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Q Cars: 1988 Ferrari Testarossa Test Drive
by Andrey Rudnitsky
July 15, 2007

Ever since I can remember, I have been a car guy or kid. While growing up, I always played with little matchbox cars. Throughout my entire childhood, I had collected nearly 300. There were the average cars that you see every day such as Buick, Cadillac, BMW and Ford. Then there were the exotics such as Porsche, Lotus, Lamborghini and Ferrari. Of the exotics my two favorite were the Lamborghini Diablo and the Ferrari Testarossa. The “good” guys always drove these cars and the bad guys always drove Buicks. For some reason they liked Buicks.

The good guys drove these cars because they were cool. Why were they cool? Did Ferrari have a very expensive marketing campaign that told kids that their Ferraris were cool? No. All us kids had to do to realize the “coolness” of a Ferrari was to look at its design and automatically something in our little brains would tell us that these automobiles are fast and have a very attractive color. Therefore they were cool. That’s how kids decided if cars were cool or not.

When I became a little older I learned that Ferrari did not just sell sports cars for the road, they also had a racing outfit, a very successful racing outfit to be exact. This new knowledge of Ferrari’s racing program only heightened my thoughts of the company.


Every once in a while, when driving through the wealthy side of town, I get a chance to look at the sports cars parked at the local exotics dealership. I knew that one day I will get my chance to drive one of these wonderful machines.

My chance finally came. So there I was, a 21 year old college student with the keys to a Ferrari Testarossa in my hand. The car belongs to a George Pavlisko, a retired businessman who gets his kicks out of collecting cars and occasionally putting some rubber on the asphalt. Fortunately for me, he was a fan of our previous videos and allowed us to review his 1988 Ferrari Testarossa.

George started it up and pulled it out of his garage. There was a twinkle in my eye as the sun hit the Ferrari Red paint job while the Testarossa was pulling out of its resting place. At idle the engine noise is surprisingly quiet. Once it was out, George left the engine on for about 15 minutes before I would get to drive it. He explained to me that the engine needed to warm up before one can actually floor it. He went on saying that you can drive the car right after you start it, but you will not be able to put it in 2nd gear until about 5 minutes of “slow” driving. This was because the transmission oil needed time to heat up before it can fully lubricate the system.

Before I could set foot in the Testarossa, George called my name and asked for my full attention. There we were, it was like a showdown in a John Wayne movie. He looked square in my eyes and told me, “Andrey… I don’t want any tire squeaking, donuts, or any other form of dangerous activities. Okay?” “George, don’t worry about it. You know me, well… actually you don’t, but I’ll take care of your ‘Red Head’ (Testarossa means red head in Italian),” I replied. But little did he know that I had my fingers crossed… just kidding George if you’re reading…

Anyways, I got into the Ferrari Testarossa and it was about time to have the adventure of my lifetime. I drive a very pimped out stock Toyota Camry, but still this Ferrari was in an entirely new dimension of the car world. The driving position feels like you’re sitting in one of those recliners where a leg rest comes up under your legs, only it feels a lot lower. It’s so low that you can almost look under an SUV while you’re driving.

While examining the interior I noticed that there were a couple more gauges that I normally wouldn’t see in a Toyota or a Ford; gauges such as the oil pressure gauge, oil temperature gauge, transmission oil temperature gauge, etc. The steering wheel had no airbag. This was good because you will not be alive to worry about all of the money you’ve lost if you wreck it. The leather seats suck you in like those black holes you see in space movies and there is an automatic seatbelt that goes over your shoulder. Oh yeah, you also have Ferrari’s signature polished metal gear lever. Overall there was nothing that was extremely special about the interior apart from the nice view out of the rear window (the Engine).

Then I tried to put it in reverse, but I couldn’t do it. Turns out there’s a special way to put it in reverse, it’s so special I can’t explain it in words. After a lesson from George, I got it in reverse and started releasing the clutch slowly, but the car wasn’t moving like it should. The handbrake was on, so then I tried to get the handbrake down, but I couldn’t do it. Turns out there’s a special way to get the handbrake down also. After another lesson from George, I then was able to get on my way. I turned the Testarossa around while George was looking at me expecting me to stall out. Fortunately for me, I know how to work the 3rd pedal.

