Fred Bear's cars of distinction

Ferrari 365GT4/400/412

The Ferrari 400. Jeremy Clarkson is said to have described this beauty as “just awful in every way”.  If he did, he wouldn’t be alone. For a lot of Ferrari “afficianados”, this fine car is the least loved and least desired classic Ferrari of all.  
So undesired you can pick one up today for almost normal prices. At the 2019 Goodwood Festival of Speed, a 400GT was being auctioned with a guide price of £20,000 – which is cheap by anyone’s standards (for a Ferrari, its insane). Even a restored example will set you back less than £50,000 – that’s a classic Ferrari tourer for under fifty grand. 

The story of the 400


So why the snobbery? The story starts in 1972 with the unveiling of the Ferrari 365 GT4 2+2 (picture above), an elongated car with an elongated name. While you are looking at that picture ask yourself how much you want to be driving that, look at that stance, the tyres, four smoking exhausts. Oh man.

According to London classic car specialists, COYS, the car was a continuation of the grand tourer line that Ferrari has started with the original 365 series in the late 1960s. Ferrari aimed these cars directly at wealthy business men, customers who already posessed a two seater Ferrari, says COYS.

Styled by Pininfarina, the car took a detour from the curvy looks of its predecessors and was thought by Ferrari to embody the new angular styling trends of the 1970s. But this angular styling is thought to be one of the reasons why people don’t rate it. For me, it’s the opposite. It’s so elegant and still imposing on the road. As I said, just look at the view from the car behind.

The styling carried one feature from the 365 GTB/4 Daytona model (the one everyone rightly loves); the semi circular indent line along the body sides, but was otherwise it was a completely new design from Pininfarina.

Not made for America
The 365 GT4 also came with beautiful star pattern alloys with a knock off hub spinner on a Rudge hub. These were lost on the later 400 variant.

This car was never made officially available in the US due to the high cots of meeting new 1970s US safety legislation.  This  could be another reason the car, unlike the Daytona, is so undervalued.

Inside you and three passengers can be cocooned in a sumptuous leather and wood interior. There was power steering and electric windows.

And of course a 4.4 litre V12 under the bonnet, with wet sump lubrication, and side draught twin choke Weber 38 DCOE59/60 carburettors. 

This then fed the most gorgeous noise through quad stainless steel tailpipes, hung out below the rear bumper. 

Enter the automatic Ferrari
Here is where the trouble really started. Ferrari replaced the 365 GT4 in 1976 with the 400 – which came with an automatic gearbox option. Oh dear. 

For many this was heresy – an auto Ferrari! For others, i.e. actual buyers at the time, and maybe more car lovers in the future, this made perfect sense. This is really what the 400 cried out for – that long languid body was designed to cruise and be seen in eating up the miles across the autoroutes of Europe.  Sorry, it was not for racing. 

Visually the 400 series models can be differentiated from its predecessors by a small body colour spoiler on the lower edge of the nose, five bolt fixing for the alloy wheels instead of the single triple eared spinner.

Retrogade steps for me included only four rear light assemblies, and the disappearance of the “Cavallino Rampante” from the radiator grille.

The inside got more comfortable and there was a change of style for the door release catch, according to Ferrari. These things matter.

Along came the fuel injected 400i
The 400 ditched the carbs in 1979 and got a Bosch K-Jetronic injection setup, and as well as Dinoplex electronic ignition system. This was about the same time as I fitted an aftermarket electronic ignition system to my Alfasud 1.2 ti – but that’s another story (it didn’t work). I was poor in those days.

The V12 got an uprated capacity of 4823cc, coupled to a Borg Warner 3 speed automatic gearbox – as could be found in many very ordinary cars at the time. Maybe that contributes to the credibility problem. A boring, off the shelf autobox bolted onto a Ferrari. 

In late 1982 some mechanical and cosmetic changes took place to the model. Hydraulic self levelling rear suspension was changed to a gas filled system, along with new metric rim wheels with lower profile tyres.

Outside the door mirrors gained small enamel Ferrari shields on their casings, the width of the radiator grille and the headlights became rectangular instead of square, and high intensity fog lights were set into the rear bumper. 

The 412: the most desirable version of the least desired Ferrari?
in 1985 the 412 replaced the 400i with a raft of styling changes by Pininfarina. It had a higher boot line, along with a deeper front spoiler to improve the car’s aerodynamics. Whether these were an improvement or not is open to debate. They certainly didn’t make it worse, the essential shape from 1972 remained intact.

Pininfarina’s other changes included re-designed sill panels, body-coloured bumper inserts, a modified alloy wheel design, clear indicator lenses and black windscreen and window surrounds.

However, on this model there was no external badging to denote that a car was automatic, the tail badge stated simply 412, whichever gearbox was fitted. Was this a ploy to allow auto drivers not to be mocked from behind by people who didn’t own Ferraris? The door mirrors lost the Ferrari badge. Damn shame.

Production of the 412 finally ceased in 1989, bringing to an end a seventeen year run for what was essentially a single body style. This was the longest production run in the company’s history, during which time nearly three thousand examples were produced.

It would be another seven years before automatic transmission would once again become available on a Ferrari. 

Buying one
If you are lucky enough to be able to afford a classic Ferrari, then you have many options to choose from its back catalogue. But the 400 series should be one of them. For me, its time is coming. It still looks good on the road on those rare occasions you might see one, and it will turn heads. Inside it’s gorgeous. It’s practical enough to drive, if not every day, at least more often than other classic Ferraris that spend their lives cosseted in a garage. 

The initial cost of a 400 may still be way below other classic Ferraris but don’t think it will be motoring  on the cheap. It’s still a Ferrari with Ferrari maintenance demands and costs – an expensive oil change every 3000 miles for example. Get the best example, most looked after you can find and don’t get too hung up about which version. After all, the non-Ferrari owning experts are going to scoff anyway! You should be prepared to spend at least  £4-6000 a year to run a 400. Oh, and the mpg? Best not to think about that. Just look at it, sit in it, start it up, drive it, it’s gorgeous. 

Fred bear's gallery of distinction Ferrari 365 GT4/400