1976 - 1979 Ferrari 400 Automatic
The ’70s were a slightly troubling time in automotive history. There were some indisputably great cars to come out of the decade, but there were a lot of other big bloated barges being made, and quite a few other questionable decisions. One of these controversial decisions was made by Ferrari, and it was to make a car with an automatic transmission. This accompanied the decision to build the 400 at all in the first place, something a lot of people still consider to have been a mistake on Ferrari’s part. So this is obviously a somewhat controversial car made all the more controversial.
The 400A, as it was called in automatic form, debuted in 1976, the same year as the 512 BB and the year after the 308. It was nowhere near as popular as the 308 would prove to be, but the 400A did quite well. And, even if the purists did moan about the automatic transmission, the 400A outsold the manual-equipped version of the car by more than 2 to 1, and the same still held true when the 400 became the 400i in 1979. It does make sense though, as the ability to afford a Ferrari is not the same as the ability to drive one.
Continue reading to learn more about the Ferrari 400 Automatic.
1976 - 1979 Ferrari 400 Automatic
The 400 was essentially just an updated version of the 365 GT4 2+2. Most of the updated details were mechanical though, and the changes to the bodywork were minimal. Much of the styling was inspired by the Daytona, although obviously made bigger to turn it into a 2+2. This included very angular bodywork and oh-so-’70s pop-up headlights. There is also a character line running down the sides of the bodywork, dividing the top and bottom halve of the car, another Daytona feature. It was noticeably longer and taller than anything else in the Ferrari stable at the time, even the other 2+2, the 308 GT4. It was a period when the styling on all of Ferrari’s products was really pretty similar, even the mid-engine Berlinetta Boxers.
|Length||4,810 MM (189.37 Inches)|
|Width||1,796 MM (70.70 Inches)|
|Height||1,310 MM (51.57 Inches)|
|Wheelbase||2,700 MM (106.29 Inches)|
|Front track||1,470 MM (57.87 Inches)|
|Rear track||1,500 MM (59.05 Inches)|
|Weight||1,700 KG (3,747 LBS)|
Ferrari was on a roll with 2+2s at this point in its history, and even if it had never been a company that aspired to comfortable interiors, it had the formula worked out by this point. The design of Ferrari’s V-12 2+2s was pretty well established with the 365 GT 2+2 of the previous decade, and the 400’s interior was basically just an update of this. The seats were bigger and more comfortable than ever, and the look is about as tasteful as anything could be in the ’70s. It can seat 4 comfortably, better than in early 2+2s and better than the Ferrari V-8 2+2s like the hideous disaster that was the Mondial. I’m not going to try to tell you that the 400 was a car without any flaws, but the interior wasn’t one of them.
At launch, the engine used six, two-barrel Weber carburetors and produced 340 horsepower.
Ferrari was already starting to stray from its traditional system at this point, but the 400 still has an old fashioned Ferrari name. That means the “400” in the name comes from the V-12 engine’s unitary displacement, in other words, 400cc displacement per cylinder. Some quick math should tell you that means it has a 4.8-liter version of the Colombo V-12, up from the 4.4-liter version in the 365. At launch, the engine used six, two-barrel Weber carburetors and produced 340 horsepower. In 1979, the 400 was updated and renamed the 400i, with the big difference between the two being that the 400i had fuel injection. These early fuel injection systems weren’t great, and power dropped down to 310 horsepower. Ferrari enlarged the engine to 4.9 liters and changed the name again 1985, this 412 was still essentially the same car though, and power was back up to nearly where it had been, at 335 horsepower.
The fuel injection was seemingly added to make the car compliant with new U.S. emissions regulations, but this just makes it all the more confusing that the 400, in all of its variants including the 365 GT4 2+2, was never sold in America. Quite a few gray market cars did make it over, and Ferrari must have known it was missing an opportunity to sell a lot more cars, but Ferrari wouldn’t be Ferrari without the occasional baffling decision.
|Type||front, longitudinal 60° V12|
|Bore/stroke||81 x 78 mm|
|Unitary displacement||401.93 cc|
|Total displacement||4823.16 cc|
|Compression ratio||8.8 : 1|
|Maximum power||340 HP|
|Power per liter||70 hp/l|
|Top speed||240 KM/H|
Taking into consideration that Ferrari changed the name of the 400 a couple of times without actually changing the body, this body style was in production for a full sixteen years, longer than any other Ferrari body. That means there’s a lot of them, about 2,400 if you don’t count the 500 units of the 365 GT4 2+2, which you probably could. For a pre-Testarossa 12-cylinder Ferrari, that’s a huge amount. And, while Ferraris in general have seen big price increases in recent years, the 400, and many other ’80s Ferraris, have not. Today, average prices sit around $25,000 and have for some time. You could probably get a 308 or Mondial for less, but the 400 is certainly one of the cheaper 12-cylinder Ferrari models.
By the late ’60s Aston Martin’s reliance of six-cylinder engines was starting to look a little old fashioned. Customers wanted more cylinders, and the resulting DBS-based car stayed on as Aston’s flagship car for two decades. Granted, some of that might have had to do with financial probably that kept Aston from spending money on developing new models, but the V8 was still popular, with more than 4,000 sold in all.
Read our full review on the Aston Martin DBS here.
Not as fast as the Ferrari, sure. But, if you’re looking for a more comfortable 2+2, or maybe just one without such aggressively ’70s/’80s styling, the Corniche provided an alternative. It was even available as a convertible, by far the most popular version of the car in all of its very long production life. It was the Rolls-Royce equivalent of the Continental, and it made Rolls a ton of money.
The 400a has a reputation for being a terrible car, even among other versions of the 400, which weren’t especially well liked either. Jeremy Clarkson once called it “awful in every way,” just to give you an idea of how people feel about it. There are a variety of reasons for this, one being that people just don’t like automatics in Ferraris. But, people like Ferraris to be supercars, and since the 400a was practical enough to be a daily driver, something about this struck people as being wrong. Today’s FF suffers from a similar problem, even though it is a thoroughly excellent car. The 400a was no FF, but it does seem to have received more than its share of abuse over the years. A fast 2+2 is a great thing, whatever the transmission.