The cars we loved.
Today the term “GT” has been thrown around so much that the true meaning has become diluted. The original definition describes a luxurious and comfortable sporting coupe that can accommodate two with luggage and room to spare. It has been applied to everything from SUVs to small economy sedans. Before the mass application of the term, GT cars were seen as aspirational things from Europe. Often times American GT branded cars claimed some European flair in its marketing. What a GT car lacked in raw horsepower, it made up for it in refinement. In America during the 60s, the term often applied to variations of muscle cars that were configured for increased comfort and luxury (ex. Mercury Cougar vs. Ford Mustang). More often than not, GT would be applied to a wider range of cars as the 70s progressed.
Ferrari has long been associated with sports cars, so when it needed to expand its market to accommodate those who required performance, but wanted more room and comfort, it began building more accommodating 2+2 cars in the 1960s. By the mid 1965, true 2+2 designs like the 250/330 GT were becoming an option for those who did not need or want race car like performance (and discomfort).
In 1976 Ferrari showed off it latest 2+2 GT car, the 400. It was the direct replacement for the 365 GT4 2+2. Named for the swept volume of a single cylinder, the 400 would make Ferrari history by being the first with an automatic transmission. The Ferrari traditionalist were not amused, but it became instantly popular with wealthy clients. Like many other Pininfarina-designed Ferraris, the 400’s body started life in Turin and would be shipped to Maranello Italy for installation of mechanical components at the Ferrari factory.
Unlike any Ferrari before it, the 400 was available with a muscle car like 3 speed automatic transmission (400a). Some accounts pegged it as a Borg Warner unit, but more widely used was the smooth and reliable GM Hydra-Matic 400. While it may not have provided a typical Ferrari driving experience, it was desirable nevertheless for those who could get a comfortable Ferrari that shifted its own gears. For those who insisted on rowing their own, a 5 speed manual was also available (400i or 400GT). About two-thirds of all 400 cars would have the automatic transmission, a testament to the popularity of automatic transmission in this type of car.
The 400 was typical of Ferrari in other ways. Front engine with rear wheel drive had long been a staple of Ferrari configurations and was no different with the 400. A fully independent wishbone type coil spring suspension with power hydraulic brakes insured a smooth ride and quick reflexes over bad road surfaces. The self leveling suspension combined with a 106.3 inch wheelbase helped overall ride quality, as did the nearly 4,000lb. (depending on configuration). It’s 4.8-liter V12 produced 340 hp, just enough to that level of heft with some authority. The 20 hp jump in power over the old 365 GT4 2+2 was due mostly to the use of a new Bosh K-Jetronic fuel injection system. The side draft Webber carburetor system of the 365 GT4 may have sounded better, but the new setup provided improved drivability, emissions and efficiency.
Not that Ferrari was worried about US emissions. Despite being available in left and right hand drive, they were never officially certified for US sale. That did not stop enterprising grey market entrepreneurs from selling them in the States. There were even customizers like California-based Richard Stramen who turned the formerly hard top only coupe into convertibles. Topless Ferraris had typically been easier to get into and out of than coupes. Getting into the 400 was not as big a chore as Prancing Horse 2+2s before it. The front seats would roll forward on a track making it easier to access what was then the largest rear seats ever in a Ferrari.
The attention to detail was at its highest by Ferrari standards as typical owners likely to be older and less inclined to tolerate the less polished nature of cars like the 356 GTB/4 Daytona. The leather seating, real wood and black plastics combined to create an interior that was well ahead of the design trends of all but the most exotic super cars of the era. A four speaker quadrophonic cassette stereo may have been the only entertainment option beyond hearing the roar of the V12 at speed. Standard features on all 400 included power windows, central locking doors and air conditioning.
During the 400s four-year production window, very few changes were made to its appearance. Its futuristic shape set the tone for future Pininfarina designs for the next decade. In 1980 slight enhancements to aerodynamics and a boost in power and displacement resulted in a new designation: 412. The 412 in some form or another would continue untill 1989. The angular design features of the 400/412 like its crisp edges and clean lines wore well over time, appearing in fashion ads and music videos through the 80s. In some ways the 400 continues to be the poster child for pop futurisim. A 412 was featured in the 2007 Daft Punk film Electronica.
As one of the last Ferrari to be overseen by Enzo himself before Fiat would gobble up the company, you might think that today the low volume 400 would have been a strong candidate for sainthood in the church of Ferrari classics. Oddly enough, the 400 lacks the cache of more exotic looking Ferrari of the period. Even the lowly 308 GTB from the same era sells for more today despite costing about considerably less than the 400/412 when new.
Maybe that handicap was due to the 400 never being about raw all-out speed. Topping out near 150 mph and a 0 to 50 sprint time in the low 7s, means a 400 could just keep up with many of today’s V6 powered family sedans. But that’s where today’s marketplace has spoiled and confused us. The “GT” of today often means a slap on badge on the boot of an otherwise capable car. The 400 was about performance on occasion and luxurious style and comfort all the time. This is where many of todays so-called GT cars seem to fail. There may be more of one than the other or less than ideal execution of either.
Very few cars today could match the smooth power delivery of a well tuned V12, no matter how advanced its variable valve system is. While the market is improving dramatically at both the high and low ends, Ferrari continues to refine and expand what it means to be a GT car with products like the FF. The 400 had its share of gentleman’s car competition in its day, but as a Ferrari, it holds a special place in the hearts of many enthusiasts, just not in the hearts of enough Ferrari enthusiasts.