Ferrari Testarossa – The Return of the Red Head

a Red 1958 Ferrari Testa Rossa
1958 Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa

History of the Testarossa

Ferrari introduced the Testarossa at the 1984 Paris Motor Show. They took the name from a successful Ferrari race car in the 1950s, the 250 and 500 Testa Rossa, Italian for Red Head. The vehicle got this nickname due to its red-painted cam covers, a tradition that would continue with the new Testarossa. Produced from 1984-1991 (it would be called the 512 TR from 1992-1996), the Testarossa featured a Boxer-style flat 12-cylinder engine with four-valves per cylinder making 385 horsepower. The dry-sump flat 12 was mid-mounted and mated to a five-speed transmission. Sixty miles per hour comes in at five seconds flat with a top speed of 185 miles per hour. Those numbers are still respectable today, albeit slower than most performance cars. Unfortunately, Ferrari would never race the Testarossa, but they would race later cars like the 348 and 355.

a red Ferrari Testarossa featuring the original center lock wheels
A beautiful red Ferrari Testarossa – Photo by More Cars from Berlin, Germany

Design of the Testarossa

The most striking feature of the car has always been those unique side skirts. Unlike many design cues, those are fully functional. To increase front trunk capacity, Ferrari went from one sizeable front-mounted radiator to two smaller side-mounted ones, giving the car a wider track in the rear, creating a wedge-like shape when viewed from the front. The Pininfarina-designed Testarossa also replaced the traditional two circular tail light combination with rectangular taillights behind black louvers. The car featured incredibly simple five-spoke, center-locked star wheels that would later find their way onto the F40. Weirdly, the Testarossa only featured one exterior side mirror on the driver’s side. Many owners would fix this by adding passenger-side mirrors. I never quite understood that. It’s not like you’re saving much weight, the Testarossa comes in at over 3,700 pounds.

We can’t forget about the best part of the design, popup headlights! They do make everything better when they work. The interior of the Testarossa is spartan compared to today’s cars. Most of the controls moved to the center console resulting in a rather clean and simple dash. There’s no navigation or giant monitors, but there is a hole that looks like it would be perfect for today’s smartphones. The interior also featured the fantastic gated shifter for the five-speed transmission — Super-Notchy, super-metallic, super-amazing. The steering wheel continues Ferrari’s simple design in its perfection. Razor-thin with three simple spokes and the yellow Ferrari prancing horse horn button in the middle. If you look closely, you can even see an actual keyed ignition. No push-button starts here! Even the seats are perfect in their simplicity, but they did feature the dreaded automatic seatbelt.

a red 1986 Ferrari Testarossa being unloaded
1986 Ferrari Testarossa – photo by Mr.choppers
the interior of a Ferrari Testarossa
The Interior of a 1987 Ferrari Testarossa – photo from

Why the Testarossa Matters

The Ferrari Testarossa was a cultural phenomenon. It appeared in TV shows like Miami Vice and even had its own video game (OutRun). It graced several magazine covers and had many shootouts with the Countach. The Testarossa also made our list of the Best Ferrari Models. What makes it so cool is that it was the last of a dying breed of supercars.

Ferrari has always built an eclectic range of cars, featuring numerous layouts and engine configurations. The Testarossa was one of the last mid-mounted 12-cylinder vehicles you could get with a manual transmission and two seats. Ferrari would make other manual cars after this, but they had V8’s (348, 355, F40) or front-mounted 12 cylinder 4-seaters (599). It was also incredibly simple. After the Testarossa, you start getting the F1 transmission and tons of dials and switches. Don’t get me wrong, those cars are incredible, but the Testarossa was one of the last analog supercars you could buy.


Unlike other classic Ferrari models, the Testarossa isn’t exactly rare. They produced over 7,000 of them, but the ones to get are after the 1988 model. Ferrari redesigned the suspension in the middle of 1988, and that’s about all they did during the run. Of course, you can always get the later 512 TRs (for Testarossa), which looks nearly identical but make more horsepower (428 hp). Hagerty places values for good models in the $60,000 range, while Concurs examples can go over $100k, but prices are trending upwards. Here’s a low-mileage example for nearly $150,000! There are only really two cars that represent the 1980’s, the Lamborghini Countach and the incredible Ferrari Testarossa.

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