6 October 2015

Meeting Your Hero: The Ferrari Testarossa

The 1980s were strange times to be a teenager. On the one hand, you had the almost incessant threat of nuclear obliteration, apartheid, the Sinclair C5, and The Smiths.
To balance this misery, you had total pastel escapism:  big hair, shoulder pads, Wham! and, most fantastic of them all, Miami Vice.

At 9.25 every Tuesday night, I settled down on my brown velour sofa next to my mum & dad in our bungalow on the outskirts of Staines, and prepared to enter another world. This was a place where the sky was pink and palm trees lined every road. Where drug dealers owned speedboats and espadrille- clad policemen gave chase in white suits and lilac T-shirts.

But for me, the star of the show was not Don Jonhson, but the car that he drove- a white Ferrari Testarossa; I loved that car. I thought it was the most exotic and amazing thing I had ever seen- instantly recognisable, with its fluted side intakes, pointed nose and ridiculous afterthought wing mirror perched halfway up the A pillar.

You have to put this in context. At the time, my dad drove an orange Ford Sierra. My richest friend’s dad drove a black Porsche 911 (which incidentally explains a lot about my current Porsche fetish). I don’t think I had ever seen a real Ferrari; the closest I had come was washing a Toyota MR2 for a neighbour.

Now I’m in my forties and, like many men my age, I’m yearning for my youth. Desires that I’ve kept hidden for decades have suddenly re-emerged: the house is once again resonating to the sound of Bon Jovi, and I have a real thing for 1980s cars which last year culminated in me buying a Porsche 944. But one itch remained unscratched: the Testarossa. This week, all that changed. This week, I got to drive a Ferrari Testarossa.

The car was gently burbling away at idle when I arrived, and my first impression was unexpected: it was actually quite small. The fact that the Testarossa is wider at the back than at the front is a thing of legend, and I had expected it to fill the carriageway. In reality, it was dwarfed by a modern 4x4 and looked –the best word I can find to describe it- delicate. I fumbled for the door handle, cunningly hidden in the fluted door, then slipped into the crema leather interior.

Inside, the dials hit you first. They are very orange, and a little bit Fiat Uno. The digital VDO mileage gauge tries a little bit too hard to be futuristic, as does the bank of coloured buttons and dials that smother the central console. Under the armrest nestles a veritable mix tape of pop-up cassette holders.  But the important parts are unmistakably classic Ferrari: the simple, understated black leather Momo steering wheel with prancing horse horn push and the stainless steel gate on the dogleg gearbox.

We set off, and my first impression was that this is really easy to drive. With the exception of the gear change that required a little more positivity that I am used to, the car handled very well even at low speeds. I expected it to be an angry, snarling beast that you had to rein-in; the reality is very different. Through school-run traffic in a small Oxfordshire town the car behaved impeccably - even with the windows down, the 4943cc flat- 12 engine hardly attracted any attention.

Once out of the traffic and onto a winding Cotswold A-road, the car remained a delight. Responsive without being skittish, this car may have an over-excited horse on the bonnet, but it doesn’t act like one. 

But, when you need the car to deliver the goods, it does. Given the space to overtake a Ford Focus, I dropped a gear and moved out into the oncoming carriageway. As the revs leapt beyond five thousand RPM, the engine came alive: lots of power and a glorious amount of noise. Unlike some cars which can’t put the power on the road, the Testarossa felt perfectly balanced, even when you demanded all that it had. The car I was with, a 1959 Ferrari 250 Pininfarina, (that’s another story) was by now some way ahead, and catching it was truly one of the most pleasurable driving experiences I have ever had. As my confidence in this machine grew, so my smile grew wider, until finally I just had to laugh out loud.

When we finally reached our destination and I spent a few minutes photographing these two stunning cars as they ticked in the autumn sunshine, I ruminated on the saying that you should never meet your heroes, as they will always disappoint. Well, this week I met my hero and it was everything I expected, plus a whole lot more.

It is no surprise that values of the Ferrari Testarossa have rocketed over the last few years- this is a truly great car, and with the original viewers of Miami Vice now in their mid- forties, there are some rich people out there who now want one. I just wish I’d bought one a few years ago when they were forty grand.

The 1991 Ferrari Testarossa used in this article is currently for sale at Cotswold Collector Cars. For more information contact www.cotswoldcars.com or telephone 01242 821600.

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