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The total production of 2897 units doesn’t sound like many until you learn that only 3256 of its four-seater successor, the 456, were sold.
And its 17-year production run is still a Ferrari record.
So while Dinos, 308s and Mondials came and went, these substantial four-seaters maintained a tradition of front-engined V12 elegance for sporty tycoons the wrong side of 40 – the ones who had cured themselves of the urge to acquire a bright-red, two-seater thrill-machine, but couldn’t quite give up on the idea of owning a Ferrari.
Always among the most expensive offerings in the Modena line-up (the £12,900 365GT4 2+2 was £2000 more than a Daytona in 1973), these Pininfarina-styled V12s suffered a brutal fall from grace once production finished.
They were expensive to run but not rare enough to be valuable and proved once again that there is nothing so out of fashion as last season’s supercar.
Throw in the four-seat factor and you have a perfect recipe for a bargain V12 Ferrari that, even today, is a solid £100,000 cheaper than the 365GTC/4 around which it is based.
It doesn’t make sense, but in a market driven by style and so many other intangibles, not much does.
Even when Maranello was selling every four-seater it could build, the purists sneered.
Here was a usable (as opposed to recreational) Ferrari that, in the minds of those who had neither the money nor the taste to aspire to such a vehicle, represented a moral lapse in the affairs of the company.
A four-seater Ferrari could not possibly be a real Ferrari, they reasoned, forgetting that the firm had been selling four-seaters – profitably – for more than 10 years before the 365GT4 2+2 appeared in 1972.
When the 400 automatic was launched at the Paris Salon in ’76, those same bar-room pundits were rendered speechless.
Here, surely, was the ultimate sell-out: a V12 Ferrari with an American GM400 automatic gearbox, built to pander to the weak leg muscles and slow wits of lazy Californians, doubtless conjured up by the commercial minds at Fiat who had been running the roadgoing side of Enzo’s car-making activities since 1969.
Except that Ferrari had long since abandoned the idea of selling its V12s in America thanks to emissions regulations.
The original 1972 365GT4 2+2 was designed by Pininfarina’s Aldo Brovarone in a crisp-edged house style that incorporated black polyurethane bumpers, pop-up quad headlights, chunky tail-light clusters and other detail treatments that would give it family ties to the upcoming 308GTB and Berlinetta Boxer.
Bodies were built by Pininfarina in Turin and delivered trimmed and painted to Maranello.
Each car took about two weeks to make.
As a belated replacement for the 1968-’71 365GT 2+2 (the large Ferrari coupé that had introduced buyers to the idea of power steering and self-levelling rear suspension), the GT4 2+2, with its oval-tube frame and double-wishbone suspension, was based on the underpinnings of the GTC/4 but with a 2in wheelbase extension.
Changes underneath were more extensive than the modest tweak in nomenclature suggested.
Weighing in at 3300lb and roughly the size of a Jaguar XJ6, considerable effort had gone into making the GT4 2+2 more compact overall than the notably large ‘Queen Mary’ 365GT 2+2, yet with more space in the rear.
This was achieved by clipping length at each end, while combining a wider track and a longer wheelbase with an upright rear roofline to get the best-possible headroom.
As the ‘4’ in its title denoted, this was the first of the full four-seater Ferraris to use the quad-cam version of the short-stroke, 4.4-litre Colombo V12.
Also found in the 2+2-seater GTC/4, this was a slightly tamer, wet-sump variation on the dry-sump/downdraught carburettor Tipo 251 V12 used in the Daytona.
With its silumin crankcase and block, cast-iron shrunk-in liners and billet-machined, nitrided-steel crank, it was the latest version of a unit that had its roots in the late 1940s and was closely tied to the ‘long-block’ V12 evolved for the 4-litre 400 Superamerica of the early ’60s.
Hand-assembled and bench run-in, it was housed well back in the frame on four mountings, with its twin Marelli distributors almost hidden under the scuttle and six sidedraught Webers positioned between the cam boxes (rather than in the central valley between the banks of cylinders) to get the low bonnet line.
