Since the very beginning, Enzo Ferrari’s sports car ethos embraced the kind of model that could be driven to a track in style, raced there and then driven home. It was a style of car that, in Italy from the 1930s onwards, was referred to as a berlinetta, a two-door coupé with either two or two-plus-two seating and a powerful, sporty engine that was equally at home on the road, or on the route of the Mille Miglia.
One of the earliest examples of a Ferrari berlinetta won exactly that race in 1948. The Allemano coupé-bodied 166 S was powered by a 2-litre V12 engine that could propel the car to a staggering 105mph. Yet it was only later, in 1956, that Enzo Ferrari decided to make that name an official model designation and the 250 GT Berlinetta was born.
The 1956 250 GT Berlinetta was a car that excelled on both road and on track
While it’s true that other manufacturers have used same the expression, it is the Prancing Horse that has become synonymous with the name Berlinetta, continually providing the world with new iterations of the Berlinetta concept that pushed style, innovation and performance to the very limits.
Still today revered as one of the most most attractive sporting coupés ever built, the 250 GT Berlinetta was bodied by the Italian coachbuilder, Scaglietti, and was equipped with the Gioacchino Colombo 3-litre V12 engine. Due to its dominating performance in the Tour de France endurance race, which it won for four consecutive years from 1956, it was unofficially referred to as the TdF. In 1959 the wheelbase was shortened by 20 cm giving rise to the description of passo corto (short wheelbase) to differentiate it from the earlier passo lungo (long wheelbase) version.
Ferrari made the Berlinetta term its own over many decades, with some stunning examples including the iconic 512 BB, the 296 GTB and the 348 TB
In 1962, Maranello used the appellation again, this time on a model that marked a distinct shift away from the sporting connotation of the earlier models towards a more luxurious experience for the owner, with finer appointments. Designed by Pininfarina, the Ferrari 250 GT Berlinetta lusso was immediately acknowledged as one of the most beautiful cars in the world and coveted by movie stars and rock icons alike.
Successive models saw the Berlinetta name included in the acronym that became the norm for Ferrari’s road-going sports cars, from the 1964 275 GTB right up to the latest coupé, the 296 GTB, which stands for Gran Turismo Berlinetta.
There were a few exceptions to that naming philosophy, the first coming in 1971 with the unveiling of the 365 GT4 BB, where the BB ostensibly stood for Berlinetta Boxer. The 365 GT4 BB was equipped with a 4.4-litre 180-degree V12 engine, the BB referring to the two banks of six cylinders making a ‘flat’ V12 like those found in Scuderia Ferrari’s cars at the time. The change paid off: the 365 GT4 BB was the first ever Ferrari road car quoted as hitting 300 kph (186 mph).
The F12berlinetta was a true game changer when Ferrari released it back in 2012. The fastest car ever to emerge from Maranello, it pushed the boundaries of aerodynamics and received rave reviews
In the 1980s, alongside the instantly recognisable Testarossa and F40, the 328 GTB was replaced by the 348 TB, where the ‘t’ referred to the transverse gearbox and the ‘b’ again to berlinetta. Then, in 1997, the marque unveiled the F355 F1 Berlinetta with an electro-hydraulically-actuated manual transmission derived directly from the company’s Formula 1 cars, using paddles behind the steering wheel to allow faster changes. The model was a huge success, its V8 engine packing 380 cv from 3.5-litres, allowing for a top speed of 183mph and a 0-60mph time of 4.7 seconds.
The berlinetta moniker returned to the 12-cylinder model name with the 2012 F12berlinetta which wowed enthusiasts around the world with its styling and power. A direct-injection, 6262cc V12 made it the fastest and most powerful series production car the marque had ever made, with a 0-62mph time of just 3.1 seconds and a fearsome top speed of 211mph.
The F12berlinetta broke new ground in aerodynamics, used 12 different alloys to save weight and packed 740cv of power from its engine. Reaction from the world’s press was unanimous: ‘Startling’, ‘Thrilling’ and ‘a total triumph’ were just some of the praises directed at the car.
The final chapter in the berlinetta history so far came in 2021, with the introduction of the mid-rear-engined 296 GTB. With an innovative 3-litre V6 plug-in hybrid powertrain producing a massive 830cv, it is the most fitting successor to an immensely successful V8-engined berlinetta blood line that started in 1975 with the launch of the 308 GTB. The berlinetta heritage is alive and well.