1976 Ferrari 400 Review

Prancing horse or lame nag? Archie Vicar samples Ferrari’s 4-seater oddity.

Image: (c) Ferrari.com

From Motor Enthusiast, October 1976. Photos by Edward Blayliss. Owing to the excessive lens flare of the original photography, stock images have instead been used.

Editor’s note: This period review was originally published on DTW in November 2013.

It’s quite peculiar to review a car that already exists. As the only motoring writer in Britain who has been permitted to officially test drive Bristol’s new four-seater, the 603, I can reveal Ferrari’s 400 GT (an evolution of the previous 365 GT4 2+2) is the same car but worse. Far be it for me to criticise the long, hard lunches put in by Mr Ferrari’s assistants, but the 400 GT is a rather poor show. And Bristol’s car, despite its slightly brash Chrysler lump, trumps the 400 GT in every major respect.

Let us consider the ash receptacles. Bristol places theirs near the steering wheel while Ferrari throws theirs somewhere down by one’s knees. Both cars are 4-seater GTs. Both cost a king’s ransom, but one car will unfailingly deliver one home while the other is dependent on the services of a flatbed lorry. It’s not the car from Filton. Paying £3,450 for a car is one thing but having to pay another £1500 for a support vehicle is asking too much.

We were invited to the restaurant across from Ferrari’s tatty workshops and offered ‘spaghetti Bolognese’ and some acidic chianti. Even British Leyland managed better when they launched their Princess in Bournemouth. As Ing. Gandolfini went on, it became clear that his firm was simply presenting its own interpretation of a 4-seater grand touring motor car. Much has been lost in translation, I would have to contend

The Ferrari has a monstrous 4.8 litre 12-cylinder engine stuffed forwards of the driver. Supposedly the intention is to offer keen performance, but it robs the car of any comfort. Waves of heat seeping into the cabin overwhelm the feeble gasps of the air-conditioner. I had to take off my jacket and tie at one point. The gearbox has 5 speeds, and each requires a manful shove to bully into submission. It’s virtually a two-handed task just to engage third.

As many experienced motorists will tell you, steering a moving car requires at least one palm on the wheel. Luckily, I was able to ask our photographer, Mr Eddie Blayliss, to swap the cogs for me as we hurtled through the villages of the Piedmont. Occasionally he had to hold my cigarette for me as I twirled the slippery steering wheel in my struggles to alter the car’s direction. Sometimes this worked. However, eventually it did not. I am sad to report that the test car wriggled out of my own control and into that of that of the timeless masonry of a goat-herder’s abode. I killed a goat.

On the morrow, Ferrari provided another car – only made available because the Mirror’s chap was stuck in Orly (air-traffic controller’s strike!). Waiting for the engine oil to warm I had a pipeful of Latakia and noticed how similar the car is to Fiat’s more reasonably priced 130 coupe. One wonders if these car-styling chappies move in herds.

(Please turn to page 45 to continue.)

Is this the shape of things to come, asks Archie Vicar?
Is this the shape of things to come, asks Archie Vicar?

Is the 400 GT a 4-seater? Well, it fits four seats but not four people. We tried to force snapper Blayliss into the back. He insisted on keeping his feet attached to his ankles, so we failed. Were it a Bristol he could simply have waltzed into the rear compartment of the vehicle. We pointed this out to Ing. Gandolfini who replied that the rear seats would be a good place for groceries or small children. They either pamper their groceries here or terribly mistreat their poor offspring.

Without a proper breakfast (a shot of Italian grappa and a filterless don’t count) it was difficult to get going in our second car. Anyway, we soon halted when the overheating engine sprayed reddish sluice all over the windscreen. Time for lunch. While waiting for the mechanic we found that several parts of the dashboard were in the boot. The black vinyl inside this rather costly motor car reminded me of the awful new cockpits of Alfa Romeo’s Alfetta GT and that nasty Austin Princess I mentioned above.

We covered 68 miles in our two Ferraris. Petrol consumption will not trouble prospective owners as they are probably very well off and also because their 400 GT’s will probably not travel very far (under their own steam). Perhaps the Ferrarese ought to find out the Italian for ‘fails to proceed.’