The GT4 2+2 had a wet sump – 33 pints in total, with twin filters – with its five-speed ’box mounted in-unit with the engine and drive going to the limited-slip differential via a torque tube.
The space and weight implications of accommodating full-sized rear passenger seats made a transaxle impractical.
With power steering, full Connolly leather and air conditioning as standard, the 365GT4 2+2, running on the latest 215mm Michelin XWXs on centre-lock Cromodora alloys, would top 150mph on 320bhp and slurp fuel at the rate of 11mpg from its interconnected twin fuel tanks, giving a 400-mile range on 26 gallons.
There would be no automatic version of the 365GT4 2+2, but, given that Maserati had been selling self-shifters for years (and Lamborghini had recently introduced an automatic Espada), it’s reasonable to assume the GT4 was designed from the start with an auto option in mind.
An American Ferrari dealer had already fitted a GM400 gearbox to a 365GT 2+2 and subsequently sent it to Maranello for assessment; a ‘factory’ automatic Ferrari was by then only a formality once the necessary adjustments and tuning of stall speeds and valving had been made, to take account of the V12’s torque characteristics.
Enter, at the 1976 Paris show, the Ferrari 400 Cambio Automatico, powered by a longer-stroke, 4823cc version of the V12, still running six Weber 40DCOEs and good for 340bhp on the same modest 8.8:1 compression ratio, but with more torque: up from 319lb ft at 4600rpm to 347lb ft at 3600rpm by way of modifications to cam and ignition timing.
Viewed from the front, a chin spoiler was the giveaway; from the rear the number of tail-lights had been reduced from six to four.
The 400s had five-bolt – as opposed to centre-lock – wheels, ‘Tornado’ electric door mirrors and a gently revised interior, with front seats that slid forward automatically to assist access to the rear cabin, where there was now the possibility of having a second air-conditioning system if you could spare the room in the 17cu ft boot.
The 137 buyers found in the UK even got a service book for the first time.
If you accepted the notion of an automatic V12 Ferrari, the idea of a fuel-injected V12 was only a short mental leap further.
It also made sense, given the need to control emissions and provide the sort of cold-start characteristics buyers were coming to expect from expensive cars.
This arrived in 1979, when the 400 (carburettor) was replaced by the 400i.
Its Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection used dual metering units to run the V12 like two straight-sixes via a single Marelli Multiplex contactless distributor driven off the right-hand camshaft.
Power dropped to 310bhp and the price went up to £31,809, although this was still some £2000 less than a 512 Berlinetta Boxer.
An electric sunroof was a new option, and later examples of the 400i wore metric Michelin TRX tyres.
As before, those who insisted could still have a five-speed manual ’box, in the 400GTi.
The 400i was already the longest-lived production Ferrari model when the 412 was announced at Geneva in 1985.
This was the most extensively revised version since the 400 automatic: with a 1mm increase in bore, the engine was nearly 5 litres and now gave the same 340bhp as the last carburettor versions on a higher 9.6:1 compression ratio.
With improved fuel injectors and cleaner exhausts, Ferrari claimed an 8% increase in power and 9.5% more torque.
The raised rear bootline was allegedly for aerodynamic reasons, but also gave a boost to luggage capacity, given that the space-stealing rear air-con unit was now standard.
You could spot a 412 by its colour-coded bumpers, Testarossa-style alloys and clear front indicator lenses.
Less obvious was the introduction of Bosch ABS and front suspension that had been redesigned for improved stability and a better turning circle.
Priced at £55,599, the first right-hooker 412s hit UK roads in November 1985.
Production figures reveal that buyers preferred two-pedal Ferrari V12 motoring: out of 1796 400s and 400is built between 1976 and ’85, 1210 were autos.
With 412 production split 270 to 306 in favour of the automatic, its sales showed signs of bucking that earlier trend.
More than three decades on, the rarity of manual versions of all three cars has tended to skew the survival rates: the three-pedal 400s and 412s survive in disproportionate numbers because they are generally more cherished than the autos and less likely to have been broken for parts.
There was a time, not so long ago, when a Ferrari 400i would have been rendered a ‘breaker’ on almost any pretext from a knackered exhaust to a full ashtray.
