I was reprimanded within the first few seconds of driving this showroom-perfect 1990 Ferrari Testarossa. "I saw that. You shifted at six grand," said the man in the passenger seat. I gulped. I'm in trouble. "Next time don't let off before seven - let it go deep into the red. Oh, and keep the revs over 3000 at all times."
Well, that's a first, being scolded for being too nice to a car. And the man in the passenger seat isn't even nuts - he's intelligent and articulate, and he knows Ferraris. Sal Garcia is his name, but he refers to himself as the Ferrari Doctor. Garcia owns Waterfront Automobili, a San Francisco Ferrari specialist, and this is his customer's car. My instincts tell me to baby this 30,000-mile collector piece, but my instincts are wrong. "The harder you drive these cars, the better they stay together," Garcia says. If you insist, Dottore.
The Testarossa (named, of course, for its red valve covers) was unveiled at the 1984 Paris auto show. Well, not at the show - that wouldn't be sufficiently glamorous - but at the Lido, a decadent Champs-Elysées nightclub throbbing with dancing models and, one presumes, sprinkled with cocaine and quaaludes. This was the '80s at their peak, and the Testarossa's Pininfarina design was unlike anything anyone had ever seen, a wedge profile with an impossibly low hoodline and side air intakes punctuated with five cheese-grater strakes that run nearly the entire length of the wheelbase.
An enormously wide rear end houses wheels set nearly six inches farther apart than the fronts, with the resulting body-side flares creating a bench wide enough to sit on. All of this is necessary to feed air to the side-mounted radiators, but rather than try to hide the visual width, Ferrari emphasized it further with a fender-to-fender louvered rear grille. Maranello's trademark round taillights are nowhere to be found, and as an exclamation point, there's a body-color box-shaped thingy the size of a washing-machine lid floating in the middle of the engine cover. Purpose? Who cares? It's what's underneath that matters.
That would be a mid-mounted flat-twelve. Ferrari incorrectly called it a boxer engine - technically speaking, it's a 180-degree V-12, since each pair of opposed pistons shares a crankpin. Either way, it displaces 4.9 liters, breathes through forty-eight valves, and produces 380 hp. Its 180-mph-or-so top speed was in a league with no others, save possibly the outrageous Lamborghini Countach, whose name pretty much means "holy crap" in Italian. Indeed.