The Collector is a weekly series produced in association with Gear Patrol, where we discuss the car, and Gear Patrol discusses the essential gear inspired by the car. (Click here to see the rest of The Collector Series on Petrolicious).
Say “Reagan-era Ferrari,” and most aficionados will think of the shapely 512BB, the heavily straked Testarossa, or the meteoric 288GTO. And, indeed, these Italian missiles might have played some as-yet undocumented part in bringing down the Iron Curtain. But it’s unlikely anyone in the United States would suggest the 400i as an emblem of the era. For one thing, the 400i was never officially imported in the land of Stars and Stripes. Of 1305 examples (more or less, depending upon sources) built between 1979 and 1985, when the 412 succeeded it, only gray-market cars made it to American shores. The single thing that most helped to imprint the profile of this striking, if conservative, coupe on the collective unconscious was its appearance in the 1988 film Rain Man.
Yet the debonair two-plus-two coupe has the right credentials, starting with Pininfarina design. The 400 series originated at the 1976 Paris Motor Show, and three years later its medium-displacement V-12 engine was stripped of Weber carburetors and endowed with Bosch electronic fuel injection. The 400i, as it was now known, continued to be offered with a five-speed manual transmission or the three-speed automatic made, of all places, in the same Michigan factory that had churned out B-24 bombers during World War Two; the Hydra-Matic was also used in Jaguars, Rolls-Royces, and Bentleys--as well as Checker Marathons and Jeep pickups and SUVs. More for diplomat than playboy, the 400i benefitted from well-tailored simplicity. Inside the car, broad and flat front chairs suggested the club room as much as autostrada. The layout of instruments and controls was unprepossessing and orderly enough for a Boy Scout merit badge; in fact, when compared to a car like today’s Porsche Panamera, which is intended for the same purpose, the serving of dials and indicators is disappointingly meager.
Beyond these touches, the 400i shows the usual hopeful aspects of the period: pop-up headlamps, overly obvious five-spoke wheels, and a sleek, large-diameter, pre-airbag steering wheel. This Ferrari strove for elegance and largely achieved it. And despite the electronic fuel injection leading to a nine-percent drop to 310 horsepower (but a more favorable emissions test), the 400i went down the road with authority, no matter which transmission the 4.8-liter twelve was matched with. Zero to 60 mph could be achieved in 7.1 seconds, and the powerband had an advantageous torque curve, letting the drivetrain excel on the type of highway excursion this coupe was designed for. (In one Ferrari forum, the owner of a 400i says the trunk is cavernous, and he thinks the fitted luggage for a 412 would inconspicuously nestle into the rear; but he was not sure about the existence of bespoke cases for his own car. Further research revealed that Schedoni, did in fact make leather valises for this GT.)
Although the Turbo-Hydramatic 400 automatic was heavy, it was the choice for two of every three examples of the 400i.
In 1983, the model benefitted from various minor improvements. Under the hood, five more horsepower became available. Electronic switchgear was added inside the cabin, and the exterior had more prominent fog lamps in front and a body-colored rear panel. Some coachbuilders sliced away the elegant roof pillars to make a convertibles, and even one shooting brake version was shown at Geneva in 1981, anticipating in basic layout the Ferrari FF, only thirty years earlier.
Often denigrated, primarily because of quality issues but also over subjective reactions to the design, the 400i is actually the cheapest way into a Ferrari V-12, so a specimen that has enjoyed some loving attention could make a superb addition to the collection. “Probably under-appreciated,” writes a friend who owns a V-8 Ferrari. “Like many of that vintage,” he continues, “they are more expensive to maintain than they are worth (for now).” Prices equivalent to a new, well-optioned Chevrolet Impala put the 400i where the 330GT was before it routinely began to change hands for six-figure sums. The trick with such a limited-production series is finding a whole car, one that didn’t become a Corvette-engined project or, even worse, fall into disuse.
Then there’s the inevitable question: automatic or manual? Maybe it would help to know the last GM passenger car that the Turbo-Hydramatic tranny went into was none other than President Ronald Reagan’s official Cadillac limousine.
Thank you to Mr. Jacques Martino for allowing us to photograph his car and to the Ferrari 400/412 club.
A Tale of 2+2s
Ferrari sold two 2+2s at the same time, the 400i and the Mondial. Both 2+2 cars boasted Ferrari performance with the ability to transport four people in relative comfort. Both cars, though hugely successful in sales, don’t carry the same Ferrari magic for current vintage sales probably due to the fact that they weren’t as exotic looking as the rest of the Ferrari stable, like the Boxer or the 308. But at least in automotive circles, the 400i gets a bit more respect due to its angular style and its uniqueness for a “bargain” Ferrari. You can get away with one for about $30K, and you won’t get laughed at like you’re having a mid-life crisis as in the Mondial.
Written by Amos Kwon of Gear Patrol