Who else but Ferrari can make such a splash in the automotive world with each new model it releases. Such was the case—and perhaps the biggest splash yet—at the 1984 Paris Motor Show when the Italian carmaker debuted its radical Testarossa as a successor to the popular 512 BBi. The name means "red head" and was a throwback to the famed sports racing 250 Testa Rossa of the late 1950s. But the similarities stopped at the name.
The most recognizable features of the reborn Pininfarnina-styled Testarossa were the deep horizontal strakes that ran the length of both doors, feeding air into the side-mounted radiators. The world had never seen such a car, and it polarized those who saw it.
Power for the Testarossa came from a mid-mounted, 4.9-liter, 48-valve, flat-12, which produced 380 horsepower and 361 ft-lb of torque—enough to propel the car to 60 mph in just over five seconds and on to a top speed just shy of 180 mph. A five-speed gearbox put all that power to the rear wheels, and suspension was independent all around, with unequal-length upper and lower A-arms, coil springs, hydraulic shocks, and anti-roll bars. Big ventilated disc brakes completed the mechanical package.
Even at 3,700 pounds, the Testarossa was a nimble, forgiving machine, and the motoring press praised it for its road manners.
Not much changed on the Testarossa during its seven-year production. While originally fitted with only a two-stemmed driver's side outside mirror mounted half way up the A-pillar, in 1987 it was moved to the A-pillar base and a passenger mirror was added. A passive restraint system was also added that year. The only major change came in the pricing department, as the cost of entry soared from about $85,000 in 1985 to nearly $150,000 by 1990.
After more than 7,000 cars had been built, production concluded at the end of 1991, and the Testarossa gave way to the 512 TR. While similar in outward appearance to the Testarossa, the 512TR featured a revised front end treatment and a slightly modified tail, both of which improved aerodynamic efficiency. Interior changes were made as well, which enhanced the car's ergonomics. The most important changes, however, occurred underhood.
The engine was lowered in the car by three centimeters, which in turn lowered the center of gravity and improved performance. Horsepower, too, improved, with an extra 40 horses on tap. The boost cut the 0–60 mph time down to just under five seconds and bumped top speed to over 190 mph.
The 512TR lasted until 1994, when the F512M (for Modificata) entered production. It was largely the same as its predecessors, though the pop-up headlights were replaced by more traditional fixed units mounted in the front clip, twin NACA ducts were mounted on the hood to increase interior ventilation, and the squared taillights of the Testarossa were replaced with circular lights. Thanks to weight-saving measures, the F512M is 150 pounds less than the Testarossa. Power increased to 432 hp. Production of the F512M ended in 1996.
Like the Lamborghini Countach, the Testarossa embodies the flash of the 1980s, and it became something of a cultural phenomenon, most notably as the "co-star" of the "Miami Vice" television series, also starring on the poster-lined walls of millions of young men. To this day it remains a polarizing car, and unmistakable from almost any angle.