Testing cars could never be considered serious business, not really. Yet, occasionally there are times when you need to put on your most solemn frown and be terrifyingly earnest. Because it’s alright to be captivated by an engine’s noise or be entranced by how fast a car is. It’s within the rules to be swayed by some sultry curves and handsome features, even. But what’s absolutely forbidden is to let a car’s badge, name or reputation have any influence on your verdict.
I can resist the allure of a supercar badge pretty well. Driving a California T, even on the sunbaked roads around Maranello with the roof down, was rather disappointing no matter how hard the Ferrari badge tried. A rear-wheel drive Huracán on tarmac carved into a Scottish valley should have been breathtaking, but the charging bull categorically failed to charm me.
But a few years ago, one event conspired to destroy all of my integrity. I was asked to collect a Ferrari Testarossa for a photoshoot.
An actual Testarossa. A full-sized version of the model that sat on my bedroom windowsill for decades. I tried to stay cool, calm and collected while trundling around the country in this red block of ‘80s excess. I really did, but I failed. I was in love with it as soon as I opened the door for the first time and those famous side strakes swished past my shins.
There was one moment during the day that will remain permanently etched onto my mind. It might have only been the M40 southbound, but it was one of the most glorious sensations I’ve ever had behind the wheel.
Dusk was starting to steal the light, but rather than a warm autumn sunset, drizzle made everything grey. In fact, there was nothing romantic about the location, the weather, the destination, not even the speed I was doing. The only exceptional part of it was that I was in a red Ferrari Testarossa.
Piloting that big wedge at a steady 70mph, flat-12 humming gently behind me, pop-up lights ablaze, just hazy red dots to identify the surrounding cars and trucks, I could have been in the 1980s. But, because I was at the helm of a Testarossa, I wasn’t boring ol’ me, I was a synth-pop star.
I wasn’t simply returning the Ferrari to its owner; I had my destination locked to Frankfurt, where I’d drive through the night to record a new track with Giorgio Moroder the next day. Then I’d party with Grace Jones, Phil Oakey and Sylvester, probably. And I’d have had a spectacular moustache.
All in my mind, of course; my moustache is pathetic, I’d never be cool enough to be friends with those disco stars and, if it were the ’80s, the Channel Tunnel wouldn’t have existed and I’d have had to suffer the indignity of a ferry. But the worst part: the reality that the Testarossa wasn’t mine and I had to return it to its real-life owner.
That was it, then. So captivated by it being a red Ferrari that’d no longer be able to consider myself an objective road tester again. Well, not quite.
You see, I might have got a little bit carried away cruising into the fading light, but my love for the Testarossa isn’t all badge, side-strakes and ‘80s hedonism. No, thankfully for my credibility, it actually drives beautifully.
Its reputation for being absurdly big, cumbersome and a bit ponderous just doesn’t materialise in the 21st century. Partly because its status as a classic car means you’re willing to forgive the weird arms-stretched-out driving position, the recalcitrant-when-cold gearbox, and the relatively slow and heavy steering as mere quirks.
It is still big, undoubtedly. About as wide as a modern Range Rover. But it’s no less tricky to thread down a narrow lane than the 4×4 because visibility out the front is excellent. Its shape is so square and its sides so flat and boxy, that you’re always aware of exactly where its edges are, too.
With the driving position comfortable enough, the visibility exceptional, the gearbox warmed through and playing ball, you can then simply just enjoy the Testarossa’s innate attributes.
Its 4.9-litre 12-cylinder engine is utterly glorious, especially with a slightly louder exhaust. Driving a Testarossa is like having an entire orchestra playing a ‘best of’ compilation of engine noises on demand, all you need to do is decide on the revs. Or, play each one of your favourite rumble, gurgles and barks in succession as the tachometer sweeps up to its 6,800rpm limit.
That doesn’t sound like a lot of revs, does it? We often expect at least 8,000rpm from our legendary engines. But, partly thanks to the ‘Rossa’s long gears, you have time to appreciate every layer of sound the flat-12 emits so you certainly don’t yearn for any more revs.
The gearing contributes to the Testarossa’s overriding persona, that of an unruffled GT car. Its grand tourer credentials are bolstered by its serene ride and stability when you’re simply gliding along. But the Testarossa doesn’t make a mockery of its supercar looks when it’s confronted with some corners. Yeah, it rolls a lot more than a modern car, but it reacts naturally to your inputs and remains controlled even as you commit to more and more speed. Its modest power output, just 349bhp, generates enough shove for you to be able to get quite the wriggle on, too.
That sort of range, to effortlessly eat away at hundreds of miles and still generate a smile after buzzing through an empty roundabout, puts the Testarossa firmly in the category of ‘great cars’. Its engine promotes it to ‘properly special’. Which is a good thing for my reputation, because I’d given the Testarossa full marks before I’d even sat in it.