Articles

Michael Sheehan's Ferraris-online.com Article

Modding the Prancing Pony

When it comes to older Ferraris, what once was supercar performance is now dated, and speed costs money. How fast do you want to go?

As appeared in:

Sports Car Market—July 2007 issue

Sheehan Speaks

by Michael Sheehan

There’s always been a direct connection between how much fun your sports car is, and how fast it goes. Best of all is a machine that makes all the right noises, and few cars do that better a 12-cylinder Ferrari.

Alas, when it comes to older Ferraris, what was once supercar performance is now dated, so there is a small “tuner” world of Ferrari owners and specialized Ferrari shops that apply modern technology and racing knowledge to upgrade older Ferraris.

Beefing up a Boxer

Heavyweight Boxer
Heavyweight Boxer

In November 2006, I sold 1981 Ferrari 512 BB s/n 35411, an interesting Boxer in that it had one owner over 30,000 miles, yet never had its cam belts changed (See February, “Serpentine Issue, Straight Answer,” p.46). The new owner, Lee Jolley is a mechanical engineer and a diehard enthusiast. After purchasing this 512 BB he wrote “the first time I saw the Boxer coming out of the mist on the cover of Road & Track back in 1978, I thought it was the greatest looking car ever. I have waited twenty-six years and my desire for the car has never wavered.” But wanting modern performance along with the classic looks, Lee Jolley shipped his just-purchased 512 BB to Carobu Engineering in Costa Mesa, California, for some enhancements.

Introduced at the Paris Auto Show in October 1976, the 512 BB was rated at 340 hp with 333 ft-lbs of torque, with a top speed of 168 mph. We pick up the story with Tate Casey, of Carobu, who wrote “we were talking initially about a $30,000 estimate for the engine work. Our plan was to increase the compression ratio, change the cam profile, and improve the cylinder head porting. This was the first stage of budgeting, but the ‘while-you’re-at-it’ syndrome soon took hold. There was no final budget for this project as it just seemed to evolve through a series of upgrades.”

While Carobu had hoped to get 450 hp, in a streetable form, the final results were beyond expectation with a whooping 471 hp at 7,000 rpm, and a stump-pulling 399 ft-lbs of torque at 5,100 rpm.

Boxer engine, chock full of power and torque
Boxer engine, chock full of power and torque

Balancing the package

While the engine work was under way, an update of the brakes, wheels, and suspension was done, with new bushings, re-plating, painting, powder-coating, etc. The spring-shock combo was changed to coil-over Konis, which allow the ride height, spring rate and corner weights to be adjusted. The brakes were completely rebuilt, calipers refinished, rotors ground and drilled, and 17-inch, five-spoke, three-piece SL Comp wheels were fitted. Modern rubber is a necessity when the performance of these cars is improved; the 17-inch wheels and tires also lighten the steering effort at low speed and improve the ride.

The “while-you’re-at-it” syndrome was capped off with new paint and leather. The final bill for engine, $35,000; for the gearbox, $3,000; Tubi exhaust at $4,000; the brakes, suspension, springs and shocks another $10,000; wheels and tires at $6,000; dash and interior at $12,000; and body and paint at $20,000, for a not-unreasonable $90,000. The owner summarized the final package when he wrote “I just decided that I wanted to have the Boxer I always dreamed of. And now I do.”

A 365 GTC/4 Q-ship

5-liter C/4 on the dyno at Carobu
5-liter C/4 on the dyno at Carobu

While visiting Carobu for this article I was taken by a silver blue C/4 that had been tastefully updated by the owner. Casey said, “the C/4 owner was looking to rebuild the suspension and brakes. I suggested he add the coil-over Koni kit and the Brembo GT brake package at the same time. He later asked about engine performance, so we discussed the possibility of using a larger 412 (5-liter) engine as a basis for more power and more torque. I knew that this engine would be horsepower-limited by the stock 38-mm Weber carbs and ‘center-feed’ intake ports, so the focus was on tractable torque. The goal was 400-plus hp and good torque to pull the C/4 through the gears.”

When introduced in 1971, the 365 GTC/4 engine put out 340 hp with 320 ft-lbs of torque from 4.4 liters. The C/4 engine evolved into the 400 with 4.8 liters and finally into the 412 with 5 liters. Carobu started with a used 5-liter 412 long-block and heads as the basis for the bigger engine. Many items had to be adopted for the C/4-412 engine conversion to work. For example, a new bell housing adaptor was made to fit the C/4’s 5-speed transmission into place, as the 400 and 412 bell housing is larger. That’s one of many engineering challenges that should deter you from trying this conversion at home. When finished, the 5-liter C/4 dyno tested at 410 hp with 380 ft-lbs of torque, a major jump, although not as impressive as the more race-bred Boxer engine.

365 GTC/4, eighty-grand later
365 GTC/4, eighty-grand later

The result was a C/4 that was more muscular, stopped better, and handled like a much more modern car. The cost was $10,000 for a used 412 engine; $40,000 for the engine rebuild and conversion work; $12,000 for much larger Brembo brakes and calipers; $10,000 for a full suspension update and rebuild with shocks and springs. Add $7,000 for 17-inch wheels and tires for a total of about $80,000.

Doing it to a Daytona

Over the years, I’ve sold over one hundred Daytonas, and I often recommend some good old-fashioned hot rod tricks, especially to the more anemic U.S. versions. When it’s time for a major service—something rarely needed on a Daytona—merely adding a set of the period P-6 cams, as used on the 365 GTB/4C Comp cars, or an improved computer-engineered cam profile, at $4,000–$5,000, is good for 15 to 25 hp. A set of Euro or Tubi headers will cost another $5,000 and add another 15 to 25 hp. A normal rebuild on the 350-hp engine of a 365 GTB/4 is in the $25,000 range. Doing a professional cylinder head porting job will add another $5,000 to the bill, but will also add another 15 to 25 hp, for a finished rating about 400 to 425 horsepower.

The stock Daytona had a 3.3 rear end gear, good for a hypothetical (but unattainable) top speed of about 185 mph at 7,700 rpm. The Comp Daytona’s shorter 3.90 gear set gives a very attainable top speed of 165 mph, and when combined with the $5,000 gear set, gets the Daytona there in a hurry.

The cost of going faster

Many people prefer older cars, but want to add in a healthy dose of modern performance. While few will spend $90,000 restoring and improving a Boxer, or $80,000 hot-rodding a C/4, many Daytona buyers go for the more limited $15,000–$20,000 updates. When it’s time to sell any of these cars, the return on the money spent is a fraction of the cost of the work, but Ferrari ownership is both a lifestyle and a statement, and showering performance dollars on a Ferrari separates those who merely lust for one from those who’ll actually pay the price of performance.

MIKE SHEEHAN has been a Ferrari broker and racer for 30 years. He has raced in the Mazda Pro Series and the Trans Am Series as well as IMSA GTO and IMSA Camel-Lite, with three drives in the 24 Hours of Daytona.