Ferrari Testarossa: What you need to know before you buy

Photograph Courtesy RM Sotheby's

It’s one of the cars that defined ’80s excess and exhilaration. If you somehow missed all of its “Miami Vice” appearances, those iconic side strakes could be found blasting through arcade games, taped to countless dorm walls, and splashed across seemingly every other cover of Road & Track. 

But was the Testarossa actually any good as a car? 

Phil Hill seemed to think so. “It’s a smooth and relaxed highway machine, with none of the nervous or high-strung feedback one gets in some exotic cars,” he wrote about the updated 512 TR in a 1992 issue of Road & Track. “Once you get used to the TR’s width, it can be driven around town like a Miata.”

The other fact that might seal the deal: Prices are rising–quickly–but perhaps you can still beat the rush. Hagerty currently lists an excellent example right at $200,000. Go all the way back to 2020, and that was a $100,000 purchase. Today’s market shows several cars sold between those two figures. 

The Testarossa, its name recalling the brand’s famed 1957 racer, burst onto the scene for 1984. It offered more than style–and some civility–as it could run up near 180 mph. Ferrari built more than 7000 copies, with more than 2000 sent stateside, meaning it’s rare but not that rare. 

The biggest question, perhaps: rossa corsa or Friday night white?
David S. Wallens

Shopping Advice

Spencer Trenery
Fantasy Junction

The 308 is a simpler car and more entry-level in terms of value, but the Testarossa is not a bad choice for a first-time Ferrari owner.

Do the electrical components work or not? Check things like a/c operation, the speedometer, headlight motors. Make sure the buttons in the console work, since they can be difficult to get to and involved to install.

Another area to check: the hatches. Do the cables, which open the hatches, work or not?

Ask how long ago the car received service and how many miles it’s racked up since. A major engine-out service can run $10,000 to $20,000.

Did it get a clutch during its last service? A clutch can last anywhere between 2000 to 20,000 miles, depending on how the car is driven. If it was driven in heavy traffic on a grade, it’ll need a clutch sooner rather than later.

A Monospecchio car, an early series car unique for its single-mirror configuration, is highly desirable. An F512 M is, too, but for opposite reasons: It was the last produced and theoretically the most technologically advanced. 

You can find a Testarossa in any possible condition. Some are show cars with 300 miles; others are drivers with 50,000 miles.

Miles take their toll. These cars fatigue–in the suspension, grommets, seats, door strikers, window surrounds, dash grilles. Cars with 15,000 miles behave much better than those with 50,000. I’d say 50,000 miles is a lot for a TR.

The values for these cars are generally climbing, but they ebb and flow with the general marketplace. However, because thousands of them were produced, the values remain relatively stable.

To give you an idea of what they go for, the last one I sold was a Monospecchio car with 46,000 miles, and it went for $125,000.

For many people, this was the car that was on their college dorm room door. It’s definitely capable of a high speed.

Changes over the years

1985: After its Paris Auto Show debut the September before, Ferrari unleashes its Testarossa for 1985. All cars get a 5.0-liter flat-12, with the U.S.-spec cars rated at 380 horsepower.

1987: Ferrari swaps the single, high-mounted, driver-side “flying mirror” for the more conventional two-mirror setup. Five-lug, 16-inch wheels replace the knockoffs found on the earlier cars. 

1992: To keep up with times, Ferrari debuts the updated 512 TR. Visual tweaks include the new nose with smaller grille, refined side strakes and a move from 16- to 18-inch wheels. Lowering the seats adds headroom, and Ferrari also improves the shifting while increasing brake rotor diameter. The flat-12’s output is increased to 421 horsepower.

1995: One last update to the Testarossa theme as Ferrari releases its F512 M. Fixed headlights replace the outgoing flip-ups, while output is up to 440 horsepower–it was the end of the line for Ferrari’s flat-12. Ferrari built only 501 cars during the 1995-’96 run, with just 75 sent to the U.S. 

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Colin Wood
Colin Wood Associate Editor
4/6/23 12:09 p.m.

Buy one, and I think that makes you legally allowed to play the Miami Vice intro on repeat:


J.A. Ackley
J.A. Ackley Senior Editor
4/6/23 4:37 p.m.

I'm looking forward to when we do a buyer's guide on this Ferrari, so I can play it on repeat - or do I have to buy one? The Ferrari in the show was actually modified for Tom Selleck's height. He and I are of the same height. D'oh!


bosswrench New Reader
4/6/23 6:32 p.m.

No doubt it drives nicely on an open road but stay away from downtown. I followed one thru Old Town Monterey during Historic Car Week, and his left rear tire was on the double-yellow line while the right side was only inches away from blocks of parked cars. Lots of cops and he was doing maybe 15 mph.... did NOT look like a fun drive. Late Countache- same problem; maybe worse due to more restricted vision. I wouldn't take a Peterbilt downtown, either.


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