The cars we loved.
For Ferrari the 1970’s was marked by highs and the occasional low. In some cases the ups and downs were just a few months apart. For a low, Maranello’s experiment with a proper executive coupe called the 400 was nothing short of a disappointment with its automatic transmission via GM (a Ferrari first). On the other end of the spectrum sits the now classic 356GTB/4 (Daytona). This dashing GT stands out as one of Ferrari’s most beloved “modern” cars.
The Daytona was Ferrari’s salvo in the war with Lamborghini in establishing the world’s fastest production car. With the title taken from the sensational Miura in 1968, Ferrari’s Pininfarina designed GT was just as beautiful. Officially the 365GTB/4 was never called the Daytona. When it was shown at the 1968 Paris Motorshow, it was called Daytona in honor of Ferrari’s success at the American 24-hour race of the same name a year before. The name stuck, and Ferrari seemed to go with it, in an approving, but unofficial way. The story explaining the naming convention used for the Daytona reads like some kind of math word problem: The model designation 365GTB/4 is derived from 365 being the size of each cylinder, which when multiplied by the number of cylinders (12) gives the displacement in litres. 4 stands for the number of camshafts. You get that? You don’t need to be a math wiz to know that it all adds up to a fast car. At a top speed of 174mph, it was the fastest thing around until Lamborghini took back the title with its futuristic Countach few years later.
In a departure from the entry-level mid-engine Dino and other Ferrari’s of the day, the Daytona had a big engine up front, like the 250 GTO, making it potentially heavy and not easy to steer at low speeds (without power steering). Weight was not a problem however as the Daytona tipped the scales at just over 2600lb. It was mechanically complex also, making it Ferrari’s most advance car at the time. Ferrari overcame any weight penalty with clever packaging and brute force. An all-alloy 4.4 litre V12 produced 352hp. This monstrous engine used six twin-choke Weber carburetors to help breath through a thin grille in front of the sloping hood. The hood tapered gracefully to reveal pop up lights. US spec cars initially had headlights concealed behind a plastic lens covering, making them a fixed design with the small benefit of being more aerodynamic at speed. The front engine design was also compensated for in dynamics by moving the engine back in the chassis. Other changes allowed for a nearly perfect weight distribution of 52:48. Weight savings came from body panels that were a combination of steel and alloys.
The Daytona’s framework was composed of a composite alloy that was wielded together for increased structural rigidity. All Daytona’s had 5-speed manual transmissions and rear wheel drive. For improved ride and high-speed stability, the Daytona was fitted with a fully independent wishbone suspension with coil springs. The set up was race car like but did not have a bone breaking ride. In keeping with Ferrari’s concept of building racing cars for the street, many racing variations of the Daytona were produced. This relentless dependence on racing to improve the breed was what separated Ferrari from Lamborghini, its biggest rival.
For the wealthy playboy who was not a gearhead, this translated to a car that was not the easiest to drive around town. The high-strung heavy breather was tuned for speed and was not really happy unless it was approaching triple digit speeds. The car sold reasonably well, despite its racer’s edge and lack of overall civility in domestic situations. A popular convertible was introduced with the coupe when the car went into production in 1969. The front engine design just happened to be the swan song for the configuration at Ferrari, as Lamborghini pointed to the future with its slick mid-engine Miura. When the Daytona was replaced in 1973, it was the mid-engine 356 GT4 BB that was its replacement. During the 1980’s the Daytona lived a sort of second life as the star of the NBC cop drama Miami Vice.
A Ferrari Daytona Spyder 365 GTS/4 was featured in the show. The Daytona’s popularly never really went away as plenty of third part venders were willing to convert your Corvette C3 to a Daytona replica. The popularity of those kits and the real thing was rekindled thanks to the show (which happened to feature converted Corvettes as stunt doubles). Tubbs and Crocket would eventually move on to a 1986 Testarossas, after Enzo himself complained about the replicas. The new wave styled Testarossa with its cheese grater side vents embodied the 80’s and today makes the show look more dated compared to the almost timeless Daytona. The Miami Vice show is long gone, but the stylish and powerful 356GTB/4 will always be remembered as the last of the front engine Ferraris.