Putting the fiscal case – for and against – to one side, I have always thought of these cars as being the first ‘sorted’ Ferraris that owners actually used as real working cars.
Our three-car line-up is missing a carburettor 400 and an automatic representative, but the fact that both the 400i and 412 are manual GTs rather underlines the point about survival rates.
All the 365s are manual, the other claims to fame of the early car being the centre-lock wheels and Dino-style toggle switches.
Owner Simon Greenwood feels that these features give the 365GT4 2+2 a link to the earlier generation of front-engined cars that is somewhat missing in the more ‘corporate’ 400 and 412.
The dark-blue 365 is certainly the prettiest of the three, mainly because it doesn’t have a chin spoiler, and its handsome interior is cleaner and more functional.
It is also the best-looking under the bonnet, with six twin-choke Webers in place of a mass of fuel rails and metering units.
The plush 412GT even has a second alternator to help run the electrics.
Yet what strikes me most about the three cars is how similar they are to look at, sit in and drive: a testament to the soundness of the original concept.
They are low-slung by modern standards and really quite compact, with modest frontal areas, steeply raked windscreens and slim rooflines that flow into strong, beautifully resolved tails.
I’m no fan of colour-coded bumpers, but nothing about the 412 is offensive.
In profile it even hides its complex exhaust more effectively than the earlier cars.
Peter Vaughan has owned his manual example for 10 years and done about 18,000 miles in it. “It’s almost always the only one at Ferrari club events,” he says.
‘Our’ Rosso Cherry 400i is a Series 2 supplied by independent specialist Mike Wheeler at Rardley Motors and ordered new by a director of Maranello Concessionaires.
Outwardly identifiable by its metric TRX-shod wheels, exposed lower driving lights and high-intensity foglights in its rear bumper, the S2 400i, built from early ’83, also had smart, Ferrari-badged door mirrors, gas (rather than hydraulic) self-levelling suspension struts at the rear and an additional 5bhp teased out by attention to cam profiles and exhaust manifolds.
Entering through long doors – noting the Alfa Spider exterior handle – there is plenty of glass and lots of leather.
But the 365 has more of a show-car feel, with the Alcantara-covered dash (with vents on the top) and the four boxy minor instruments angled towards the driver.
There’s no getting away from the short-legs/arms-stretched driving position and the acute angle of a chunky Momo steering wheel that encourages two-handed control at all times, shuffling between four turns from lock to lock for a supertanker turning circle.
The ski-slope centre consoles bear testimony to how far back the designers had to mount the V12 for weight distribution, while the cosy rear quarters are close-coupled but carefully contoured.
In all cases they are well-appointed, with armrests and cubbyholes: if you really had to be driven by somebody else at 150mph, they look as good a place as any to have a nervous breakdown.
The high-pitched whine of the starter motor blends into the smooth firing impulses of 12 pistons coming to life with the silky burble of a 900rpm tickover.
Sensors and enrichment devices in the injected cars tidy up the cold-running characteristics, but early throttle inputs need to be carefully measured in the 365GT4 before it runs cleanly.
There is something deliciously satisfying even in the act of driving slowly in these big Ferraris.
The long, smooth and accurate throttle action is matched in effort by clutch, steering and gearchange inputs that have an appropriate – but not unreasonable – heft.
Like most of the front-gearbox V12s, these cars have a leather gaiter around their gearlevers rather than an open gate.
A longish movement is common to all, with a pleasingly mechanical action.
It’s not the fastest change, but the ideally spaced ratios allow you to fully exploit 7000rpm-worth of silken potential in every phase of its delivery, for the sort of smoothly deliberate progress that makes pressing on a natural activity filled with satisfaction.
There is no denying that the sound the early carburettor car makes is more rewarding, the rush of air through a dozen chokes merging with spooling cams and singing chains to a rev-limited crescendo that gives 50mph in first, almost 80mph in second and well over 100mph in third, all delivered not in a series of lunges but an irrepressible rush of velvet muscle.
