An anachronistic brute in finely tailored Italian couture, the 1968 Ferrari 365GTB/4 nevertheless successfully transcended its seemingly fin de siècle status.
Sometimes legend can act as a blind, obscuring an object’s true nature or broader relevance. This is especially true of the products of Maranello, prized for their speed, exclusivity, competition-bred spirit, and in many (although not all) cases, visual allure. The 1968 365 GTB/4 combines a good number of these traits, yet comes up slightly short on the pure aesthetic side of the equation. So why has it become amongst the most revered of the breed?
There are two main reasons for this. The first is that despite its somewhat brutish appearance, the Daytona as it was unofficially known, while no ravishing beauty, is nevertheless something of a handsome brute. Secondly, and of perhaps greater significance is that the 365GTB/4 was the last front-engined two-seater Berlinetta produced by Maranello for a good thirty years – indeed for a time, it looked as though it might have been the last of all.
In truth the Daytona was already an anachronism before the first car left the factory. Created to replace the highly-prized 275GTB/4; a car for whom many aficionados (somewhat mystifyingly) represents the marque’s stylistic apogee, the 365GTB/4 was created by an engineering team who already knew what Enzo Ferrari seemed unwilling to acknowledge. That the reign of the front-engined supercar was over.
Having won over the famously reactionary ingenere to the virtue of the mid-engined layout for Maranello’s racing machines, Enzo was reluctant to sanction a production car, leery it is said of the harm the wealthy dilettantes and narcissists who made up the bulk of his customer base could wreak in a barely disguised race car, not to mention the potential repercussions upon his business.
Even the advent of the upstart Lamborghini Miura in 1966 was not sufficient for a change of heart, the 365GTB/4 already in hand by then anyway. Technically then, the Daytona may have cleaved to a traditionalist format, but within those pre-set boundaries it was also state of the art.
The huge and massively powerful dry-sumped 4390cc four-cam V12 engine, a development of the 275’s 3.3 litre unit and itself a descendant of the seminal (if allegedly flawed) Columbo design, was mounted well back in the chassis for improved weight distribution, with drive taken via a torque tube to a five-speed transaxle. Suspension, was by coil springs, double wishbones and anti-roll bars at both ends, while steering was by unassisted worm and nut. Brakes were discs all round.
Structurally, the Daytona furthered the time-honoured Maranello practice of a tubular steel frame, over which body panels, made by Scaglietti, were laid. Naturally, styling duties fell to carrozzeria Pininfarina.
Leonardo Fioravanti is a gentleman who on occasion has been given to claiming credit for a number of car designs he may indeed have influenced yet not in fact drawn, but is reliably credited here, latterly stating that aerodynamic considerations were his primary concern.
Hence the low penetrating nose, concealed headlamps; initially mounted beneath glass covers (later owing to US regulations, pop-up units were employed), a high tail and the lack of extraneous adornment. Like that of Jaguar’s E-Type, the car’s flattened, yet still curvaceous shape is almost a caricature, all bonnet with a rear-biased, short capped canopy and an abrupt, cut off tail. Yet the shape, despite its vast girth, manifests a visual litheness, a delicacy which belies its more aggressive mien.
From the elegant line which begins at the tip of the front indicator, flowing over the wheelarch along the beltline before kicking up at the rear quarter light, to the impression of acceleration in the shaping of the glasshouse, the 365GTB/4 combines superb proportions, a muscular stance and some quite lovely detailing, giving rise to a car which instead of being simply a blunt instrument, became in fact something of a stylistic landmark.
So much so that much of the Daytona served as moodboard to Rover stylists under David Bache for the 1976 SD1 saloon. Its styling themes were also reprised by Fioravanti at Pininfarina for the four-seater 365GT4 2+2 of 1972. Indeed, both Ferrari and their once-favoured carrozzeria later revisited elements of its style for their 1992-vintage 456 GT.
If Ferrari’s engineers saw the Daytona as yesterday’s car, it was as nothing to the reaction of the motoring press, who excoriated the Cavallino Rampante for its conservatism, baying for a more dramatic, less practical machine, one more akin to that of the gamechanger from Sant ‘Agata. Yet, once they drove the car, they discovered a fast (170+) surefooted (if rather vintage in feel), usable and by Italian exotic standards at least, thoroughly developed motor car.
America was of course the Daytona’s natural home and while the land of the free looked upon the products of Emilia-Romagna with a mixture of admiration and outright lust, the relationship between both entities was definitely on the symbiotic side. Most of the 1,400 or so produced made their way there, including the tiny number of highly sought-after Spider versions built.
While one could make a more dramatic entrance at Chateau Marmot in Ferruccio’s somewhat undercooked, mid-engined wonder (indeed the Miura driver was more likely to be the one cooked…), the more patrician, and decidedly old-school Ferrari was the classicist’s choice. Viewed as an old master almost as soon as production ceased (in 1973 to make way for the mid-engine 365 GT/4 BB), the 365GTB/4 became something of a metaphor for a rapidly fading era.
It is often when one loses something that one truly understands its worth. The 365GTB/4 might have been the dying gasp of an old order, yet not only did it go out with something of a late flourish, it simply refused to die. And while Ferrari don’t make cars as visually calm and (dare one say) discrete as this now, a front-engined 2-seat berlinetta sits once more atop today’s tinselled offerings from Maranello.
Looks can go a long way…
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(Author’s note: Owing to an error in the original text, reference to the 512 BB has been amended).