Ferrari 400i (1979-84): Buyer's guide

By: Cliff Chambers, Photography by: Stuart Grant

Presented by

Ferrari 400i Ferrari 400i Ferrari 400i
Ferrari 400i Ferrari 400i Ferrari 400i
Ferrari 400i Ferrari 400i Ferrari 400i
Ferrari 400i Ferrari 400i Ferrari 400i
Ferrari 400i Ferrari 400i Ferrari 400i
Ferrari 400i Ferrari 400i Ferrari 400i
Ferrari 400i Ferrari 400i Ferrari 400i
Ferrari 400i Ferrari 400i Ferrari 400i

The V12-powered 400i proved that not all Ferraris are impractical

Ferrari 400i (1979-84): Buyer's guide
Buyer's guide: Ferrari 400i

 

Ferrari 400i, 1979-84

Having a family, an aversion to treacherous manual gearboxes or even a modest bank balance is no impediment to owning a Ferrari. Four-seat versions of these very grand 12-cylinder tourers have been part of the Ferrari range since 1962, with later models relatively driver-friendly and not especially expensive.

The 330 and 365GT coupes built during the 1960s and early-’70s invariably came with manual transmission and scant regard for rear seat occupants.

A longer and better-appointed 365GT4 arrived in 1971, characterised by retractable headlights and a chopped, ‘Kamm’-type tail but still with a five-speed gearbox that demanded commitment and dexterity from the driver.

Weight also increased and placed some pressure on performance from the 4.4-litre, quad-cam engine; a situation that was destined to persist until 1976 when the Paris Motor Show brought a 4.8-litre, 400GT model.

This car was longer and heavier than any preceding Ferrari but the attribute that horrified many among the Prancing Horse fraternity was its optional three-speed GM400 automatic transmission.

Early cars with six Weber carburettors developed 255kW and, in automatic form, would run the standing 400m in 15.2secs.

In addition to its longer stroke engine, the revised car acquired a distinctive under-bumper front spoiler, pairs of large, circular rear lamps and bolt-on alloy wheels. Earlier models had maintained the Ferrari competition tradition of using a single ‘knock-on’ wheel fastener.

The 400i with Bosch fuel injection arrived in 1979, accompanied by a reduction in engine output of 22kW and a slight decrease in performance. Top speed was still a healthy 228km/h and fuel economy improved to a claimed average of 18L/100km.

Standard equipment was lavish and extensive. The seats were beautifully finished in leather while major instruments the size of dessert plates were housed in a heavily shrouded binnacle. Dominant amongst the interior features was a monstrous centre console carrying a selection of switches and minor dials and the hefty T-bar transmission selector.

Engine trouble in an era well before mobile phones must have been a nightmare for V12 Ferrari owners. Even those with a working knowledge of things mechanical would have stood and gaped at the underbonnet network of pipes, cables and occasional glimmer of polished metal.

Maintenance was to become a serious issue and ageing 400s often suffered at the hands of neglectful owners who could afford the car itself but not the required upkeep.

Europe, the UK and Australia were prime targets for the biggest Ferrari, but not the moneyed boulevards of the USA. New safety regulations and emission controls ensured that the 400 wasn’t officially sold there.

An updated 412 version with a 5.0-litre engine appeared in 1986 and a few came to Australia. The 400i, however, was sold here in quite significant numbers – albeit to special order – and surviving cars are easily found in the used market.


ON THE ROAD

Flopping into the low-set and leather-bound 400i seats will invariably provoke apprehension. This after all is a Ferrari and quirkiness is mandatory. Getting that egg-carton load of pistons to begin firing away happily from cold takes a little time and patience and for the first minute you can almost hear unburnt fuel dripping from the car’s tailpipes.

Once properly warm and with the oil pressure gauge showing a healthy 35-40psi at idle speed, the engine should respond immediately and without hesitation. One that doesn’t could be due for some costly fuel-injector fettling.

The 400 that I experienced many years ago was an automatic, so no clutch juggling and gearlever jiggling was required. The GM400 transmission is one of the best self-shifters ever made – also used by Jaguar and Rolls-Royce behind their high-torque engines – though in Ferrari guise not a particularly good match for the free-revving V12.

Using the automatic’s kickdown from low engine speeds can provoke some stuttering as those 12 cylinders take an unexpected gulp of fuel. More effective is slotting the shifter back a slot before nailing the pedal and enjoying the motor’s magnificent howl. Once the engine hits its 3500-5000rpm ‘sweet spot’, speed builds very quickly.