All three are massively stable in a straight line and will carry plenty of speed through long, fast curves without roll or drama – even if their sheer width makes them feel less at home on narrower roads – as the delightfully positive, accurate steering casts off its low-speed sloth.
As the speeds rise you would hardly know it was assisted, and in all versions the turn-in is accurate enough to place the nose precisely where you want it.
There is less road noise than you might expect and braking is potent, while a well-damped, nicely controlled ride that feels on the harsh side of firm in town seems to smother wrinkles and pockmarks with the effortless touch of a lighter, nimbler car.
If the rowdy 365 sounds faster than the more muted fuel-injected cars, then the 400i and 412 pull every bit as strongly and sweetly, the latter just having the edge in both refinement and flexibility, with a fourth gear that will take you from 20 to 120mph in a single, thrusting surge that seems like something beyond the mere physics of internal combustion.
The 365/400/412 series of four-seat Ferraris represents 17 years of success in a shrinking market for family-sized V12 exotica.
With the demise of four-place rivals from Maserati and Lamborghini, it was a market Ferrari had pretty much to itself by the end of the 1970s.
By outliving their supercoupé rivals and successfully resisting odious comparisons with younger, cheaper machinery from volume prestige brands, these elegant, traditionally engineered cars looked, for a while, as if they might even be Ferrari’s last front-engined V12s.
In fact, Maranello made a wholesale return to this configuration, but it never again made cars in the mould of these heavyweight grand tourers.
Operating on the basis that there was a market for no more than 500 four-seaters annually, these were the last boutique V12 products of an Italian supercar industry that still put a high value on exclusivity and hand-finished, coachbuilt individuality.
Today they are more coveted but still tainted by the curse of their rear seats, which means the difference in values between a 365/400/412 family and any of the two-seaters that shared their V12 technology remains as vast as ever.
The trouble is, when the cost of upkeep and restoration is on a par with a seven-figure two-seater, it tends to hurt when the values are so disparate.
That, in itself, depresses prices.
But if you believe that everybody should own a V12 Ferrari at least once in their lifetime, then the 365/400/412 series still looks like the only reasonable way to achieve that dream on an even vaguely real-world budget.
Images: Jayson Fong
Ferrari 365GT4 2+2
- Sold/number built 1972-’76/524
- Construction tubular steel chassis, glassfibre floorpan and steel body with aluminium bonnet/boot skins
- Engine all-alloy, dohc-per-bank 4390cc V12, six Weber 38DCOE carburettors
- Max power 325bhp @ 6200rpm
- Max torque 319lb ft @ 4600rpm
- Transmission five-speed manual, RWD via a limited-slip differential
- Suspension independent, by double wishbones, coil springs, anti-roll bar f/r; front telescopic dampers, rear oleo-pneumatic self-levelling struts
- Steering power-assisted worm and roller
- Brakes vented discs, with servo
- Length 15ft 9in (4801mm)
- Width 5ft 11in (1803mm)
- Height 4ft 4in (1321mm)
- Wheelbase 8ft 10in (2692mm)
- Weight 3307lb (1500kg)
- 0-60mph 6.6 secs
- Top speed 152mph
- Mpg 11
- Price new £14,266 (1975)
- Price now £50-90,000*
Where different from 365GT4 2+2
- Sold/number built 1976-’85/1796 (inc 1305 400is from 1979)
- Engine 4823cc, Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection from 1979
- Max power 340bhp @ 6500rpm (400i 310bhp @ 6400rpm)
- Max torque 347lb ft @ 3600rpm (400i 304lb ft @ 4200rpm)
- Transmission optional three-speed automatic
- Weight 4160lb (1887kg)
- 0-60mph 6.7 secs
- Top speed 153mph
- Mpg 12
- Price new £23,999 (1978)
- Price now £35-70,000*
Where different from 400i
- Sold/number built 1985-’89/576
- Engine 4943cc
- Max power 340bhp @ 6000rpm
- Max torque 332lb ft @ 4200rpm
- Brakes with ABS
- Weight 3979lb (1500-1805kg)
- Top speed 160mph
- Mpg 15
- Price new £55,599
- Price now £35-80,000*
*Prices correct at date of original publication
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