Ferrari Testarossa © Niels van Roij | Form Trends

Ferrari Testarossa – The Iconic Pininfarina-Designed 1980s Supercar

Ferrari recently revealed the Portofino, the newest ‘volume model’ in the company’s portfolio and the replacement for the California. ‘Volume’ is relative, as Ferrari only sells a few thousand vehicles per year in an effort to retain exclusivity. In the 1980s that volume model was the Ferrari Testarossa, one of the most iconic Ferrari designs ever.

Although an altogether different proposition than the new Portofino, Maranello’s goal with the Testarossa was crystal clear: to cash in on the ‘80s. The name Testarossa, ‘redhead’ in Italian, paid homage to the 1957 Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa racing car and refers to the red-painted cam covers. The 12-cylinder mid-engined Ferrari went into production in 1984, succeeding the Berlinetta Boxer. The Pininfarina-designed car was produced until 1991.

The design team at Pininfarina consisted of Ian Cameron, Guido Campoli, Diego Ottina and Emanuele Nicosia and was led by design chief Leonardo Fioravanti – designer of many contemporary Ferraris. The design was originated by Nicosia, but the guidance of the talented Fioravanti was very important.

As a trained aerodynamicist, Fioravanti applied his know-how designing the aerodynamic layout of the Testarossa. The large side intakes, arguably the most iconic ever applied to a Ferrari, were not only a design statement but functional too: they drew in air to cool the side radiators and then went upward, leaving the car through the ventilation holes in the engine lid and the open tail.

Thanks to that solution – some 30 years before several modern-day super sportscar manufacturers applied this same methodology – the Testarossa didn’t require a rear spoiler, which kept the body clean and the sculpture untouched; free of any visual noise.

The side strakes spanning from the doors all the way into the rear fenders were required to conform to regulations, which banned the presence of large openings on cars. This is undoubtedly an area where design prevailed over mere styling. Though devised to adhere to regulatory demands, they also added an enormous amount of character to the overall design and became an influential design element that would later become synonymous with speed and power.

Another unique design idea was a single, high-mounted rear-view mirror on the driver’s side. Initially created to improve visibility from the very low driver’s seat (and thought of specifically for US customers), the mirror was lowered to a more conventional placement in 1987. Soon after a passenger side mirror was added.

The Testarossa’s razor-sharp edges and harsh, flat surfacing was a departure from the curvaceous Boxer’s design, which caused quite some controversy at the time. But it is safe to say the radical departure of the 1970s ‘grace’ towards the 1980s ‘extravagance’ helped the Testarossa – together with its siblings – to become forever etched into the collective consciousness of automobile aficionados worldwide.

Ferrari Testarossa © Niels van Roij | Form Trends

While the horizontal proportions of the Testarossa are extreme, its volumes and graphics – emphasizing its width – add even more drama. Equally outspoken (and typical for the time) are Ferrari’s five-spoke wheels, which link to the brand’s heritage and complement the design perfectly. Fioravanti’s ideas suited the Maranello car maker seamlessly.

This very fresh, modern take on the Ferrari DNA took the brand’s aesthetics forward in a new and relevant area – both visually unique and highly functional. It became the design icon of an era.

The goal Ferrari had set-out for the Testarossa – to cash in on the ‘80s – was met: almost 10,000 Testarossas, 512 TRs, and F512 Ms were produced. It is interesting to see how Ferrari is now aiming for a similar goal by expanding the entire model portfolio while simultaneously leaving behind Pininfarina’s talent by taking the design of their new cars into their own hands.


Founded in 2012, Form Trends tirelessly covers the automotive design industry in all corners of the globe to bring you exclusive content about cars, design, and the people behind the products.