Tip-Top Testarossa

The 1980s Ferrari Testarossa was a huge critical and sales hitand is still a blast to drive today

The Testarossa was a significant advance for Ferrari. Designed for series production, this flat-12 supercar continued Ferrari's 12-cylinder tradition in a modern, mid-engined configuration that could be traced directly to the 512 and 312 sports prototypes and Ferrari's years of Formula One experience.

This 1988 Testarossa is a U.S.-delivery example equipped with stereo sound system and air conditioning. Its odometer shows just 37,227 miles, a reading that appears to be appropriate to its condition. It is complete with its books and tools and comes with an extensive file of ownership documents and service history.

Perhaps best of all, it is distinctively finished in Argento (silver) over Bordeaux leather upholstery, an attractive complement to the distinctive lines of the Testarossa's Pininfarina body design and a refreshing change from the common red over tan. Freshly serviced, this attractive, handsome Argento Testarossa is ready to be used and enjoyed.

The SCM Analysis

This car sold for $63,250 at RM's Collector Cars of Ft. Lauderdale auction on February 16, 2008.

One of the perks of being a franchised automobile dealer is going to dealer meetings. The meetings are often lavish affairs in fun locations with an obligatory excess of food and libation. Dealers complain about having to go to the meetings, but few share the chore with the next in line or gain much sympathy from their audience.

Ferrari is no different from other manufacturers and as you can imagine, Ferrari throws quite a soirée. In 1984, franchised Ferrari dealers from around North America were treated to a pilgrimage to Maranello for a dealer meeting and their introduction to a new model that would forever change the business of selling Ferraris.

Near silence when the car appeared

The guests were taken to the Imola race track, where three new Testarossas were waiting for critical inspection and track time. The car had already been shown in Europe and anyone interested could have seen detailed photographs of it, but this was the first time most of the guests had seen the car in the flesh. I'm told there was near silence while everyone crawled into, out of, and under the car. It was stunning in the flesh, a total departure from its predecessor and a bold statement of Pininfarina's talent. Everyone recognized it would be a cash cow, but no one could have anticipated what the next few years would bring.

You might expect Ferrari's test drivers to cut back a couple clicks when chauffeuring an important guest, but the reality is the opposite. The drivers seem to relish showing off for a passenger by dancing the car around the track in a flamboyant fashion that is as much a demonstration of their car control as it is the fastest way around the track. The Testarossa event was no different. The pilots showed the grand touring machine could be as nimble as a sports car, pushing the car to its limits and encouraging the guests to be aggressive when it was their turn to drive.

The demonstration hit its mark, and the dealers returned home wildly enthusiastic about the new car. Not long after the dealer event, the first North American preview of the Testarossa was staged. The invitation-only presentation was sponsored by Philip Morris and held at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. Few people even noticed the Marlboro-liveried Ferrari F1 car, as the red Testarossa stole the show. Again, the response was wildly enthusiastic and fueled a buzz that attracted people who had never before considered a Ferrari.

Almost no way to lose money on one

Testarossa hysteria exploded through the late '80s and peaked in late 1990. In the U.S. the 1974 Daytona was the last officially imported 12-cylinder Ferrari. By 1985, the strong pent-up demand for a 12-cylinder Ferrari fueled the anticipation of the exciting new model. Before the first car was delivered, many dealers had sold their allocation way into the future. When the first cars began to hit the dealerships, the law of supply and demand kicked in. Buyers unwilling to wait in line for a car started offering a premium for an early delivery position or a resale.

Almost immediately the premium was $10,000 over list price, which quickly rose to $30,000, then crept to nearly $150,000. For five years, there was almost no way to lose money on a Testarossa. All you had to do was get your hands on one and you either owned it for free or made money on it. Everybody wanted one.

Today the Testarossa is still an impressive car, but it no longer commands the attention it once did. The styling that was so exciting in 1985 does not have the timeless quality of many Pininfarina designs. Like other items from the "Miami Vice" era, what was cool then seems over the top today—but unlike pastel sports coats with T-shirts, the Testarossa still has a large following.

You will find a wide variance in Testarossa pricing, and with good reason; there is a wide variance in condition. Many Testarossas were purchased as investments and tucked away in the corner of a warehouse, covered, and left for someone with lots of bucks who wanted it worse than the present owner. The low mileage and unused condition became an albatross the next owner felt obligated to feed, so it is not unusual to find virtually new Testarossas for sale.

Once the market crashed in 1991 and used Testarossas became relatively affordable, many owners discovered they really enjoyed driving their cars. Examples with 40,000 miles are commonplace, with even higher mileage cars dotting the classifieds. Naturally, with mileages ranging from under 10,000 miles to over 75,000, and with conditions varying from new to scruffy, the corresponding pricing can be diverse.

Big services often exceed $10,000

The big cost of owning a used Testarossa is maintenance. An engine-out major service is necessary around every five years (or 30,000 miles, but few hit that number first). The base service can probably be done in the $6,000 area, but "while we're here" items usually push the total over $10,000, a number that has significant influence on the value of a Testarossa.

Along with service, cosmetic condition also plays a big part in a Testarossa's value. Few buyers of $50,000-plus cars have to stretch to buy the car, and few will settle for a scruffy one. Shrunken dashes, worn interiors, paint issues or stories are the kiss of death to a Testarossa. If $5,000 more gets a better car, then the buyer just digs a little deeper.

The Testarossa RM sold is just what you want to find. As a 1988, it is essentially cosmetically identical to the last car that came off the line and benefits from most of the updates that were made during the model's production. It has been freshly serviced and comes with service records plus books and tools. The mileage is appropriate to the model. Silver is not my favorite color, but it should be acceptable to anyone who doesn't have to have a red one. It was sold by a dealer who usually deals in older exotics to a Midwestern dealer who deals in all kinds of collector cars. The buyer and seller know each other, and I think the result—at the high end of wholesale market—came after a personal assurance that the car was as good as it looked. Had a retail buyer held his hand up, he would have gotten a good deal, as it will take a good deal more cash to buy the car from the current owner.

Details

Years Produced: 1985-91

Number Produced: 7,200 approx.

Original List Price: $89,000 (1985), $172,000 (1991)

SCM Valuation: 1985-1987.5, $40,000-$60,000; 1987.5-1991, $50,000-$70,000

Tune-up Cost: $7,000, but expect to pay way more

Distributor Caps: $490 each, 2 required

Chassis # Location: Top frame rail in engine compartment, passenger side

Engine # Location: Top of engine block, just right of center, close to bell housing

Club Info: Ferrari Club of America PO Box 720597 Atlanta, GA 30358

Website: click to visit

Alternatives: 1978-85 Porsche 930 Turbo, 1967-73 Maserati Ghibli coupe 1985-89 Lamborghini Countach 5000 QV

Investment Grade: C