A GM 3-speed automatic is promised in the near future.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

14 thoughts on “1976 Ferrari 400 Review”

  1. Ah, dear Archie, much missed. He wrote as he found without fear or favour. What would he make of contemporary automotive journalism?

  2. Good journalism stands repeated reading. For the fourth time I read Richard Bremner´s AX versus Renault 5 comparison in Car (1987, think) last night. Along the way we learned about the Cinque Ports where he drove the test vehicles. By the same token, Archie Vicar didn´t write throwaway copy. You were always aware of his hinterland (food, smoking, drinking, opinions) and this added much depth to his dismissive verdicts on bad cars like this appalling Ferrari.

    1. Good evening Richard. I’m surprised that a man normally so sanguine and phlegmatic as yourself finds his emotions sufficient inflamed to describe the 400 in such damning terms. Was it really “appalling”?

    2. Being serious, it wasn´t that bad at all. I was being a bit silly. That said, I wouldn´t ever dream of owning one. Nice to look at though. The Bristol would always be a better choice but a lot less pretty, of course.

  3. I’ve never driven a Ferrari or a Bristol, though I do like Bristols. Love the writing in this article but is the criticism of the steering wheel an excuse for losing control?

    1. Thanks for stopping by. You might be right about the fact Vicar lost control. I don´t believe the article is all that reliable – much like the costly, dipsomaniac and poorly assembled crate described.

  4. I recently read the excellent auto-didakt report on the Fiat 130 coupé, and it made a lot of sense. I’ve never really understood its attraction but I’m willing to suspend judgement until I see one in the metal:
    https://auto-didakt.com/cars_blog_leser/fiat-130-coupe-paolo-martin-pininfarina-design.html

    I’ve always liked the Ferrari 365gt4 2+2 ever since an Autocar review from the mid 1970s. I still think it’s a beautiful looking car despite the veiled hints you pick up in contemporary reviews about how difficult these supercars were to actually drive. Archie Vicar is not quite typical of his time… but the Bristol 603 is just amazing, though not in a good way. One of the U2 members (Bono?) had one that was regularly seen around the Clarence Hotel in Temple Bar in Dublin, not an easy car to park in a congested city centre.

    1. Apparently, yes. Tony Crook recounted selling a Bristol to Mr. P. Hewson, aka Bonovox. Brian Eno, in his 2005(?) publication, “A Year with Swollen Appendices” outlines being driven by Bristol at hair-raising speed through Dublin by the U2 frontman. Describing a particularly close call, he recalls Bono turning to him and exclaiming, “isn’t just as well I’m on a mission from God…”

      Which may perhaps explain how Tony Crook sold him a car.

  5. The 400 is one of those cars I disliked when I first saw it – I thought it didn’t look like a “proper Ferrari” so much that it seemed bizarre – but not long after I fell in love with the design and it’s been one of my favourite cars ever. It’s simply stunning.

    The Bristol 603 might be a fine car, but compared to the 400 it looks terrible, and it’s insane to think that it’s a newer design!

  6. I’ve previously owned both a 365gt4 and a 400iA. The 365 with carburettors and manual gearbox sounds and drives far better than the 400i which sounds like an industrial sewing machine in comparison. The three speed auto is also horribly under geared.

    Both cars handle well and are reasonably comfortable. They are genuine four seaters with an airy interior and good air conditioning. Negatives for me are the huge turning circle and the harsh and noisy front suspension. The interior is the usual Ferrari mix of beautiful leather and chrome with added dodgy Fiat plastics.

  7. Find those Ferraris quite attractive and could see the theme used outside of Ferraris, it is the other visual detailing that makes it look off putting however (like the front lights).

    Not a fan of the Senator B-like front grille or tail-lights of the Ferrari Pinin.

  8. This brilliant piece reminds me of the Walter Matthau film ‘A New Leaf’ where his Ferrari repeatedly suffers from ‘carbon on the valves’. Short clip here:

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