We bring the ultimate bedroom wall poster cars together to find out whether 2017 reality lives up to the 1980s fantasy
THIS IS the 1980s as people would have you remember it: Big hair, shoulder pads, loud colours, Duran Duran and yuppies with massive mobile phones climbing into show-off cars to pick up girls who look like Elle Macpherson. Unobtainable dreams, in other words. Until tonight, that is. We’ve got the chance to find out what those cars were actually like (though sadly Elle Macpherson was otherwise engaged at the time).
The Lamborghini Countach, the Ferrari Testarossa and the Porsche 911 Turbo were so exciting in two-dimensional form on Athena posters that you could barely look away, so what are they going to be like in reality? Can they possibly live up to a 30-year-old fantasy? And like the hair in the ’80s we’re going big and heading to the streets of London with a trio louder than the jumpsuits worn for Olivia Newton-John’s Physical music clip. It’s time to bring childhood dreams to life.
Testarossa – it’s a wonderful word. As kids, we didn’t know it referred to a red-headed engine with scarlet cam covers. Who cared? Here was a new contender for the title of fastest car on the road. In those days, exaggerated claims were the norm. It seemed odd to us that so many supercars (like the preceding Ferrari Berlinetta Boxer) topped out at 186mph, until we realised this was 300km/h, which was impressive to Continental ears. Even if it wasn’t always true.
In the case of the Testarossa, the claim was a mere 291km/h, but for once it was accurate. There’s a 4.9-litre, four-cam, fuel-injected flat 12 with a peak output of 287kW. Pininfarina tweaked that parallelline styling in a wind tunnel and the TR is probably 16km/h faster than the Boxer. But it’s personal posture more than performance that’s your first concern.
There are three cryptic little grey catches on the side of the Testarossa’s seat base, two of which appear to do exactly the same thing, but in the end you fit into the cabin with a reclined supercar slouch. The wheel is a long reach away, and beyond that is a fabulous period-piece of a dashboard inscribed in an arcadegame font. It gets your heart beating just to sit here, but you wonder whether the Testarossa’s reputation of being user-friendly is deserved. Perhaps a feeble fly-off handbrake jammed between the door and the driver’s thigh is nothing to whinge about, or maybe that matrix of knobs and buttons between the seats equals good ergonomics by 1984 standards. And do you dare complain that the pedals are so offset the clutch in this left-hand-drive example is situated directly under the steering column?
At least you have Bosch KE-Jetronic injection and healthy Marelli Microplex electronic ignition on your side. After a surprisingly fast spin from the starter, the Testarossa bursts into life. It’s a charismatic sounding car, even at idle – flat-12 Ferraris instantly suggest a 1970s Formula One paddock, thanks to a kind of raw, ear-filling blare from the exhaust. With 90°C soon showing on the gauge (a figure this car never exceeds, even in the thickest traffic) the on-ramp of one of London’s arterial roads presents itself and we can probe that throttle travel... It’s ridiculously exciting, with a soaring whoop of noise sending the car spearing down the road and each change becoming slicker and quicker. That F1 blare is still with us, but there’s a rasping, tearing snarl to it, making it all highly addictive.
It’s set up for three-figure motoring, no doubt – think of the Testa’s five forward speeds as being a modern six-speed ’box with first gear amputated. Second will easily send you over the legal limit and you feel that this car’s natural territory is between 110 and 220km/h, where you’d get the best use of third, fourth and fifth.
However, this is busy London. The brake is more important than the accelerator and it’s getting plenty of use. It’s not the car’s best feature and they are overly touchy. There’s also a stab of panic as I glance over my right shoulder and see a huge red thing about to collide with the rear quarter. Then I realise that lump is the rear quarter – this Ferrari, at 1976mm across the butt-cheeks, was the widest production car of its day.
