Why is Ferrari's first mid-engined road car seemingly ignored by the classic car market?
The December 2011 edition of Classic and Sportscar Magazine features a comparison of the Ferrari Daytona and the car that replaced it in Ferrari's range, the 365GT4 Berlinetta Boxer. Rather like Drive Cult's own Daytona versus Ferrari 365GTC/4 comparison, the central theme of the article is whether the Boxer is undervalued in the current market compared to the Daytona. I'm not entirely sure the Daytona versus Boxer comparison is entirely valid since they're conceptually so different, but the general question of why the Boxer seems to be an under-appreciated Ferrari is a valid one. In our recent preview of the Coys auction at Ascot we tipped a 365GT4 BB as one of our picks, but despite this recommendation the car failed to sell with a high bid of £62,000. At RM's auction in London a later 512BBi sold for a mere £50,400 (inclusive of commission). For a top of the range classic 12-cylinder Ferrari these are rock bottom prices, so why the apathy towards this model?
Before I delve into that, first a historical recap of the Boxer. Shown as a concept in 1971, the Boxer was formally launched at the Paris Salon of 1973. It was something of a watershed car for Ferrar, since it was the first Ferrari-badged road car to be mid-engined. It was also the first Ferrari road car to feature a flat-12 engine, which gave the car its Boxer name. However, the firing order of the cylinders means it's not actually a true Boxer engine in the way that a Porsche flat-6 is, and if you're being picky it should probably be considered a V12 with a 180 degree crank. The only item that was carried over from the Daytona was the size of the cylinders and as a result the pistons. Quoted power was slightly up on the Daytona at 360bhp (up from 352bhp) but peak torque was down to 302lb ft at 3900rpm compared to 318lb ft at 5500rpm for the Daytona. Possibly frustrated with the rather exaggerated performance claims from Lamborghini, Ferrari quoted a top speed of 188mph for the Boxer, although independent road tests showed that at best the Boxer could match the Daytona at around 174mph.
Between 1973 and 1976, 387 365GT4 BBs left the factory before it was replaced by the 512BB, with the biggest change for the 512 being an increase in engine size to 4.9 litres. Quoted power remained the same (but may have been more truthful) at 360bhp, and torque was improved to 332ib ft at 5000rpm. The engine also changed from wet to dry sump lubrication. Styling changes were subtle, with a small chin spoiler added to the nose, NACA ducts added in front of the rear wheels, the rear arches made slightly bigger to accommodate larger rear wheels, and finally four rear tail lights replaced the six on the 365.
In 1981 the 512BB became the 512BBi as it gained Bosch K Jetronic fuel injection to improve emissions, which resulted in a power drop to 340bhp. The only styling change was the front fog lights which had previously been mounted behind the grill were now exposed, and the majority of cars were painted in entirely in body colour compared to the earlier cars which had the lower parts of the body painted black. One noteable change for modern buyers was that the BBi switched to the Michelin TRX metric tyres, along with other Ferrari production cars of the time, and these tyres are both difficult and expensive to source today. 1936 512s were built with 1007 of those being BBis, before production was ceased in 1984 to make way for the Testarossa. A total of around 2,400 cars in ten years doesn't sound like a lot but it must be remembered most of the those years were very turbulent economically speaking, with two oil crises and the deep recession of the early Eighties. On top of that, Ferrari never homologated the Boxer for sale in the States, thereby limiting its market somewhat, though quite a number eventually made their way to the States as grey imports.
Along with all other Ferraris, prices of the Boxer soared in the late Eighties but have since fallen again, but unlike many of the older Ferraris, price of Boxers have never really recovered. At the start of this article we noted a couple of recent no sales at auctions, and in general dealers are asking around £100,000 to £120,000 for the best examples, with the rarer 365GT4 BB attracting a slight price premium. This brings us back to the original question: why is the Boxer considered to be undervalued? I think now is the time to get into some subjective opinion.
