I owned two Boxers several years ago. They were a 1975 365 GT4 BB and a 1980 512 BB. Both were Weber carburettor cars, unmodified, and both shared the same Boxer style paint scheme. The following is a write up I put together for a friend on the two cars shortly before both were sold to make way for the F40.
Step back and then take a look under the skin and you quickly realise that the two Boxers maybe brothers, but they certainly were not twins. The lack of exterior mirrors, shorter rear deck, and lack of front air dam combined to give 365 GT4 BB the appearance of being a smaller more streamlined car. The front lip spoiler, NACA ducts, added slats on the rear deck lid, dual twin tailpipes, and larger dual twin rear light cluster all combined to make the 512 BB look larger and tougher.
The 365 GT4 BB was the first time Enzo Ferrari allowed the production of a 12 cylinder mid engine road car. Like most 1st attempts, it is raw, unrefined, and dripping in character. The first time I drove a 365 BB, I understood his hesitation. In the hands of the overly aggressive and unsuspecting, this is a car that can bite very quickly. Bitten customers normally are not repeat customers. Tame it and it is enormously rewarding. Executing a series of high speed S curves in a 365 BB properly is an unbeatable experience. The upside of the raw and unrefined is the thrills you get taking it out on a Sunday morning for a spirited run. The downside is all these same things make it a taxing car to pilot over long distances and an absolute nightmare in cities.
The 512 BB was Enzo’s answer to the downsides presented by 365 GT4 BB. It is better behaved (not to be confused with well behaved), has a lighter double plate clutch, revised gearing to make it a more comfortable highway cruiser, and an increased rear track to add stability. A front spoiler was also added to address high speed twitchiness. In summary, the 512 BB is more of a long legged sports car with the 365 BB remaining closer to its race car roots. The engine grew to 5 liters from 4.4 liters and lubrication moved from wet to dry sump. Net net, the 512 BB delivers a different driving experience.
To own a 365 BB is a wonderful privilege. Only 387 were made and how many still survive is anyone’s guess. It is unlikely you will ever run into one parked at the local mall. In fact, I have never run into another one on the road, anywhere. Driving one is an experience. When you first approach a 365 BB it can be a bit intimidating. It is clearly a very fast single minded machine. Open the rear deck lid and you are starring at one massive block of an engine. Step back with the rear open, and you quickly realise that the power plant occupies half the car. It is the command module and rocket approach, human in front, accelerant in back. A similar philosophy to piloting a rocket needs to be employed; at all costs make sure you keep the block of metal behind you. In front and alongside are very bad for the bodywork, driver’s health, and owner’s bank account. While the 365 BB has tremendous amounts of grip, breakaway happens with little advance warning.
Getting into the car is actually surprisingly easy. The door swings wide and you slide down into the seat easily. None of the brutal contortions demanded by the Countach are needed. The Daytona style seats are very comfortable, enveloping and planting you right where you need to be behind the 15 inch Nardi steering wheel. For reasons I can’t explain, the cockpit of the 365 BB feels larger than the 512 BB. This is probably due to there being a slight reduction in the number of controls and vents vs. the later car. The interior also has more of a classic late 60’s, early 70’s feel to it. In my case, the lighter color interior on the 365 BB certainly helps create the illusion of additional space.
Once settled in, turn the ignition key to the 2nd position and enjoy the unique sound of the Webers starting to feed the beast. Two short jabs of the accelerator, and then crank the engine over. The immediate response is loud, angry, and for the uninitiated, disconcerting. Do it in a garage and the echo is thunderous. This is a car with clear presence and nearly impossible to mistake for anything but a Ferrari. Just by the exhaust note, you know that this is a car that demands respect and skill to be driven properly.
Once the engine catches, it will settle into a low rumble and needs to be given several minutes to warm up properly. While waiting for the water and oil temperature gauges to begin their climbs north close your eyes and listen to the mechanical orchestra sitting directly behind you. They do not make engines like this anymore. The hissing of the webers, the spinning of the belts, the movements of the pistons, the opening and closing of the valves, all can be picked out if you listen carefully. It is a great way to spend a few minutes. Call it heavy metal for piston heads. As soon as the temperature gauges have started to climb, it is a firm left leg forward on the clutch, followed by a purposeful slotting of the steel gear shift lever down into 1st. Slowly off the clutch with a bit of throttle and you are starting to move off. For the first 5-10 minutes, the routine is 1st to 3rd and keep it under 3000 rpm. Once properly warmed, the fun begins.
While the 365 BB reaches triple digits easily, running it down a straight highway at these speeds does not unveil the magic of the machine. A 365 BB does this with a minimum of fuss. In these conditions the 365 BB’s sound track is ripping, it sits firmly planted low on the road, and in the summer the cockpit doubles as a bit of a sauna. In fact it is easier to pilot and more responsive the further you push the speedometer needle up the dial. To discover the magic you need to find a road that is neither straight nor flat. Keeping the 365 BB perfectly balanced through the corners while making full use of the tight ratio gearbox is tough but immensely rewarding when you get it right. The hugely flexible engine, coupled with the heavy racing derived single plate clutch, is perfectly designed for this type of driving challenge. The clutch takes up power quickly, allowing for quick, firm gear changes to match the challenge of the terrain one is navigating. Do this for an hour several times a week and you will end up with a left thigh significantly larger than your right. To drive spiritedly in these conditions requires a high level of concentration and practice. Do it for a hour and you will be physically tired but left with a deep sense of accomplishment.
The 512BB is the 365 GT4 BB’s more civilized younger brother. The raw edge is still there; just this time a bit of polish has been added. The 512 BB does not feel as fast as the 365 BB. This is an illusion caused by a small reduction in the cockpit noise coupled with the taller gearing. The lighter double plate clutch also makes shifting easier. The 5 liter engine is very capable of propelling the 512BB to “night in jail” type speeds before you realize just how fast you are now going. Cruising in 5th gear at 3400 rpms you are into triple digit mph territory. Adjustments made to the suspension reduced the “tail squat” of the 365 BB under hard acceleration. The front spoiler eliminates any high speed front end lightness resulting in a very “glued to the road” feeling. As the 512BB feels completely unstressed doing all this, on the highway you tend to drive it faster than you might another car. One huge advantage to on these changes is that it is a much easier car to live with on long distant jaunts. Three to five hours in a 512 BB is not a punishing experience, and the stereo can actually be heard. To drive one across Europe is a bonding experience between man and machine.
The cockpit on the 512 BB has a more distinct late 70’s, early 80’s feel about it. Specifically why, I am not sure, but it does feel more crowded. The seats are equally as comfortable as those on the 365 BB but the inertia reel seat belts make getting in and out a bit easier. Getting the 512 BB started when cold is a bit more dramatic and requires more patience than the earlier car. Whether this is related to the 512 BB having a dry sump system or just the current condition of the two different starter motors, I am not sure, but there definitely is a difference. Once moving, the immense torque provides a viable substitute to changing gears for extended periods if you are so inclined. All the things that make it much more liveable on the open road, do take away a bit of the edge in the twisty stuff.
In the end, they are similar but with key differences. After a couple of hours behind the wheel of the 365 GT4 BB, I am ready to get out. After the same amount of time in the 512 BB, I want to keep going. Preference really comes down to type of usage. Both are great driver’s cars that reward skill. It is hard to go wrong with either.