Ferrari 400: Crap Car or Unpolished Gem?

Classic and Grand Touring

Is Ferrari's 70s and 80s GT really worthy of its crap car tag?

Curiously, my Twitter feed has had a lot of discussion about Ferrari 400s lately. Some of it was because of a post from Chris Harris asking for opinions about a Ferrari 400i manual that he had seen for sale. The majority of the responses centred around the notion that 400s are ugly, crap and why he should avoid one like you should avoid telling the waiter in a Birmingham student curry house that you want the hottest thing they have. I'm sure Chris will form his own opinions about whether he wants a 400 in his fleet, but the question of why the 400 gets so much hate is an intriguing one. The 400 even had the dubious distinction of being included in a BBC book, usually seen in Christmas stockings, titled Crap Cars.

With a sixteen year production run, the 400 family has the record of being in production for longer than any other Ferrari body style. The only reason that Ferrari would keep building them is that customers were still buying them, and this can't be just brand blindness since it was one of the more expensive Ferraris when new and there was a cheaper 2+2 Ferrari, the Mondial, for those who wanted the extra passenger space. So, starting with a history of the model, lets consider whether the 400 is a skeleton in Ferrari's closet or an unfairly overlooked gem.

The car that is commonly known as the 400 didn't actually start life as the 400 but as the slightly awkwardly titled 365GT4 2+2 (pictured above) launched in 1973. The new car was heavily based on the outgoing (and short-lived) 365GTC4 and utilised the same 4.4 litre four cam V12 rated at somewhere between 320 and 340 bhp (Ferrari's own website quotes both figures). Also carried over from the outgoing model were the dashboard, front seats, and the same basic suspension design including, the complex self-levelling units used at the rear of the car. The chassis was largely the same, although it was now 20cm longer to allow more space for the rear passengers. The all-new body followed Pininfarina's thinking at the time for a three box coupe, and used a similar theme to the earlier Fiat 130 coupe, the later Lancia Gamma and with less satisfactory results, the Rolls Royce Camargue.

The 365GT4 2+2 was pitched very much as a gentleman's GT car, and it's main rivals were the likes of the Aston Martin DBS (later AMV8), Jensen Interceptor and even the Rolls Royce Corniche. The big coupe was designed to whisk the well-heeled across Europe, from city to city on fast open highways, and left racier aspirations to the other cars in Ferrari's range. Despite being a heavy car at 1780kg (dry), performance was still impressive for the day with a superior top speed to its rivals of 150mph with 0-60 taking 7.1 seconds according to the Autocar test of the time. I've not driven one (though I have been a passenger in one), but I have driven the very closely-related 365GTC4 on a number of occasions and I see no reason why the 365GT4 2+2 should be any less capable as a GT car.

After a three-year production run of 525 units, the 365GT4 2+2 gave way to the 400, which now came in two versions, the GT manual and - controversially - the Automatic. There had been calls for an automatic version of Ferrari's 2+2 going back to the Sixties and at least three of the 365GTC4's predecessor, the 365GT 2+2 "Queen Mary', are said to have been built with automatic transmissions. For the self-shifting 400, Ferrari used the off the shelf GM Turbo Hydramatic 400 unit. 

As to other changes, the 400 denoted an increase in capacity to 4.8 litres, although peak power was unchanged, or more truthful, at 340bhp. There was an increase in torque at 347 lb ft at 3600 rpm instead of 319 lb ft at 4600 rpm in the outgoing 365. Visual changes on the body were the addition of a chin spoiler on the nose, four tail lights instead of six on the 365, and the wheels were now affixed with 5 lug nuts rather than a single knock-on spinner. Performance was broadly the same as the 365 with claimed top speed of 152mph, which dropped to 148mph for the Automatic. In this form the 400 was produced for a further three years and total production of 502 cars, 355 of which were Automatics.

1979 brought further updates when the 400 became the 400i GT and 400i Automatic. As you can probably guess. the i stands for fuel injection as a Bosch K Jetronic system replaced the six Weber carburettors. Fuel injection is usually associated with an increase in performance, so it's perhaps surprising to discover that power actually dropped to 310 bhp, although the claimed performance was unchanged. There were further revisions in 1982 when the centre console was revised to give the interior a more modern look. Externally the cars gained front and rear fog lamps and now came with Michelin TRX metric tyres. Further engine work recovered 5bhp that had been lost in the conversion to injection.  With a production run that ran through to 1985 the 400i is the most numerous variant with a total of 1306 units (422 of them with manual gearboxes) before the 400i gave way to the final variant, the 412.

The 412 received a further capacity increase to 4.9 litres, which also restored the full 340bhp seen in the carburettor versions. Top speed for the manual version was up to 155mph and 0-62mph was quoted at 6.7 seconds. Externally the car now had colour-coded bumpers, a revised rear boot deck to liberate a little more boot space and a new under-bumper valence that integrated the exhausts into the bodywork. The wheels were revised to accommodate the sensors for the new ABS brakes - the first Ferrari to be fitted with them. Production ran through to 1989 with 576 units being produced with the split between manual and automatics much closer at 270 manuals and 306 Automatics. The 412 wasn't directly replaced when production ended in 1989, and it would not be until 1992, when the 456 was launched.

