The 1988 hit film “Rainman” opens with gray market importer Charlie Babbitt (Tom Cruise) walking around a California shipping dock inspecting a quartet of Lamborghini Countachs that he hopes to sell to waiting customers. But how many moviegoers would have recognized the car Cruise drove away from the dock?
Appropriately for the Babbitt character, it was another gray-market import, a 1983 Ferrari 400i. No model from this series, which started with the 365 GT4 in 1972 and ended with the 1985-1989 412, was ever officially sold in America by Ferrari. The carmaker likely did not want to bother with the expense of emissions certification for its 12-cylinder models in the 1970s and early 1980s, leaving the mid-engine V8s to carry the Prancing Horse flag in that period.
When the Twelves Went on Hiatus
After Ferrari’s 365 GTB/4 Daytona and 365 GTC/4 models ended, so did Ferrari 12-cylinder exports to America, at least temporarily. That meant no mid-engine 365 GT/4 BB (Berlinetta Boxer), which had succeeded the Daytona as the Ferrari supercar, and no 365 GT4, which had succeeded the 365 GTC/4 grand tourer.
The 1972 365 GT4 was a “big” 2+2 coupe and part of a line descended from the 1960 Ferrari 250 GT 2+2. For 1976, Ferrari upgraded the model, punching its 4.4-liter V12 out to 4.8 liters and renaming it 400 (for the 402cc per cylinder).
(Ferrari 400. Photo by Darz Mol)
The 400 caused some controversy by becoming the first-ever Ferrari to offer the option of an automatic transmission, the excellent three-speed Turbo Hydra-Matic sourced from General Motors. So equipped, it was known as the 400A; the model with the 5-speed manual transmission was the 400 GT.
Despite alarming some purists, the automatic became the predominant choice. Today, of course, every Ferrari is an automatic, though the dual-clutch 7-speed with paddle shifters is far more sporting than the old GM unit.
Ferrari made another leap in 1979 by abandoning the 400’s six Weber two-barrel carburetors for Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection, the car then being badged 400i. Output was a prodigious 310 horsepower.
The Ferrari 365/400 had already been courting controversy with its design. To most eyes, the angular body is wonderfully elegant, another Pininfarina masterpiece. However, some saw it as lacking the excitement one associated with Ferrari. The designer’s goal was to maximize interior room while keeping a low overall silhouette.
The body was draped over a long-for-Ferrari 106.3-inch wheelbase, and it stretched 189 inches bumper to bumper – about the size of a modern midsize sedan. The 400i weighed about 4,000 pounds.
(1983 Ferrari 400i with 5-speed manual. Photo by Mr.choppers)
The 400i design may well be appreciated more today than in the 1970s, the clean, simple lines having stood the test of time better than most cars from the period. In general form, there is a slight resemblance to the shorter 1968-1969 Lamborghini Islero, another design not fully appreciated until years after it was out of production.
The design compels the eye to linger and study its details. Among the most interesting is the swage line, a groove that runs the length of each side and seems to visually divide the car into lower and upper halves. It was first used on the Daytona.
The greenhouse and sweeping C-pillar show the designer’s genius at melding form and function. The trunk is roomy, and the interior is Ferrari’s most luxurious of the period. Bitter, a German boutique carmaker, built what was essentially a 400i doppelganger, the Opel-based SC, which was sold in America.
(Ferrari 412 – Interior – Photo by Gte4289)
Uncommon, Yet Inexpensive
Ferrari made about 1,300 400i models, with the automatic outselling the 5-speed two to one. The series ended with the 1985-1989 412, still wearing the same body, but with front and rear detail changes. For this last fling, the manual transmission caught up to the automatic, accounting for nearly half of the 576 made.
Many were brought here as gray market cars when new. And today, you can buy one overseas and import it via EPA and DOT emissions and safety regulation exemptions.
A Ferrari 400i or 412 may seem like a bargain, a genuine V12 Ferrari still in double-digit prices. Keep in mind, however, that as a Ferrari, it comes with Ferrari-sized bills for maintenance and repairs. But also remember, older V12 Ferrari 2+2 models were “bargains” for a long time before they soared.
Why you’d want a Ferrari 400i:
It’s a V12 Ferrari.
Cheap to buy, by Ferrari standards.
Elegant Pininfarina beauty gets better with age.
Tom Cruise drove one, if only briefly, in “Rainman.”