So there I was, driving a classic 1988 Ferrari Testarossa on the streets of Aiken and while I was driving I kept thinking to myself, “why is it so hard to switch gears?” I expect sports cars to have a heavy clutch, especially one that was built in the late eighties, but I didn’t expect it to have such a rough gearbox. Switching gears requires an enormous amount of effort compared to modern everyday cars. This is because Ferraris of yesterday, unlike the Ferraris of today, did not cater to the wealthy owner who purchases one for the sole purpose of showing it off on Saturday evenings on an outing with the lady. They were built for the sports car enthusiast and only came with manual semi-racing transmissions.

The Testarossa, however, tries really hard to be a comfortable exotic sports car. It has A/C to cool the lady down whenever there is the unbearable danger of perspiration. As mentioned before, the seats are comfortable as well as sporty. There is room for golf clubs and half of a suit case, but the most evident characteristic that set it apart from it’s biggest competitor in the eighties was its better than average, in supercar standards, cabin visibility. Lamborghini Countachs, the Testarossa’s direct competitor, had a little mouse hole as a rear window, while in the Testarossa I have great visibility of all of the gold diggers trying to catch up with me.

The design of the Ferrari Testarossa is timeless and still has enough good looks to turn heads. Driving in the car also makes you feel like a million bucks. People either respect you because they think you’re successful and loaded or they think you’re an arrogant snob who inherited a fortune. In my situation, given my age, it was the latter. However, I did find that the younger age group wasn’t that bad. I had a couple of high rolling homies riding on dubs give me “the nod of respect,” a couple of teenagers in Camaros and Mustangs followed me and tried to race at the lights, but I held true to my word with George and stayed under 154 MPH. What surprised me most, however, was that the amount of smiles and waves I got from members of the opposite sex were substantially greater than when I’m cruising in my pimped out Toyota Camry.

Despite all of the extra luxurious features, such as A/C, power windows, automatic seatbelts, lots of luggage space and comfy seats, the Testarossa was still a performance machine built by Ferrari. In the late eighties, the Testarossa had a top speed of 186 Mph, which was the highest top speed for any production car at that time. It was faster than Lamborghini’s top performer the Countach LP500 QV, which had a top speed somewhere around 172 Mph. It will hit 60 in 5.3 seconds, which was “wicked fast” in the eighties. In fact, it was fast enough for Don Johnson to get to a crime scene in the hit TV series Miami Vice.

All of this was made possible by the 4.9 liter 180 degree 12 cylinder engine; also known as a boxer engine because the piston movement resembles that of a boxer, but not just any calm boxer. This engine would not only knock you in the face by hand, it would bite your left ear off, dip it in some motor oil and swallow. It produces 380 horses and that is more than enough to keep me happy. As mentioned earlier, it is surprisingly quite at idle, but don’t let that fool you because once you open up the throttle it is also surprisingly quite. Although the noise does pick up a bit, its not like some of the newer Ferraris that just want to attract attention.

One of the biggest surprises that came with me taking the Testarossa out on a test drive was that it did not overheat and that there was no power steering. Okay, two of the biggest surprises. Despite the 86 degree weather and sun beaming down at me, there was no sign of anything overheating. This was two days in a row. I would say that’s not bad for a late 1980s supercar with 45,000 miles. Although I do have to add that the one I drove was in good condition.

I understand a lot of things in life. I understand that Donald Trump can be successful despite the odd configuration of his hair. I understand the Theory of Chaos. I understand the concept of Supply and Demand and that of the Invisible Hand. And I even have a mild understanding of girls, but I do not understand why Ferrari did not put power steering in this vehicle. My brother’s 1968 Ford Mustang has power steering. Keep in mind I did say “1968,” and not 1986.

From my understanding Italy is not a primitive country; they are no longer bartering and have developed a written language. So why are they depriving the Testarossa of power steering? Did Mr. Ferrari go shopping and buy too many Gucci handbags and didn’t have any money left over to install power steering? And no, it’s not because this is suppose to be a race car, because it’s not. It was made for the road not the race track. The real answer we may never know.

The Ferrari Testarossa was more practical than the “average” supercar at the time, it was and still is appealing to the eye, and it was fast and this could all be purchased for a small price of $170,000 in today’s dollars. Considering that the least expensive 12 cylinder Ferrari on sale today, the 612 Scaglietti, has a Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price of $250,000, the Testarossa’s price tag was generous.

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