Taking into account all version,s 2909 cars left the Ferrari factory between 1973 and 1989, which in modern terms doesn't seem like a lot, but makes it the most numerous of the classic Ferrari V12s in production terms. That's also despite the cars never officially being sold in Ferrari's biggest market, the US, since the cars never met emissions regulations. Quite a number have found their way over the pond though, with one grey market example having a small role in the opening scenes of the Tom Cruise/Dustin Hoffman movie Rain Man. For the rest of the world, sales numbers were fairly even throughout its entire lifespan indicating that that was a small but steady market for the big 2+2 and fully justifying Ferrari's decision to keep the car in production for so long.

So why all the hate? I suspect the overriding reason is that the 400 follows a different path to what we have come to expect from a modern Ferrari. It's often said that Ferraris, particularly used ones, are bought by the people who dreamed about them as kids. Today, that means my generation and the Ferraris that we had posters of on our bedroom walls (along with the ubiquitous poster of the female tennis player showing a little too much cheek) were the voluptuous Boxer and 308 - both mid-engined supercars - and not the grand touring 400. The 400 doesn't have the looks that these new buyers expect from a Ferrari, either. That often leads to crys that it is ugly. Is it really, though? Change the badge to a Mercedes three-pointed star or BMW propeller and I expect people would be commending it for its elegance and simplicity.

That's not to say the 400 was a sales flop. Quite the opposite, actually. It actually sold in slightly greater numbers than the Boxer up until the latter was replaced by the Testarossa*. Its buyers were more traditional Ferrari customers and would have appreciated its comfortable, continent-crushing ability. In the politically turbulent Seventies they probably appreciated the less stand-out nature of the 400, too, especially in the car's home market of Italy where kidnapping was a national pastime during that period.

The 400's customers also did a few things that make the car unpopular with today's car buyers, principal of which was the cardinal sin of actually using their new Ferraris. While Boxers have often sat collecting dust, 400s have often covered relatively big mileages which has lead to huge depreciation. To make the driving more relaxing, many buyers also fitted an automatic gearbox, another unpopular option on classic Ferraris these days. In the seventies the GM400 was probably the most suitable gearbox available for the car, though It did blunt the performance of the 400 somewhat, and by the time the later 412 came along it was behind the latest 4-speed units used in the Mercedes SEC and Porsche 928. The manual is not as rare as you might think, though, with the three pedal cars accounting for just under fifty percent of total production, somewhat helped by the 365 being manual only.

New 400 buyers could also afford to maintain these complex and thirsty V12 steeds, but as these cars have got older and cheaper, many have fallen into the hands of those on a tighter budget, leading to many cars being neglected. A 400 may be worth less than a quarter of what a Daytona is, but it will cost the same to repair and restore. One particular flaw is the complex self-levelling rear suspension which can sometimes sag, giving the car a very odd stance. This can be corrected by replacing the units with Koni coilovers.

One final issue with the 400 is the other cars in its class. As we have seen, the car was frequently updated during its 16-year run, but these were never really enough to keep the car competitive with it's opposition. The 365 was pretty much the top of the 2+2 tree when launched, but the 400 had to face the likes of the Jaguar XJS and Mercedes SEC, which could provide the same classy grand tourer experience as the 400 for a much cheaper price. Again, for the generation that grew up in the Eighties, motoring magazines were writing the 400 off as a used up has-been, which in many ways it was.

The 400 has ended up being a car in the wrong time, lacking the classical good looks of the Sixties Ferraris and the enthralling driving experience of its mid-engined contemporaries. That in itself does not make it a bad car, and in manual form it offers much of the same attributes as the earlier GT Ferraris for a much cheaper price. They have a small but dedicated following, and there have even been examples restored under Ferrari's very expensive Classiche programme.

For those that fancy taking the plunge into 400 ownership, the least desirable are any of the Automatic cars, which is reflected in these being the cheapest to buy. If you are brave, you might find one for less that £10,000 but expect to spend considerably more than that to turn it into a car that runs reliably without issues. The 412 manual will no doubt appeal for its relative youth and as the most powerful of the injected cars, but I don't like the revisions to either the exterior or the revised interior shared with the later 400i cars. For me, the most desirable cars are the early carburettor-fed cars. Of these, the 400GT is now very rare with only 147 made, and a number have been broken up to use their mechanicals in Daytona Spyder replicas, even through the side draft carb-fed 400 V12 is visually a very different engine to the Daytona's. A register of RHD 400GTs on Ferrarichat has accounted for only nine survivors at the time of writing.

Thanks to greater production numbers the 365GT4 2+2 is rather more available, and also in my view the best looking of all the versions. As is often the case, these early cars are the lightest (if not exactly light) versions, and with the 4.4litre V12 will offer the most sporting drive. With its different name, the 365GT4 2+2 is more closely associated with icons such as the 365GTB4 Daytona, and right now probably represents the best investment if you buy wisely. It sounds rather good too. The 4.4 wet sump V12 shared with the GTC4 is often regarded as the best sounding of the classic V12s, with a rich full-bodied sound. Have a listen below:

The best examples in the UK are asking between £30-£40,000 (often more than a 456 incidentally) and even more in Europe where the cars have a stronger following. Even at that price it is highly unlikely you will make your money back on a full restoration though.

The 400 and its relatives are not bad cars and definitely undeserving of the 'crap car' tag. It offers many of the same qualities as the earlier Sixties GT Ferraris at a much cheaper entry price. However, it was a car that spent much of its life being out of fashion, which in the car world is one of the biggest crimes of all.

* Note: the 412 was sold alongside the Testarossa, but as the Testarossa was also sold in the US market, sales figures are not comparable.

Photo credits

Banner picture by Daviel Stosca via Flickr.

400 picture by the author.