The 400i’s size is no optical illusion. From top to tip it measures 4.81m and cars complied for Australian sale weighed a portly 1818kg. Exacerbating the feeling of bulk is a low-set driving position behind a huge, leather-trimmed wheel and power steering that offers less precision than that enjoyed by drivers of smaller, lighter Ferraris.

Suburban motoring provided no challenge to the 300mm disc brakes but the pedal on that particular car – like the steering – felt a little mushy and unresponsive.

Built as extremely rapid international transport – in Europe, that is, where a car of this capability can transit several countries in a day – the 400’s fuel capacity is a massive 120 litres.

Thirst under less than optimum conditions is massive as well – 23-25 litres each hundred kays in traffic or when slicing through Bavaria or the Northern Territory at a constant 200km/h.

Warwick Broomham has owned our featured car for a year and during that time has travelled less than 1000km. However, he tries to "give the car a run" every week or so to keep it in fine fettle.

"I bought it not just because it was a Ferrari but because I really liked the shape and the fact that I could use it every day if I wanted and that it’s a proper four-seater," said Broomham, who currently has the car for sale (call 0418 899 977 for details).

"It really isn’t a sports car, more like what you’d call a ‘Californian cruiser’ – very easy to drive, it’s got dual air-conditioners and with the fuel injection it isn’t always in the workshop being tuned like older Ferraris with all of those troublesome carburettors."


CHECKLIST

Body & Chassis: You will not find spare panels for a 400 Ferrari lying around at your local ‘recycler’, so treat any spot of rust, dent, cracked lens or crazed chrome section as a potentially major expense. Ferraris of this era are no less rust prone than Fiats or Lancias of similar age, so close inspection on a hoist of the floorpan and sills is mandatory. Less critical but still potentially expensive are rotted-out lower doors, wheel-arches and windscreen surrounds. Make sure that the front spoiler isn’t dented or twisted and that the headlamps emerge quickly when activated.

Engine & Transmission: This is not a place for the amateur to be poking about but a few basic checks can be undertaken before referring an apparently sound car for professional evaluation. Any 400 that overheats should be left absolutely alone. The water pump is difficult and expensive to replace and a motor that has been seriously ‘cooked’ will cost $30,000-plus to rebuild. Oil leaks are common, especially from the timing chain covers, and costly to rectify due to the amount of dismantling required. Noisy timing chains need to be replaced and, if the adjusters are worn out, the job will cost around $5000. A car that hasn’t been serviced in more than a year – regardless of distance travelled – will generate a hefty recommissioning bill. The transmission won’t last to the degree similar units do in a Chevrolet but exchange units cost less than $1500. Pre-purchase inspection by a Ferrari specialist will cost $300-500 but worth every cent compared to the $50,000 that can easily be spent rebuilding a seriously neglected car.

Suspension & Brakes: Weight, complexity and cost are three among many reasons why a Ferrari suspension needs to be maintained in top condition. These cars are very hard on shock absorbers and replacing the original rear ‘ride levelling’ units fitted to post-1982 cars costs $15,000. Owner Graham recommends replacing each of the spring and shock units – there are four of them – with Koni units at around $1000 each. Michelin TRX tyres suited to the metric alloy rims remain available and are worth around $600 per corner.

Interior & Electrics: Worn leather trim is the least of a potential 400i buyer’s worries. Air-conditioning systems that haven’t been used for a while will often be in line for a $2000 refurbish, electric window switches can behave erratically and gauges frequently don’t work or provide incorrect information. Sitting inside for half an hour pushing and pulling things and noting failures will separate well-maintained cars from those that need an extended and expensive visit to the auto electrician.

 

SPECIFICATIONS

Ferrari 400i

 

Number built: 502 (1979-84)

Body: all-steel, integrated body/chassis, two-door coupe

Engine: 4.8-litre V12 with quad overhead camshafts and Bosch fuel injection

Power & Torque: 232kW @ 6400rpm, 412Nm @ 4200rpm

Performance: 0-100km/h: 8.2secs, 0-400m – 15.6secs

Transmission: three-speed automatic (five-speed manual optional)

Suspension: Front – independent with wishbones, coil springs, anti-roll bar and telescopic shock absorbers. Rear – independent with wishbones, coil springs, anti-roll bar and load-levelling struts

Brakes: discs front and rear with power assistance

Wheels & Tyres: 415x180 alloy, 240 J5 VR415 (metric)

Contact: Ferrari Clubs throughout Australia: fca.org.au

 

Sign up to our free weekly newsletter for more unique car reviews and features plus see the latest unique and classic cars for sale.

Subscribe to Unique Cars magazine
- Print edition
- Digital edition