A surprisingly comfortable experience in a 1992 Ferrari 512 TR teaches me the value of practicality.
I went for a drive in an Italian supercar, little more than a week ago. It had a sleek body, beige leather seats, an ergonomically designed cabin with an A/C that blows ice cold in midsummer and a 12-cylinder engine with more than enough power to get out of its own way. The description that I have given is vague enough to cover a number of cars, from the Ferrari 599 to the Lamborghini Murcielago. So why would anyone think that I’m describing a car that is more than twenty years old?
Well, if you did, full marks to you. I’m talking about a 1992 Ferrari 512 TR.
The story starts on a weekday afternoon around 5 p.m., at a showroom in Dubai. As we exit the building, we see the 512 TR standing outside the main entrance. I wouldn’t exactly call the car attractive, but there is something undoubtedly appealing about the sharp Pininfarina lines of the TR.
It takes me a few seconds to open the door due to the door handles being concealed in the long strakes on both sides of the car. As I climb in, I’m surprised at how comfortable the seats are. The controls are exactly where the driver would want them and the stereo is hidden away in a nifty compartment, in order to reduce distractions.
After waiting for a few minutes to get the fluids warmed up, we get onto the highway. The car is so low that it seems as if we will be able to pass cleanly under the bus driving beside us. Or come under its large wheels, should the driver fail to see the sleek white thing virtually under him. Trying to distract myself from my own thoughts, I notice that the car is surprisingly quiet for a Ferrari. I mention this to the gentleman who is driving, who smiles wryly and puts his foot down. The next few moments are a blur.
Try to imagine a lion roaring just behind your head, coupled with a mechanical howl with a sharp edge that makes your hair stand on end. The tach needle swings from left to right, nearing redline. It’s time to shift up. Clutch engaged, the gated shifter is moved into its new home in 4th with a crisp ‘clink’. The Ferrari flat 12 engine bellows its note of power once again, as things begin to zip by very quickly.
The way the 512 TR accelerates is noteworthy too. The car isn’t neck-snappingly quick; yet you have just about enough time to feel exactly how fast you’re going before traffic or speed limits slow you down. Regardless, that engine note is highly addictive and instead of telling you how fast you are going, it will push you to bury your foot further into the plush carpet. Come to think of it, that exhaust note alone should be a valid excuse when one inevitably gets pulled over.
Officer: Do you know how fast you were going, Sir?
You: I’m sorry officer. I got carried away listening to the sound of my Ferrari 512 (revs engine).
Officer: (Visibly shaken) Right-o then. Carry on, Sir.
A number of roars and clinks later, we arrived at our destination. The sun was sinking quickly and I wanted to get as many shots as I could before dusk.
An hour later, the horizon is bathed in a warm orange glow. I’m snapping away and my camera battery suddenly decides to call it quits. Luckily, I have a spare, but in order to make the replacement, I have to turn a screw. I have foolishly left my mini screwdriver at home and mention this to the gentleman. Nonchalantly, he opens the hood and pulls out a leather tool kit big enough to make a craftsman proud. A few turns with a ‘Ferrari’ screwdriver later, I’m back in business. Full marks for practicality then!
As the sun sets, I wrap up and take a few minutes to look over the car. Besides the obvious comparisons with Miami Vice, white is not a very common colour on Ferraris. In the TR’s case, it somehow subdues the car, while allowing other details to stand out. The triangular shape, the long lines and the iconic flip up headlights paint a very distinctive picture.
Chris Harris once made a video featuring a drive in his 512 TR on French mountain roads to buy bread. Mr. John Pogson, a legendary racing driver, raves about the 512’s exhaust note. The 512 TR’s immediate ancestor, the Testarossa, was featured in Powerpoint ClipArt in Windows 98!
Jokes aside, I finally understood the unique quality of the 512 TR. A supercar with razor-sharp looks, a flat-12 engine with a marvellous exhaust note and an interior that makes its occupants feel right at home. It’s an everyday supercar that will force you to find the smallest excuse to drive it regularly. Simultaneously it remains a ‘classic’, with a dogleg gearbox and a gated shifter (Note to self: Must stop going on about gated shifters).
Practical fun, in a 12 cylinder Ferrari, from the early 1990s.
I get it now.