reaction would be after the presentation of the Berlinetta Boxer concept in 1971.
Another particularity introduced on this car, that which gave birth to part of its name, is its flat-12 cylinder ‘boxer’ engine created by Giuliano de Angelis. In truth it is not exactly a true boxer type motor as its opposite pistons strike in the same direction (some call it the 180° V12).
This motor with a 4.4 litre displacement had two triple body carburettors with 380 horsepower, respectable power at the time. Coupled to the flat-12 was a manual gearbox with 5 gears forward for the driver. This motor, which was the first 12 cylindre Ferrari equipped with a timing belt instead of a timing chaine, had the advantage of making significantly less mechanical noise.
Ferrari began deliveries of the 365 GT4 BB in 1973, at the worst possible time: the oil embargo had just hit. Though powerful, its flat-12 boxer engine burnt a lot of gas. Indeed its clientele was wealthy enough but it was not very politically correct in the face of the new anti-pollution legislation in the USA. This caused everyone to go back to the fuel consumption drawing board.
In 1976 appeared the evolution of the 365 GT4 with the evocative name of 512 BB: 5 for the total engine displacement of 5,000 cc, 12 for the number of cylinders, while the initials of the Berlinetta Boxer were kept. Going from 4.4 to 5 litres, the flat-12 kept the same horsepower output all the while obtaining it at lower revs, for increased torque. A conversion was made to a dry sump crankcase to avoid oil surge.
The 512 BB was equipped, amongst other things, with a quadruple, triple body Weber set-up. A subtle restyling of the backend saw the 6 tail lights, highlighting the 6 exhaust pipes, be replaced by two sets of two round lights, like on the 308.
In 1981 the Ferrari supercar evolved one last time to become the 512 BBi. Once more this was essentially a mechanical development with the introduction of the K-Jetronic mechanical fuel injection. Anti-pollution and the fuel injection made the 512 BBi lose approximately 20 hp although with its 340 horsepower remaining, the Berlinetta Boxer was still very competitive. It thus played in overtime until the presentation in 1984 of the Testarossa, its replacement.
In total, 387 units of the 365 GT4 BB, 929 of the 512 BB and 1007 of the 512 BBi were produced, for a grand total of 2,323 units between 1973 and 1984. Despite a somewhat unbalanced profil with an long overhanging front, this wonderful Ferrari left its mark on Tifosi with its top speed of 300 km/h and its racing participation in the IMSA and at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, paving the way for what are called the ‘supercars’ of the 1990s: the 288 GTO, the Testarossa and the F40.
Today to buy a BB is an act of ultimate self indulgence: its price quote is estimated at around 330,000 euros for the first 365s, the rarest of all (as according to LVA* in 2018). It is certainly 2 or 3 times more expensive then a Testarossa but not in the same league as the 2.2 million euros it would cost to acquire a 288 GTO. In any case this car with its magnificent flat-12 cylindre will take your breathe away going from 0 to 100 km/h in 6.5 seconds.
*LVA = “La Vie de l’auto” is a renowned French journal dedicated to classic automobiles.