Enzo Ferrari did the world a favor when he decided to create his automotive company 81 years ago. Since it’s founding in 1939, Ferrari has produced some of the most iconic models in the luxury sports car industry, and many of those models are still much wanted to this day. In fact, the Prancing Horse has become not only a symbol of luxury but also a symbol of performance.
Ferrari’s history has been immersed and intertwined with the racing industry, and that’s not a coincidence. Enzo Ferrari himself was a racecar driver, and his legacy has definitely lived on in the entire production line of the company. This legacy includes the famous Ferrari Berlinetta Boxer, a one-of-a-kind car that goes down in Ferrari’s history as one of the best. This is a closer look into the model and exactly what makes the Berlinetta Boxer the kind of car to remember Ferrari by.
The creation Berlinetta Boxer was an important notch in the history of Ferrari and for Enzo Ferrari personally. This Ferrari series was produced in Italy from 1973 to 1984, and it was most famous for its Boxer engine—a mid-mounted flat 12-cylinder. This move came as a surprise to the automotive world, which expected the manufacturer to create a V-12 instead.
The popularity of the mid-engine soared after other racecar manufacturers started performing well on the racetrack with that layout. At the time, Ferrari was unconvinced that mid-engines were the way to go. It took a while for Enzo to see the potential in that specification. However, after much convincing from his engineering team and after the success of other mid-engines on the racetrack, Enzo finally began to sway.
The result was the introduction of the first groups of Ferrari rear-mid-engine Formula 1 cars that were produced in the 60s and into the 70s. Ferrari wouldn’t introduce its first mid-engine road car until the production of the Berlinetta in 1973.
The BB acronym
There are many stories about how the “BB” acronym for this Ferrari production came about. The first ever Boxer was the 365 GT/4—the first ever mid-engine 12-cylinder road car. The BB designation clearly stands for Berlinetta Boxer. However, it seems there’s more to the Berlinetta story than meets the eye. First, the “Boxer” designation is really a description of how the engine works.
With 12 pistons sitting opposite each other, 6 on each side, the engine looks to be like a boxer throwing jabs when it’s moving. There are many advantages to having a boxer engine, which includes better fuel economy, smoother acceleration, and more. However, some have claimed that Ferrari’s 365 GT/4 wasn’t actually a true boxer but rather a V12 split open into 180 degrees to become a flat engine—more on this later.
Then the BB acronym couldn’t have stood for Berlinetta Boxer if the engines weren’t true boxers. Some rumors have claimed this as truth and have also stated that the BB actually stands for Berlinetta Bialbero. In Italian, berlinettastands for “little saloon,” and bialbero stands for “twin cam” or “dual camshaft”.
While that may also have been true, there’s another story that’s likeliest to be the truth out of them all. According to this article, the BB acronym actually stands for a name—France’s original supermodel Brigitte Bardot. Leonardo Fioravanti, one of the designers of the Berlinetta, created the BB nickname alongside fellow designers Angelo Bellei and Sergio Scaglietti.
According to Fioravanti, they started to call refer to the car as Brigitte Bardot during production because of the car’s beauty—something that was reminiscent of the French model and actress. The name was then shortened to BB, which was eventually developed by Ferrari to become the Berlinetta Boxer designation by the time the car was featured in the 1971 Turin Auto Show. This beautiful car was the 365 GT/4BB.
365 GT/4 BB
There’s a lot of pressure in being the first in line, but the 365 GT/4 BB surpassed expectations by miles. In fact, nobody expected the 365 GT/4 when it was first revealed at the auto show. It shocked audiences to see a stunning mid-engine flat-12 Ferrari road car. The 365 GT/4 ended up setting the stage for future Ferraris of the like, especially the Testarossa—one of the most famous and one of the best Ferraris of all time.
After its debut at the 1971 Turin Auto Show, it would take 2 years before the vehicle was finally released into production. It was released for sale during the 1973 Paris Motor Show. Production lasted from 1973 until 1976, and only a total of 387 cars of this model were produced. To this day, it’s still the most rare Berlinetta Boxer ever produced. Out of the 387 cars, 88 were made for the right-hand drive market, 58 specifically for the UK.
As mentioned earlier, the 365/GT4 BB’s engine was not a true boxer engine. These cars actually had the same V12 that the Ferrari Daytona did (the Daytona’s official designation is the 365 GTB/4—without the BB acronym). The 365 GT/4’s engine is instead mounted like it would be on a Formula 1 vehicle atop a 5-speed manual transmission and mounted longitudinally at that.
Ferrari took different aspects and components already being used in production from various other impressive Ferraris to create the 365 GT/4 masterpiece. And it worked tremendously. The 365 GT/4 BB engine produced an impressive 380hp.
After 3 years into production, Ferrari was ready for an upgrade and so were many Berlinetta Boxer fans. The result was a 1976 production of the 512 BB, a name that gave nod to the former Ferrari 512 racer. This upgrade addressed many refinement issues that are usually common with first productions. Considered to be the middle child in the series, many believe the 512 BB to be the strongest and most powerful among all the Berlinetta Boxers.
