It didn’t happen often but Enzo Ferrari had been caught off guard in the early Seventies. His front-engine Daytona had become rather outdated compared to what fierce rivals Lamborghini had cooked up in the shape of the Miura and then the Countach. Enzo was playing catch-up but when the mid-engined 365 GT4 BB was unveiled at the 1971 Turin Salon, it thrust Ferrari into a new era. With a 4.4-litre flat-12 boxer engine, it was the fastest road car at the time. 400 were built before being succeeded by the stunning 512 BB in ‘76.
With a larger 5.0-litre DOHC horizontally opposed 12-cylinder motor fed via four Weber triple-choke carbs making 360bhp and mated to a five-speed manual gearbox, it made enthusiasts grow weak at the knees. It resurrected the historical 512 racing car’s nomenclature and earned that right too what with its ability to hit 100kph in a mid-five-second sprint and a top speed of 280kph.
Featuring a wonderfully retro wedge shape (with pop-up headlights; out went the predecessor’s triple taillight for simplified twin versions), the clamshell panels covered the front and rear and when they opened they provided a clear view of the hot mechanicals hiding below. To help deal with the new power, a dual-plate clutch was installed while a dry sump lubrication system prevented oil starvation in hard cornering. Its chassis didn’t need much tweaking — barring wider rear tyres and a wider track (a testament to how well the 365 GT 4 BB was designed) but it got a new lower chin spoiler up front while to help cool the exhaust system NACA ducts ahead of the rear wheels were fitted.
It was the gentleman’s supercar — which just so happened to go to finishing school in Formula One. Aside from the 12-cylinder wail behind your ears and the sharp Pininfarina lines, the Boxer was also appealing, as many Ferraris are, as a car that’s comfortable as well as fast. Its chassis offered a flat, roll-free experience along with a very acceptable ride. Although the Countach had the edge in terms of performance, the 512 BB made for a better long-distance tourer.
Over a five year production run nearly 1,000 were produced before Ferrari eventually evolved it into the fuel-injected BBi and then it eventually gave way to the 512 TR Testarossa.