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Turning Points: Ferrari Revolutions

The ground-breaking Purosangue epitomises the fundamentals of the Ferrari story: relentless research and innovation. We take a look back at some important turning points in the history of the marque
Words: Jason Barlow

Enzo Ferrari’s acute business acumen was wedded to a certain romantic streak. Ferrari made sports cars, he insisted, fitted with the world’s greatest engines, clothed in bodies designed by the most noble carrozzerie, and fabricated by dedicated artisans. 

The Ferrari Purosangue is the latest, and in many ways the most impressive, manifestation of another quality typified by Enzo Ferrari: pragmatism. The Old Man had no problem with the idea of a ‘practical’ Ferrari.

The Purosangue is a car that simply had to happen. It has been executed with the Centro Stile’s customary skill and finesse, engineered to feel every millimetre a true Ferrari. Now with added doors.

Enzo Ferrari (centre) himself enjoyed four-seater cars, his favourite being a 365 GT 2+2 in light blue with an automatic gearbox

It is also part of a narrative that goes right back to the beginning, to the first Ferrari road car, in fact. That was the 166 Inter, a more formal and useable version of the company’s earliest racing models, one of which – the 166 MM Barchetta – scored Ferrari its first victory in the Le Mans 24 Hours race, in 1949. 

Enzo Ferrari himself favoured the 250 GT 2+2, which cleverly expanded the original 250’s remit. To fit the two rear seats, the engine and its auxiliary components were moved forward by 12 inches, the same amount being added to the car’s length.

When the 330 GT succeeded it, Enzo switched to one of those; in England, John Lennon celebrated passing his driving test by taking delivery of a beautiful blue 330 GT. An enterprising Ferrari salesman had rightly figured that a four-seater would be appropriate given that this particular Beatle was already a family man.


Ferrari made its first production four-seater with the 250 GT 2+2; movie star Peter Sellers and wife Britt Ekland enjoy their Dino 206 GT and the stunning Pinin concept car that kicked off the 80s

Elsewhere, Ferrari was ringing the changes. In 1967 the Dino was the company’s first mid-engined road car, and the first to use a six-cylinder engine. Persuaded by his friend, Sergio Pininfarina, and Renzo Carli, Battista Pininfarina’s son-in-law, the Dino was conceived as a smaller, less powerful and, yes, more affordable ‘almost a Ferrari’, according to the sales literature (it never wore the Prancing Horse badge). 

The Pinin, from 1980, is one of the great ‘what-ifs?’ in the company’s history: a disruptor. Conceived to mark Pininfarina’s 50th birthday, the Pinin prototype posited the idea of a four-door Ferrari saloon. The Pinin was fitted with the flat-12 used by the 512 BB making it the only Ferrari to install this engine in front of the driver. Although perhaps an odd match for this proposed luxury limousine, the engine’s configuration permitted the Pinin’s dramatically low bonnet line, and thus its elegant silhouette. 

Then there’s the company’s history with all-wheel- drive. As early as 1969, Ferrari F1 technical director Mauro Forghieri had noted that all-wheel-drive deserved greater investigation. Almost two decades later, he was tasked with developing two new prototypes. Amongst other things, the duo – of 408 4RM – investigated the possibilities of a bonded, all-aluminium chassis, and four- wheel-drive, which used a hydraulic coupling to achieve an approximately 70/30 torque split, front to rear. 

In the 90s, Maranello made huge steps forward with the F355, both in terms of aerodynamics and with the F1 style paddle-shifters for the semi-automatic transmission

The greater the difference in rotating speeds between the front and rear wheels, the more the coupling would attempt to control the difference. Piero Ferrari, who was in charge of engineering at that point, concluded: “In the future we’ll focus more strongly on the fundamentals of the Ferrari philosophy,” thus rejecting four-wheel-drive.

Roll forward another two decades or so, to 2011, and that philosophy had aligned. The FF was, and remains, a fabulous example of the left-field but nonetheless ingenious Ferrari thinking – a ‘shooting brake’ with tremendous versatility.

In 2011, Ferrari moved the game forward again with the introduction of its first all-wheel drive car, the FF

And the Purosangue now adds another dimension of capability whilst still handling like a true Ferrari.

Its arrival is an interesting one for marque historians in search of curious parallels. The first Ferrari that was sold with a name (without a reference to engine capacity) was the Mondial 8, a four-seater that managed to package its interior around a rear mid-engined configuration. The 456 GT, another four-seater, was a front-engined V12 with a rear transaxle. In 1994, the glorious F355 pioneered under-body aerodynamics in a road car, and introduced the semi-automatic paddleshift three years later (it had first appeared on the Ferrari 640 Formula One car in 1989). Active aero arrived on 2002’s Ferrari Enzo, an electronic differential and the steering-wheel-mounted manettino in 2004 on the F430. All of these things revolutionised the Ferrari road car output, and put the wider world on red alert. And can it really be almost a decade since Ferrari debuted its hybrid technology on the LaFerrari?

The fact is, the Purosangue encompasses everything that Ferrari has learnt over its first 75 years. And it opens a whole new chapter.