The first issue for the Boxer in terms of value is a fairly tumultuous change that happened at Ferrari in 1975, when Ferrari added a second, cheaper line of Ferrari-badged (as opposed to Dino-badged) Berlinettas in the form of the 308GTB. With a 3.0 litre V8 and shapely Leonardo Fioravanti-penned, lines the 308 could offer almost everything the Boxer could except outright power, and all for a much cheaper price. Perhaps more importantly, the 308's V8 is a lot easier to maintain than the complex flat-12 Boxer, which developed a reputation for being something of a mechanical diva. This is not helped by Ferrari switching from cam chains on the Daytona to cam belts on the Boxer. As a result of the Boxer being an expensive car to maintain, a number of cars have suffered from a lack of maintenance which in turn has a knock-on effect on values.
Next we come to an issue that may seem rather strange when discussing a Ferrari supercar, that of usability. The Daytona is hardly the world's most practical car, but it does have a reasonably-sized boot and a rear parcel shelf which makes it a perfectly good car for a weekend away. The Boxer, on the other hand, has a tiny storage compartment in the front with just enough space for a soft bag, and a tiny amount of space behind the seats. Ferraris are not generally purchased by the type of people who like to travel light, and this lack of storage space will almost certainly put off buyers who plan to use the car for touring. Ferrari themselves recognised this when the 550 Maranello returned the range-topping Ferrari berlinetta to being a front-engined car.
Practicality is rather less of an issue if you're looking for a car that provides an adrenaline hit from a quick drive on a Sunday morning. Here the Boxer runs into another problem, which is probably caused more by reputation than based in fact. For packaging reasons the flat-12 engine sits on top of the transaxle gearbox, resulting in a relatively high centre of gravity which, it's claimed, can make the Boxer rather tricky to handle on the limit. In truth I doubt that many drivers would actually drive the car hard enough to get near to the limit, and if they were planning to I suspect investing in some more modern rubber would go a long way to alleviate - if not completely eliminate - the issue. There is one other issue to consider when buying a Boxer for the driving experience, though, in that there is another Ferrari that is regarded as performing that role rather better: the F40.
Despite being launched as a limited edition model, the F40 was produced in fairly large numbers by Ferrari standards of the time, with 1315 being made. The F40 has become one of the most iconic Ferraris of them all, fêted by the press, owners and one J. Clarkson as one of the all-time great drivers cars. Against all this hyperbole, the Boxer has been rather overlooked, and other than the occasional article in Classic and Sportscar and a section within the Ferrarichat forums, it's not a car that is talked about too often.
F40 prices have spiked in the last few years, possibly as the kids of the eighties who dreamed about them became the buyers of today, and this has allowed some room for Boxer values to rise over the last twelve months. However, the recent auction results have shown that some of this rise may actually be dealer pricing rather than an real increase in demand.
There are other Ferraris that offer more of what the Boxer has to offer, and my view the F40 and the Daytona will continue to outperform the Boxer in the investment market for the foreseeable future.
OK, but hang on - this is Drive Cult, not Sports Car Market (which is incidentally a very good publication); do we care that the Boxer isnt a particularly great investment choice? In fact, the Boxer is arguably all the better for that, and isn't it sometimes more interesting to go for the less obvious choice? I have to say that, all things considered, the Boxer is probably my favourite mid-engined Ferrari, with only the far more expensive 288GTO rivalling it in my affections. I've deliberately avoided the question of looks, since that's such a subjective matter, but to my eyes the Boxer looks gorgeous. The styling doesn't have a bad line in it. Unlike the cartoonish Lamborghini Countach, the Boxer has subtle timeless curves, and only the pop-up headlamps and higher profile tyres really date the car as being from the Seventies rather than the Noughties.
Yes, the F40 may be more fun to drive but a twin turbo V8 will never sound as good as a wailing flat-12 and unlike Drive Cult's resident Stig - Jack Wood - I'm more than happy driving at 8/10ths, and at that pace I'm sure the Boxer would be huge fun without having to worry about any unpleasant on-the-limit handling characteristics. It's not a long-distance GT like the Daytona, but then I would never sell my Daytona to buy one either. One day, I can see a carburettor-equipped 512BB being the perfect partner to the Daytona in my garage, and I can't pay the Boxer a bigger compliment than that.