When contemplating Ferrari’s illustrious legacy, it’s unlikely that the Ferrari 400 GTi – or one of their other late-‘70s or ’80s Grand Tourers – would be one of the first cars that comes to mind. Their back catalogue is peppered with some of the most widely-recognised forms in automotive history including Dinos, Spiders and Targa-topped supercar beauties that now adorn the most prestigious automotive collections in the world.
There’s a sub-section of this world-renowned back catalogue, however, that caters for those looking for a Ferrari-badged cruiser that rivals the gamut of German luxury cars from a similar era – the Pininfarina-designed 365 GT4 2+2, 400 and the 412. All three models are very closely related, sharing the same body, engine and chassis that evolved over the sixteen year production period – Ferrari’s longest ever series.
Whilst the series did not initially garner the attention of other Ferraris of the same period, the 400 was given a rock and roll backstory thanks to the purchase of three by the Rolling Stones in 1983 following their successful Tattoo You album release.
Although it went for auction and sold for in excess of £300,000 at RM Sotheby’s in September 2017, during his ownership, Keith Richards recognised that his manual 400i in black had great road presence; a 2700mm wheelbase makes this Ferrari even larger than the BMW 635i – a more sturdy, if more sedate alternative.
Where the 365 GT4 2+2 offered a 4.3L V12, the engine was stroked to a 4.8L capacity for the 400 and given six Webber carburettors that together provided around 340hp. From 1972 onwards, the carbs were replaced with Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection on the 400i and 400 GTi in order to meet U.S. emission standards and provided better fuel economy, whilst pegging back the power to – a still mightily respectable – 310hp.
Visually, the 400 GTi was initially identical to its predecessor both internally and externally apart from the addition of an “i” to the tail badge, although the tubular steel chassis type reference number was updated to ‘F 101 DL 110’. In late 1982 mechanical and cosmetic changes were made, including revised profile camshafts and new exhaust manifolds, that combined to increase power output by about 5 bhp. The hydraulic self-levelling rear suspension was changed to a gas filled system, coupled to new metric rim wheels with lower profile tyres. Internally revisions to the upholstery stitching pattern, door panel design, and centre console layout were made. Externally, the door mirrors were given the addition of small enamel Ferrari shields on their casings, the the radiator grille was reduced in width to expose the driving lights that were now rectangular instead of square, the radiator exhaust air louvre in the bonnet became body colour, and high intensity fog lights were set into the rear bumper.
I was fortunate enough to get an opportunity to spend an afternoon driving one of the rarer examples of these 2+2 tourers – a black 1984 Ferrari 400 GTi – at the Classic Motor Hub. This particular model was considered the swansong of the range, and – in the right-hand drive configuration I drove – represents one of only 28 colonial-configured cars to be delivered to the United Kingdom with the desirable 5-speed manual gearbox (rather than the 3 speed automatic Borg Warner box that most were constrained by).
Chassis number 50157 has a classy black-on-black look thanks to the ‘Nero’ paint and matching black leather interior, and was first registered on 14th May 1984 by Maranello Sales Ltd. to Robert Michaels – a well-known Ferrari collector in owners’ club circles. Amongst other fine examples, he previously owned a Daytona Spider that is now one of 300 Ferraris in the Sultan of Brunei’s humongous collection.
To complement the air con, power steering and other relatively luxurious amenities, an electric sunroof was installed prior to delivery on 2nd June 1984 – a rare addition not offered on the factory spec list.
After changing hands for the first time having covered around 15,000 miles, a new speedometer was fitted by respected Ferrari restorer Terry Hoyle in 1993, who later purchased the car for his own use, but never registered it in his own name. He went on to part-exchange it at Garage on the Green in London for a Ferrari 330GT 2+2.
Over the next 10 years, the car changed hands a couple more times and had a new clutch fitted, by which point it had clocked-up only 26,000 miles before being bestowed with the current number plate: ‘TIA 910’. The next owner fitted a new fuse box and ignition system and covered just over 10,000 miles before the car was purchased by The Classic Motor Hub.
With that history in mind, it’s clear that this Ferrari 400 GTi represents one of the more well-maintained examples, and so taking it for a Sunday shakedown around some of the local Cotswold scenery seemed only right.
Setting off in the glorious low autumn sun, the first thing that struck me was how, well, easy it all seemed. Unlike more sporty Ferraris, the ride was incredibly smooth and refined, and there were none of the disconcerting rattles and creaks you might expect to find in most mid-eighties tourers – a testament to the combination of low mileage, good maintenance and the polished build of this later model.
The black leather interior offers typical Ferrari character, coupled with some of the most comfortable car seats I’ve ever used. Rather than the typically rigid buckets you’ll find in newer touring cars, those in the 400 GTi are soft, enveloping and perfect for a long drive down to Italy – or whatever other road trips you might think to take it on.
There were aspects to this GT model that I hadn’t anticipated, including the lack of fussiness that comes with many old Italian motors, as well as the more subtle engine note that maintained a satisfying burble rather than a raucous bark – perfect for wafting through country lanes at leisure without upsetting the locals (too much).
I felt very privileged to experience the Ferrari 400 GTi with the 5-way Ferrari stick in hand rather than the automatic nonsense so many 400 owners would have had to endure. The gated gear changes felt incredibly precise and not once did I struggle to find a gear from the perfectly-positioned stick.
Felt through the black leather and brushed aluminium Momo wheel, steering was perhaps not as immediate as you’d get from a more compact, sporty Ferrari, yet it still offered a rewarding sense of attachment like you would expect from any Italian drivers’ car.
Making our way through pretty Cotswold villages and down narrow country lanes, the 400 GTi garnered many admiring glances and a fair number of slightly puzzled faces, too. Though it may not be the most well-known of the Prancing Horses, the black-on-black colour scheme married with angular lines carves an imposing figure on the road.
Whether you have ever considered an old Aston Martin DBS, a Mercedes S-Class such as the W126 or perhaps even a Fiat 130 coupe, the 400 GTi offers a more elegant blend of pointed presence and subtle sophistication that’s married to the unavoidable self-assurance the Ferrari badge provides.