Musings on the Ferrari 400i

About six months ago, we accidentally bought a red 1984 Ferrari 400i. Before we get into the specifics of it, our first impressions.

The Ferrari 400i traces its lineage all the way back to the 1947 Ferrari 125S sports racer and the first Ferrari-built engine, the 125. The 125 was a 1.5L V12 with a single overhead cam and a 60 degree angle between the two banks. As time went on the engine advanced in size and technology and went on to be used in the 250, the 275, the 330, and the famous 1968 365 GTB/4 Daytona until its final evolution into the 400 series cars.  By that time, the Colombo engine had reached 4.8-4.9L and the carburetors had been switched over to much more reliable Bosch injection, but under all that angular bodywork sits the last true Enzo Ferrari V12. Before his death in 1988, Enzo Ferrari used a 400 to commute to the factory every day, and it's speculated that he might have even had the automatic version. Since he passed while this model was being produced, it is the last true V12 Ferrari, marking the end of a lineage. 

Let’s address the Rosso Corsa elephant in the room and talk about the looks of the 400i. If you're sitting on your computer looking at photos of one, you might quickly judge and dismiss it. It’s less playboy, more businessman. Less vulgar and Ferrari-like, more understated elegance. Before you judge – have you ever seen one in person? Probably not, and here’s why: the 400i was built in relatively low numbers and never officially imported to the United States.  There are two and half 1975-77 Porsche 930 turbos for every one 1979-85 Ferrari 400i. 

The lines on the car are stunning in person. The shape of the body flows beautifully from front to rear, producing a very low-slung grand tourer.  Once you step into the cabin you're completely surrounded by leather and a competent, clean serving of dials and indicators. It's 1980s luxury to the extreme.  You may or may not think you’re sitting in a boat. 

When you go to turn over the 4.8L Colombo 60˚ V12 you hear a sound reminiscent of a brass hammer striking metal, the ping of the starter on the flywheel as the 12 cylinders start to come to life.  The sound is intoxicating. You put the car in drive and immediately feel the pull of the V12 as you hold the brakes to keep the car from moving forward.  You let off and start cruising. It’s easier than you thought. The power steering is very heavy and responsive, the ride comfortable but not too soft. As the 4.8L warms up, the car easily moves around town. It's large but manageable. You look around in a sea of beautiful glass windows that nearly gives you a 360˚ view outside, uninterrupted by the blind spots of modern cars.  

As you merge on the highway you realize what this car was built for. Not the curves of Laguna Seca or the Le Mans chicanes, but for the highways of the world. The three-speed auto doesn't seem so silly now, as you look down and you're cruising steady at 3500 rpm and 90mph.  You realize that 3 speeds are all you need. Looks like a truck is coming up behind you, you’d better pass. Watch as you switch to second, push the throttle down hard, and release all 310hp, shoving you passenger far back into their seat. Holding 30 gallons of gas, you think about all the places you could go on one tank at high speeds in total luxurious comfort. We may not have a villa to cruise to, but we have cheap gas and a lot of empty road here in Texas. Our minds drift to Big Bend, or maybe South Padre Island. That Rosso Corsa must look great in the desert. We intend to find out. 

We'll leave it at this for now, the closing paragraph of the review of the Ferrari 400i in the 1984 issue of CAR: “All this may describe the Ferrari, but does not explain a Ferrari. Like Creation itself, a Ferrari is an expression of Will. In man, will derives from his capacity for delight, and may take two paths - one through and subservient to reason, the other direct and transcending it. And what has a Ferrari to do with reason? Since when was delight subject to age? And why is timeless stasis in this born mover as satisfying as timed motion, existence as delightful as development? Why is the moment before the start good as the moment after starting? All this is a mystery. You can say it is magic. So is a real Ferrari."