Back in 1988, testing a Ferrari in Britain was up there with cracking time travel, proving Fermat’s last theorem and anyone other than McLaren winning a grand prix: theoretically feasible but almost impossible aims.
Back then, Ferraris were imported by Inchcape, whose PR agency took pride in ensuring what it regarded as the grubbier elements of the fourth estate – the motoring press, mainly – were kept as far as possible from its products.
Take its flagship, the Testarossa. It had come out in 1984, but four years later we’d had not one whiff of its 5.0-litre flat 12 motor. Its reputation said it was a bit of a duffer: quicker but uglier and less involving than the Boxer it replaced. But we didn’t actually know.
Now you must forgive a small, self-indulgent digression, because it is central to this story. I joined Autocar in June 1988 and by July the editor had already realised his mistake.
You won’t find my name in any magazine published at the time because, as said editor was kind enough to point out, “I’d only have to take it out again”. I was sinking fast and needed a lifeline, something to make me indispensable to Autocar, for long enough for me to figure out where I was going wrong. And this car, this actual car, was that lifeline. In short, my dad had a Testarossa.
He let us borrow it because he recognised I was already in the Last Chance saloon and about to fall off my bar stool. I’d like to say the resulting story about an Exmoor encounter with a Lancia Delta Integrale did the trick, but I didn’t even write it. But I did drive both cars, crashed neither, showed I was at least not incompetent behind the wheel of a genuinely quick car and therefore provided some grounds for keeping me. So this car saved me.
It was another former Autocar employee, Ben Oliver, who 27 years later alerted me to its reappearance. He spotted an ad on the Graypaul Classic Cars website, name-checking my father and asking £185,000 for the car – a lot even these days.
So I rang Graypaul’s Robin Simpson, who said that after my father had sold it to Graypaul, having done a few thousand miles in it, they’d sold it to a man who kept it as an ornament for a quarter of a century. In its 28 years, the car has done just over 8000 miles, most of them with various Frankel backsides behind the wheel. Apart from the £8k Graypaul spent getting it road ready again, it was as I’d last seen it in 1988. Could I borrow it for a few hours? It would be a pleasure.
It was odd seeing it there. Even now, it is the only Testarossa I have sat in. Yet I remembered it all, my fingers automatically finding the door handle under those dramatic side strakes, how to open the bonnet and engine cover, where to find the fly-off handbrake and how to adjust (rake only) the three-spoke steering wheel. I remembered also that when the gearbox oil is cold, you use second only with a slow double-declutch shift or, ideally, not at all.