The 512 BB made its debut at the 1976 Paris Auto Show, and its name meant that the car was the 5-liter version of the 12-cylinder model. It promised to be better than the 365 GT/4 BB, and Ferrari was confident that it was. Although the hp actually went down to 360, the 512 BB did give similar power at lower revs. It had better torque, better delivery, and better engine cooling altogether.
The 512 BB was in production from 1976 until 1981, and there were a total of 929 cars produced. There were slight differences underneath, but many components stayed the same. The rear tires grew wider by 63mm, but the chassis was the same. There were more changes on the exterior of the 512 BB, which was likely to distinguish the newer model from its highly successful predecessor.
The driveability of the 512 BB was dramatically improved, and Ferrari wanted to showcase that in the design. Twin taillights and twin exhaust pipes were just the beginning. The new aerodynamic chin spoiler was seamlessly integrated into the grille. The overall upgrade was subtle, but it was noticeable upon closer inspection. The 512 BB boasted top speeds of up to 302 km/h (187.65 mph).
512i BB 1200
Introduced in 1981, the 512i BB would be the last in the Berlinetta Boxer series. Production lasted only three years until 1984, and there were a total of 1,007 cars produced. This upgrade was a considerable step up from the 512 BB. The 512i included a Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection, and it was far more advanced in many aspects.
The “i” designation in the name actually stands for the fuel “injection.” US emissions regulations had changed a lot during that time in the industry, and Ferrari’s addition of the fuel injection became a necessity for the Berlinetta Boxer line. However, the cars were actually never sold new directly into the United States. They ended up getting imported via third party sellers.
The fuel injection also improved the Berlinetta Boxer in many ways, including having a more efficient and cleaner engine altogether. Although the power decreased yet again to 345 bhp, the torque curve was flatter than ever. This allowed for better revving and more pull throughout. Most things were the same under the hood, including the original mid-mounted flat-12.
But there were visible differences in the Pininfarina design. For the 512i BB, Ferrari actually asked Koenig of Germany to restyle the coupe, making it starkly different from the first two models. Berlinetta Boxer purists will argue that the original designs were better, but many fans of the series altogether believe that the last model is superior.
The 512i BB featured a much more rugged look, and it was a clear move towards the future of the manufacturer. Some of the smaller changes include red rear fog lamps, small white running lights on the grille, Michelin tire systems, and more.
Interestingly enough, the 512i BB would set the stage for another great to come in—the Testarossa. Although Ferrari stopped production for the series, the Berlinetta Boxer line would continue to create a buzz and an interest for many years to come, even to today
Ferrari may have stopped production for the BB road series, but it didn’t mean that the manufacturer was done with that idea. As a matter of fact, Ferrari created racing variants of the 3 BB models. The first BB racecar was developed right after production for the 365 GT/4 began. It was 1974, and Luigi Chinetti’s North American Racing Team (NART) developed the variant to replace the Daytona on the racetrack.
This vehicle proved successful on the track, and Ferrari used it until 1978—until an upgrade was available. Ferrari started their own work on a 512 BB variant a couple of years after production, modifying four 512 BB vehicles during that time, increasing power and making adjustments to produce a faster car. These four cars came to be known as BB LM by Ferrari. Ferrari’s racing team entered the cars into the 1978 24 Hours of Le Mans race, but not a single car completed the race.
1978 was a busy year for Ferrari racing, as the manufacturer would continue working on the BB LM for improvements late in the same year that 4 of its vehicles lost the same race. It was during this time that Ferrari actually first used the electronic fuel injection system, the same one they would adapt for the 512i BB models.
Pininfarina developed the bodywork designs for the BB LM, and there were a total of 9 of these second development cars built by Ferrari just a year later in 1979. Ferrari built 16 more BB LMs from 1980 to 1982, but performances for these cars on the track were average at best. There were only a couple of standout races, including 5thoverall and 1stin the GTS Class during the 1981 24 Hours of Le Mans race.
BB in America
As mentioned before, there were many changes going on with US emission laws around the time the Berlinetta Boxer was in production. Altogether actually, the 70s was just not a good time for Ferrari in America. The manufacturer held back its sales to the American market, but many American buyers were still able to obtain the BB Ferrari models through third party sellers.
As a point of reference, the 512i BB sold for roughly $60,000 back when it was first released. These cars well for well over $200,000 today, and most of them come with normal wear. It would be difficult to find a Berlinetta Boxer in pristine condition today because people purchased these cars to be enjoyed on the road, and they were totally enjoyable. Because of the EPA’s 25-year rule, you should be able to enjoy BBs today with no problem.
If you could ever get your hands on one of these rare and beautiful mid-engine cars, you’d be better off taking them for a fun ride than keeping them locked away in a garage. The Ferrari BBs deserve to be seen, and most importantly, they deserve to be driven.
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Written by Benjamin Smith
Read more posts by Benjamin Smith