11 May 2016

Market Spotlight: Ferrari 512 BB and BBi

For quite some time, the Ferrari 512 BB was seen as a used exotic. It was a fast and wild-looking ride, but also one that wasn’t as quick as Ferrari’s newer offerings. Additionally, it could be a potential ticking time bomb of prohibitively expensive service bills. Recently, however, it has gained broad acceptance from Ferraristi, and for the past few years prices have, unsurprisingly, risen along with interest.

The BB (Berlinetta Boxer) story dates back to the 1971 Turin Motor Show, when the 365 GT4 BB was first introduced as Ferrari’s mid-engined answer to cars like the Lamborghini Miura and Maserati Bora. Ferrari had been building the six-cylinder Dino for a few years, but the Boxer was the first “proper” Ferrari road car with twelve cylinders behind the driver. The engine was similar to the 365 GTB/4 Daytona’s, but was now a 180-degree V-12. Due to its flat arrangement, the cylinders reduced the engine’s height, and thus the five-speed gearbox was actually mounted underneath it. 

Less than 400 365 GT4 BBs were built before a revised and more civilized version replaced it. Called the 512 BB, it was introduced at the 1976 Paris Salon alongside the 400. It had wider tires and rear track than the 365, and the most notable cosmetic changes were NACA ducts ahead of the rear wheels, four instead of six round taillights, and a chin spoiler. Under the engine cover, the twelve had grown to 4942-cc thanks to a larger bore and a different crankshaft that lengthened the stroke. Fed by four triple-choke Weber carburetors, it now also featured dry sump lubrication. Although the engine was larger, the 512 BB did not make any more horsepower than its predecessor, but it did have significantly more torque for more usable grunt. While top speed was a claimed 188 mph, period road tests fell well short of this figure, and at high speeds the BB’s speedometer is known to be a bit optimistic.

Ferrari never officially sold the Berlinetta Boxer in the U.S. market, so American buyers had to import them via gray market and have them modified and federalized at independent specialist shops. In 1980, American emissions laws changed again, and it was almost impossible to make the carbureted 512 BB meet the new standards. In part as a response to that, a new version with Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection called the 512 BBi was introduced in 1981, after just over 900 carbureted cars had been built.

Other than the addition of an “i” on the car’s badge, the 512 BBi can be distinguished by its exposed driving lights on the nose, shorter grille and rectangular parking lights fitted within a revised exhaust shroud. Despite the fuel injection, the 512 still wasn’t sold in the U.S., but was easier to federalize. Just over 1,000 were built from 1981-84, when the BB series was replaced by the Testarossa

Today, even the newest of the BBs are over 30 years old, and although they achieved forgettable results on the track, they’ve gained a lot of appreciation in recent years among collectors. The wedge styling that at one time might have looked dated now looks classic and cool. More importantly, the 512 series is now lauded as being among Ferrari’s last road cars completely built by hand and the car that signaled Ferrari’s acceptance of non-competition mid-engine technology. 

Aside from the twelve-cylinder wail behind your ears and the sharp Pininfarina lines, the Boxer is also appealing, as many Ferraris are, as a car that’s comfortable as well as fast. “The Boxer is far superior to its competition in terms of ergonomics, and the AC actually works if you set it up right,” says Todd Wertman of European Collectibles in Newport Beach, CA. “Manufacturers building these mid-engined cars were still figuring out how to move the cockpit forward so there were a lot of compromises in cabin comfort, but the Boxer has the least of these problems compared to something like a Pantera or a Countach.”

When searching for a Boxer, the biggest things to keep in mind are any modifications that were done in period for federalization and, of course, service history. According to Wertman, “because the federalization process wasn’t standardized, there were a bunch of shops doing all sorts of different things to get the car to meet regulations. Because that stuff is no longer required, the most desirable cars are things like euro market examples that were never modified to begin with.”  

A car that was previously federalized in the U.S. that has been brought back to factory specs also seems tempting, but it isn’t that simple, according to Dave Helms of Scuderia Rampante, a Ferrari specialist and restoration facility in Erie, Colorado. “The issue is that if a previously federalized car has been modified back to factory specs, then it’s a violation equivalent to speedometer rollback, and technically the car can be impounded.” The chances of that happening might not be very high, but “cars that have been federalized and changed again are a risk.”

