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Riding the Prancing Horse

We road test a supercar from the past - the Ferrari 512TR.

Words by Michael Knowling, Pix by Julian Edgar

Click on pics to view larger images


This article was first published in 2004.

Few marques capture the raw emotion of motoring like a Ferrari. Sure, you can get other cars that are just as quick but there's one thing they lack - a soul. A Ferrari is a living, breathing machine. Buy one and it becomes a member of your family (and one that you love to caress)...

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The scarlet horn machine you see here is none other than the 512TR, which was sold in Australia between 1993 and 1995. The 512TR stepped in as the replacement for the 390hp V12 Testarossa (which was the car intended as Ferrari's big push into the US market). If you want exclusivity, the Ferrari 512TR is for you - less than 2500 examples were built.

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As its name implies, the 512TR has a 5.0-litre V12 heart. Take a look under the rear engine cover and the V12 motor - which is actually set at 180-degrees - looks pretty traditional by today's standards. But it all comes together nicely on the road! Breathing is through double overhead camshafts and 48 valves but with a mild compression ratio of 10.0:1 (enabling relatively low octane fuel to be used), the Ferrari twelve sings to the tune of 428hp (319kW) at 6750 rpm and 491Nm at 5500 rpm. Take a close look at this pic and you'll see the twin airflow meters look suspiciously like Holden VL Commodore units - which makes sense given the Bosch Motronic 2.7 injection system...

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Of course, the 512TR comes with a manual gearbox - a 5-speed. The shift gate is traditional Ferrari and the H-pattern shift is extra wide - a real bastard to get used to. What's even more disconcerting is that first, third and fifth gears are positioned at the back of the gate; a push-down lock-out prevents you from inadvertently down-changing into what you thought was first gear...

But what's the 512TR like to drive, you ask?

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Well, the twin-plenum engine is very responsive to throttle inputs and it has remarkably linear acceleration. A flat torque curve makes the 512TR feel almost slow - but rest assured it isn't! Not with quoted 4.8-second 0 - 100 km/h and 12.8-second quarter mile performance. Top speed is listed at 309 km/h. All impressive stuff considering it tips the scales at 1595kg! Equally as impressive is its ability to cope with high gears at low rpm and its general drivability. But the biggest buzz must surely be the sound of that V12 - it hums a gorgeous beat at low rpm and it hits that perfect high note when it starts breathing. Keep your music collection at home.

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Interestingly, the 512TR offers a comfortable ride (the stiffer-is-better approach does not apply here!) and its handling is extremely user-adjustable. Turn-in grip is very good and, where necessary (such as when you want to impress a crowd!), the rear can be easily moved into power oversteer. This is one advantage of the rear-engine, rear-drive layout - overall, though, there is plenty of grip.

Unequal length wishbones with coil springs are fitted beneath the 512TR at both ends, while the rear flaunts dual dampers per wheel. Adhesion is provided by 235/40 18s at the front and 295/35 18s (!) at the rear. The rims are tasty Speedline 18 x 8 and 18 x 10.5s and are home to cross-drilled 315 and 310mm brakes. The ABS was offered on late 1993 512s.

The power assisted rack-and-pinion steering arrangement is nicely weighted and communicative but is less direct than, say, a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 6.5 (which is perhaps too direct for everyday use). This is a very wide car (1976mm across, to be exact) but the well-sorted steering makes it feel surprisingly wieldy.

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There's no mistaking this machine as a Ferrari - and it'd be unacceptable to have it any other way! The body is stunningly low and you can thank Pininfarina for the styling (which is now looking aged). Compared to the superseded Ferrari Testarossa, the 512TR received bigger rims, a 348-esque front bumper, a new engine hood, modified fins and taillights. The Testarossa's lower black stripe was also abandoned.

Whatever the cosmetic details, it seems to work in its very early '90s kinda way.

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B-e-n-d your knees to get into the cabin and, unlike many of today's stripped out go-fast models, the 512TR offers plenty of comfort - if not space... There are two seats with just a sliver of stowage behind the backrests - fortunately the front cargo area is quite deep and you can pack in a couple of soft bags. The 512TR's leather seats are pure exoticar and standard kit includes electric windows and mirrors, climate control, central locking and drilled pedals. The air vents, we notice, are carbon copies of Alfa Romeo items. Instrumentation is comprehensive - there are oil temp, coolant temp, fuel level and oil pressure gauges along with a 320 km/h speedo and a 7300 redlined tacho. The driving position is a shocker - the inner guard intrudes into the foot well massively, which shuffles the pedal location awkwardly to one side and the gear knob doesn't exactly fall to hand. Visibility is surprisingly good, though the bum-on-the-ground ride height has some shortcomings.

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Back in 1993 - when a Porsche 928 GTS cost AUD$236,000 - the Ferrari made no apologies for stepping in at AUD$470,000. But today is your lucky day! The UK imported example seen here - which is totally immaculate and has a mere 20,000km - is currently being offered for sale through Melbourne's Sports and Luxury Cars for 'just' AUD$175,000. Pretty good considering the Redbook value is AUD$182,000 - $226,000.

Sure, you can buy a hoard of Supra twin-turbos and Skyline GT-Rs for that much cash - but none of them have the style or personality of these fine Italian machines.

Ferrari 512TR Fast Facts...

  • Exclusive - less than 2500 built
  • Deceptively quick 428hp V12
  • Sounds sensational at high revs
  • Two seater only
  • Monster rear tyres - but can still be made to power oversteer...
  • A 'bargain' at around AUD$175,000?

Contact:

Sports and Luxury Cars +61 3 9753 5799

www.sportsluxurycars.com.au

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