Luckily it steers with great precision and, once on the move, a very pleasant weight. The oversized go-kart feel common to lots of big-league, midengined cars is present, but that’s qualified by some well-judged springing and damping to make it surprisingly forgiving of dodgy surfaces and midcorner bumps. Nonetheless, it’s a car that requires respect. The steering ratio is quick; a clumsy input can remind you how far back the centre of gravity lies.
Yet, in the Porsche 911 Turbo (930), the centre of gravity is even further back than the Testarossa, but at least you’re allowed to sit up and look out. And although the pedals are crazily offset like the Ferrari, at least Porsche’s excuse involves 40-odd years of tradition. That’s the only common feature with the Italian car. Everything else is utterly at odds. Where there was an open-gated dogleg shift, the German car has a long, lightweight wand in a polite leather gaiter. Where there were tight little foot controls demanding
It’s hard to imagine a public road on which you could safely approach the handling limits
both brawn and concentration, here is a friendly, floor-hinged set with a lightweight clutch that feels joyful after the workout you get in the Testarossa.
Perhaps there is one more similarity – that throttle, it has a touch of the heft and stickiness that seems common to all supercars of a certain age. And this one has rather more power than a standard 3.3-litre 930. When it was about six months old, the car went back to the factory on the orders of its first owner, who put it through the Special Wishes department for an upgrade that cost him nearly 40,000 Deutschmarks (or about $21,000 in 1984).
That turns out to have involved a whole host of changes that included a different turbocharger and a much larger intercooler, a wastegate that kept the boost going to 14.5psi rather than the standard 11.6psi, a new front air dam containing driving lights and the oil cooler from an RSR, plus air vents in the rear wings for ducting to the brakes.
The car sat lower, wore larger tyres and, most intriguingly of all, gained a four-branch exhaust that operates only through the driver’s side pipes until on boost, when the exhaust is diverted from the wastegate to the passenger side. Interestingly, these changes are almost exactly what were offered on the final run-out edition, the 930 Turbo LE of 1989.
The LE’s 0-97km/h time was reckoned to be 4.9 seconds and this car must be capable of similar. Compared to the almost clumsy, muscular lunge from a standard 3.0-litre model, it’s surprising how different this is. Those tweaks have given it a smoother power delivery, yet also made it savagely, thrillingly fast. The car’s current owner thinks the power output is 22kW more than the 243kW on the paperwork, and from the way it springs from 3000 to 7000rpm, with associated blurring of scenery and g-forces, it’s hard to disagree.
Because of the 930’s origins, as expected it’s emphatically better in mixed conditions than our Italians. There’s more ground clearance, more compliance with total docility below 3000rpm and no fussing in hot, stop/start traffic. And thank god for decent brakes when the road opens up.
The 911’s lovely, tactile steering is alive and well here, shouldering a little more weight and not as fidgety as, say, a 3.0 Carrera. There’s a sense of security on dry roads from the wide Pirelli P-Zeros, but it’s hard to imagine a public road on which you could safely approach the handling limits.
Which leaves the Countach. Marcello Gandini’s wild styling has made it probably the most famous supercar of all time. This makes the moment you finally slide over that enormous sill and into the driver’s seat a major life event. It’s about meeting a hero – and you know what that can lead to. When I was about 12, I assumed the Countach would be great to drive, just as I assumed Clint Eastwood was perfect. Now I know Clint and I might disagree and I’m terrified the Countach is going to be a disappointment.
But those doors. Pulling the handle and sending one skywards is a childish thrill that probably never gets old. We’ll ignore the fact you have to limbodance round them to gain entry, because once you’re inside you reach up and slice them down again. Very satisfying. There is even less headroom than in the Testarossa. The pedals are gathered near the
Once on the move, you soon forget the interior ergonomics. It’s taut, but supple. And of course, it goes like stink. The Testa’s flat-12 layout also means there’s much more space for cast aluminium plenum chambers and inlet tracts that have an alien...
The 930 Turbo’s most obvious difference from contemporary 911s was its wider track – 1501mm compared to the standard 1380mm – hidden by sprawling arches. This car also features brake-cooling vents (out of sight) in the front of each arch