As for service history, these cars have always been relatively expensive to maintain (they are Ferraris, after all), and one can spend anywhere from 10 to 40 grand getting one sorted, even though they are relatively reliable. Consistent maintenance is extremely important with these cars, and the ones that are the most expensive to own are the ones that have had delayed service. That’s true of many cars, but it’s especially true for 512s. According to Helms, “it only gets really expensive if someone hasn’t been maintaining it. A car with a complete, consistent service history with no gaps is ideal, because service history is everything with these cars. In addition to that, crossing state lines and national borders is something that goes back to the federalization issue, so where the car has been is another part of the paperwork that really has to be clear.” 

Helms also notes that two of the 512’s biggest trouble spots are leaking head gaskets and failure of the engine’s sodium-filled valves. As for carburetors versus fuel injection, it’s largely a matter of personal preference. Some prefer the visceral feeling of a twelve fed by Webers, but Helms points out that “with the fuels available today and their alcohol content, vapor lock can be a problem on the carbureted cars. Injected cars handle today’s fuel much better, so if the car is going to be driven a lot, then a BBi is probably the best choice.”

Because Boxers weren’t particularly valuable until recently, it wasn’t always financially viable to give a car its needed attention. “It used to be that a seller would note the cars needs but just pass them on to the next guy,” says Wertman. Now that the cars routinely command at least a quarter million dollars, though, things are different. Owners are now more comfortable spending money at the shop, while buyers want a car that is really well done and are willing to pay for it, especially when the work is done by a reputable shop or restorer. 

Now that these cars are worth it, the market responds in a big way to how good the car is. “If you just drag one out of the garage and do basic prep to get it to auction, people are going to know that it won’t be that usable. On the other hand, if you spend 10 grand on service, you can expect to get more than that back. That’s how much people want a car without needs,” says Wertman.

Since the beginning of 2011, 512 BBs’ and BBis’ average price at auction has increased 263 percent. The biggest result was a low mileage, 1981 example that RM sold at Monterey in 2014 for $473,000. That was followed by over a dozen Boxers selling at auction over the next year. Two factors help explain this huge growth in Boxer values. One is the growth in the Ferrari market across the board that has seen previously underappreciated models pulled up by the wider trend. The other is the greater interest in cars from the 1980s as many of the young people who dreamed about them when they were the hottest new cars on the road are now old enough to afford them.

The Scottsdale and Amelia Island auctions this year both brought out a number of Boxers. The most expensive was a freshly restored 1984 BBi formerly owned by AJ Foyt that Gooding sold in Scottsdale for $440,000, while the cheapest was a 1978 model that Bonhams sold in Scottsdale for $253,000. In contrast to the fully documented and pristine A.J. Foyt car at Gooding, the example at Bonhams had been stolen during the 1980s, had an otherwise hazy history, and was in no better than driver condition. It was hammered not sold at a high bid of $240,000 at the Keno auction in New York the month before. Two other original but sound cars sold in Amelia for $297,000 apiece, but the two cars in Scottsdale best demonstrate the price gulf between a car with issues and a premium example that’s among the best of its kind. Both Helms and Wertman have noted that most of the best 512s seem to have already been sold since the values started climbing, and many of the most recent ones to come to auction are not complete on that all-important maintenance and documentation and are therefore less desirable and valuable.

While growing Boxer values are unlikely to continue at the same pace, now that they are full-blown classics and quite valuable, many of the cars that suffered from deferred maintenance will continue to have their needs addressed. Furthermore, because Boxers aren’t particularly rare by classic Ferrari standards, they will continue appearing regularly at auctions where buyers should continue placing a premium on fully sorted factory-spec cars and reputable shops’ work. Regardless of values, though, the Boxer’s biggest appeal is that it’s a usable classic exotic that, in addition to marking a historically significant change for the company, is among the last Ferraris to have that classic analog look, feel and sound.


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