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18 marzo 2020

Vincenzo Borgomeo

The Ferrari 365 GT4 BB was so beautiful that at Maranello it was nicknamed after one of the most celebrated movie stars of the time. And, with a little slight of hand, they managed to incorporate the moniker into its official name

It's well known that Ferrari names are wonderful and poetic. For years, these names were simply assigned according to the engine's unit displacement. Indeed, it used to be possible to you could calculate the displacement of a Ferrari by multiplying the car's name by the number of cylinders (for example, 275 times 12 equals 3,300, and so on). But a particular Ferrari has an amazing name engraved on its bodywork, that of a film star. It is the BB, named in honour of Brigitte Bardot.

It sounds like an incredible story and it could easily become the plot of a movie. It all began when Ferrari set out on the seemingly impossible quest to find an heir to the beautiful Daytona. The specifications given to Pininfarina were seemingly impossible to satisfy: 'build a car with a 12-cylinder engine mounted centrally rather than at the front, but with the same appeal of the Daytona.'

The aim was to crush the competition and it was no accident that the engine chosen for the new supercar was no longer the classic V12 but the 'flat' 12-cylinder model, that same engine with the 180-degree 'V' that had brought endless joy, in Niki Lauda's Formula One car.

It was an impossible task since the new car could obviously no longer feature the superb, endless bonnet sported by the 275 GTB or by the Daytona, nor could it have a tapered rear end and had to say goodbye to that rear windscreen reminiscent of the classic GT Coupé. The challenge was to bring elegance to a mid-engine supercar with a tiny, wedge-shaped nose.

Pininfarina succeeded, manufacturing a masterpiece prototype by joining two shells, one above and one below, (which is why the first BB was two-toned, as emphasised by its black side). Its front was extremely flat and squashed, with a wrap-around windscreen and a bonnet that, for the first time, transformed air-intakes and cooling grids into sheer design features.

It was a masterpiece, the brainchild of Leonardo Fioravanti. The prototype was truly beautiful and had such charm that Fioravanti and his colleagues at Maranello, Angelo Bellei and Sergio Scaglietti, fell head over heels for that Ferrrari. It was true love, so much so that, between themselves, they nicknamed it Brigitte Bardot, or BB, as the French actress was known.

The emotional involvement was deep, the car outrageous, and the challenge of building the first mid-engine vehicle in the history of Ferrari was immense. As they worked hard on fine-tuning the prototype, all Ferrari units working on the car's development got into the habit of referring to it as BB, Brigitte Bardot.

And finally came the time for that magical 1971 Turin Motor Show and the unveiling of the 365 GT4 BB. The name deserves a proper explanation: as per usual at Maranello, '365' stood for the unit displacement which, multiplied by twelve, gave a total displacement of 4.4 litres; 'GT' meant 'Gran Turismo'; '4' referred to the number of overhead camshafts (two per bank); but as for the 'BB'... A Ferrari with a woman's name was unheard of. So, officially it said to represent 'Berlinetta Boxer': a neat solution to cover up the love story.

Yet it was a strained argument, as it concealed two pieces of evidence that BB actually meant Brigitte Bardot. The first issue relates to the term 'Berlinetta': not only for Ferrari, the term usually denoted a front-engined car with bodywork that recalled a saloon ('berlina' in Italian), and certainly not a futuristic mid-engined supercar.

The second poetic licence was the term 'Boxer': the BB engine is not technically a boxer engine, it's a V12 engine spread out to a 180-degree angle. From a mechanical standpoint, the difference is remarkable and clearly noticeable in the boxer's crankshaft, which looks different and seems to push the pistons against each other (hence its name). Besides, no boxer engine could withstand the incredibly high rotation speed typical of a Ferrari 12-cylinder engine which, and not by accident, derived from the 312B's engine that was thrilling the world of Formula 1.

Be that as it may, the new Ferrari drove the world crazy, just as Brigitte did. Jorge Veiga used to sing “BB, BB, BB por que é que todo mundo olha tanto pra você?” ("BB, BB, BB why does the whole world look at you so?"). A glance at the car, and at the actress, said it all.