Ferrari’s sporting and Grand Touring reputation through the ’50s and ’60s was built around low and sleek Italian bodies fitted with front engine V12 engines. The pinnacle of the road-going, front-engine V12 era was the 365GTB/4 Daytona of 1969–1974.
By 1973 the Lamborghini Miura and Countach were making the Daytona look and feel old-fashioned, and Ferrari had to answer Lamborghini’s threat with something equally as exotic. Since Lamborghini used a transverse, chain-driven, V12, Ferrari had to be different and produced an in-line, belt-driven, flat-12 with its transmission mounted below the engine.
Ferrari’s stated rationale for a mid-mounted flat-12 was that the new configuration would allow a lower center of gravity and better handling.
First in the new line of Ferrari supercars was the 365GT4/BB, produced from 1973–1976. With only 387 made, it remains the rarest of Boxers and the quickest, thanks to peaky cams and “short” transmission gearing. A well running 365 BB is a rocket-ship going through 1st, 2nd and 3rd gears. Its stunning acceleration is accompanied by the wonderful sound of a very busy flat-12 with lots of carburetors sucking air.
Following the 365 was the 512BB, built from 1976 to 1981. With only 921 cars produced, the carbureted 512s are relatively rare, especially compared to Ferrari’s current production numbers. While not as quick as the 365GT4/BB through the first three gears, the extra 600ccs affect the top end, giving the carbureted 512BB to king-of-the-hill rights as the fastest of the Boxers.
With ever-toughening emissions controls worldwide, Ferrari added fuel-injection to the 512, creating the 512BBi. The engine was tuned for more bottom and mid-range performance, but a weaker top-end. From 1981 and 1984 1,007 512BBis were produced.
A reasonable guess would be that perhaps 25% of the total production of 2,315 cars, or about 550, Boxers were imported into the US, all through the gray market as there was never an offical US Boxer model. With the toughening of American emission laws in the late 1980s and a tremendous export boom to Japan and back to Europe, between 1985 and ’91 perhaps half of the total US Boxer population was sold to Japan or back to Europe, resulting in perhaps 250 Boxers remaining in America today.
With room for the tallest driver, adequate air conditioning, light steering and excellent brakes, the Boxers are a driver’s delight. On the negative side, while the balance and handling are very good, once the handling limits are reached the car can and will swap ends for the over-exuberant or unwary driver.
The prices of all three models are virtually identical today, ranging from $55,000 for “just a car” to $75,000 to $80,000 for the best of the best. With top quality Daytonas selling for $125,000, a Boxer at about one half that price is the Ferrari world’s supercar bargain.
My favorite? The 365GT4/BB. Rare, and with aggressive cams and “short” transmission gearing, it provides F-16 style acceleration. The carburetors make a great gobbling sound as they suck in air. And finally, the earlier styling with a clamshell front spoiler makes the 365 the cleanest design and best looking of the Boxer series. Dollar per horsepower, you’ll never find a better deal.