My friend had done well that year. He was quite a bit older, but we’d bonded over cars, especially as I was starting my second year at Art Center training to be a car designer. One evening he pulled up to my apartment in his brand-new Ferrari Testarossa, I was shocked. Having paid a premium for it, he was probably one of the few in Los Angeles fortunate enough to take delivery. Red over tan leather, it was outrageous in every dimension, at every level of performance, and exceptional in detail.
Introduced at the Paris Auto Show in 1984, the Pininfarina designed Ferrari Testarossa truly shocked everyone with unprecedented styling, remarkable performance, and technical innovations. Designer and trained aerodynamicist Leonardo Fioravanti, already credited with many modern Ferrari designs, set the stage for a dramatic departure from the aging Berlinetta Boxer. The risks were very high as Ferrari needed to establish leadership and volume sales, particularly in North America. They not only needed a top selling car, they needed a car that would set new standards for their brand. Not only did the Testarossa deliver superlative performance, it provided dramatic visual results, born of necessity. Dealing directly with the previous cooling challenges and cabin heat issues that had plagued the 512 BB, the Testarossa design team placed radiators on each side of the car, adding a full 12” of additional width, while also increasing the wheelbase.
Of course, the added room allowed for ample trunk and passenger space, but the most striking design feature was the bold use of the enormous side openings, accented by five horizontal blades or strakes, which visually diffused the vast intake chambers while also meeting U.S. safety requirements for open venting. Whatever controversy ensued over the advanced looks was immediately quieted by surprising performance statistics and ultimately record-breaking sales.
Power for the new design came from a new Ferrari four valve, horizontally opposed, 12-cylinder engine capable of delivering 390 hp. Quick and capable at high speeds, the Testarossa was properly appointed inside with leather seats and a wide console. The sizable trunk and comfortable seating position made it an ideal car for comfortable long-distance high-speed touring.
Early examples are today known for their single side mirror, placed high on the driver’s side A-pillar, referred to as “Monospeccio”. Later series cars would adopt dual mirrors mounted in a lower position, removing one of the most unique features of this car. And while these truly ground-breaking cars established Ferrari as a leader in design and technology, even though 35 years have lapsed since its debut, the Testarossa still inspires as a lasting statement of advanced design.