The Ferrari Testarossa Buying Guide

The literal poster boy for ‘80s excess, the Ferrari Testarossa has become an automotive icon with styling that only gets better with age.

The 1980s Supercar – Ferrari Testarossa

The Testarossa burst on to the 1980s supercar scene bearing a name that linked it back to the racing 250 Testa Rossa (‘red head’) of the ’50s but it was far from a barebones sports car. Introduced as a replacement for the Berlinetta Boxer, the Testarossa might have been very sporty but its generous dimensions and luxurious interior hinted at it being more of a fast grand tourer than a track day toy.

Those signature side intake strakes (necessary to feed the side-mounted radiators) and angular styling could not have been more different from the BB’s smooth, flowing lines. Under the aggressively styled body was a well-balanced chassis and a revised 4.9-litre flat-12 with 180mph performance potential.

While the basic design would last all the way through to 1996 in the form of the updated 512 TR and F512M, the Testarossa itself was left largely untouched during its six-year production run. Although, the very first cars featured a single high-mounted driver side mirror which tends to get collectors salivating.

A few other minor mechanical changes were carried out over the years toobut when it comes to finding a Testarossa, you basically have one choice and it will most likely be in red.

Ferrari Testarossa (1987) front

Ferrari Testarossa (1987) back

The Ferrari Testarossa Engine

An evolution of the 512BBi unit, the flat-12 has proven itself to be a strong and reliable motor. Maintenance costs are high however and a service every year or around 6-7,000 miles is required. If left neglected this engine can be very costly to repair.

Water pumps on pre-1989 cars can fail prematurely; a factory update was carried out so check the records for evidence of this. Many cars are left standing for long periods and rubber seals and pipes, especially for the air conditioner, can perish or harden with disuse.

Cambelt changes are required every 15,000 miles or three years. The engine needs to be removed for the operation and is labour intensive as result.

Ferrari Testarossa (1986) engine

Testarossa five-speed transmission 

There was one five-speed transmission option throughout production with some minor updates in 1988. It is a hard-wearing unit and does not require much more than a periodic clutch change, which needs doing every 15,000 miles or so. It is an engine out job and can be combined with the cambelt replacement to cut costs. The updated internals from the 512 TR can also be used to extend its lifespan.

Regardless of the gearbox and clutch condition, the gears (especially second) will be hard to engage until the gearbox oil has warmed up.

Suspension and brakes of the Testarossa

Cars produced in 1985 and early 1986 were fitted with a Michelin TRX tyre/wheel system. This system was short-lived and due to the odd-sized alloys required a conversion to the later setup to be able to use standard tyres.

The Testarossa is a heavy car and the shocks and bushes will need to be checked regularly. The brakes are strong, and they should only require attention at every alternate service. A pulsing or vibration through the pedal when braking could indicate warped rotors.


Testarossa Bodywork

That single outside mirror on the first batch of cars was due to a misinterpretation of a European law and from 1986-on low-mounted mirrors became standard. If they are mounted high, then this is an aftermarket job and you may want to ensure that there is no rust or damage around the mirror or original mounting point.

While there are not too many visual differences between Euro and US cars, the US spec included large safety bumpers at the rear and a third brake light from 1986-on. Regardless of the minor cosmetic differences the majority of the body panels were made of aluminium so rust should not be a major issue here.

It is still important to check for badly repaired accident damage or poor resprays. The body panels should align well and those complex side strakes should be totally straight.

Ferrari Testarossa (1986) profile

Ferrari Testarossa Interior

The Testarossa comes from an era when parent company Fiat thought nothing of fitting switches, buttons and vents from its mid-range saloons into its supercars. Thus, the cabin of the Testarossa, especially the dashboard, has not aged particularly gracefully.

The electronics are a weak point in many cars and only the most pampered cars will be trouble-free. Check all switches and buttons to see what needs attention, and if the car is fitted with a decades old immobiliser/alarm system it may be best to have a specialist remove the whole lot and fit something more modern and reliable.

Sourcing replacement trim and switchgear can require some searching but the leather interior can be relatively easily re-covered and most cars should still look good in this regard. Yes, the driver’s seat base always looks a bit worn.

There was a recall on US cars regarding the passive restraint seatbelts as well as a steering column locknut issue, so check the documentation to ensure that the fixes were carried out.

Ferrari Testarossa (1987) interior


History of the ferrari testarossa

1984: Ferrari Testarossa replaces long-running 512BB. 385bhp flat-12 powers the rear wheels through a five-speed manual gearbox. US variants fitted with catalytic converters and produced 10bhp less than Euro cars

1986: Michelin TRX tyre system changed for more conventional set-up

1986: One-off silver Testarossa Spider delivered to Gianni Agnelli. A handful of unofficial conversions also exist

1987: Passive restraint system introduced on US versions. The dashboard design also received some subtle changes

1988: Single bolt wheel changed to a more conventional five-stud design

1989: Catalytic converters now standard fitment on Euro spec cars

1991: Ferrari Testarossa production ends with 7177 units built

Which Testarossa To Buy

Values may have dipped slightly over the past year but a good Testarossa with a few miles on it has been around the $70,000 mark for some time now. It was not always as sought-after and during the lean years some cars may have missed out on regular servicing and maintenance schedules so some remedial work may need to be carried out.

That said, garage queens that have been left untouched for years may also require a significant recommissioning service, so don’t dismiss clean, higher mileage examples out of hand.

Thanks to a relatively high production number, prices in the past have been reasonable for these accomplished sports tourers but good ones are now getting very pricey. The early single side-mirror models seem to have quite a following and mileage and colour also have an impact on values. Ferrari Classiche certification also bumps the price up a bit and RHD cars are quite rare so those too come in at a premium.

Subtle differences between Euro and US models don’t significantly alter the driving experience and with minimal changes throughout production, the model year is far less important here than condition. Buy the best you can afford to minimise any potential issues.

Ferrari Testarossa (1986) front 2

Ferrari Testarossa Specifications

4.9-litre Flat-12

Power 385bhp (Euro) 375bhp (US)

Top speed 180mph

0-60mph 5.3sec

Economy 22mpg

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Text John Tallodi  Photos Sports Classics Geneva, Cars & Dreams

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