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Following a number of conversion attempts by various independent shops, Ferrari's rationale for not building an open TR became obvious: Chopping the roof created serious spatial and structural challenges



1986 ferrari testarossa spyder


The Testarossa was designed by Ferrari specifically for the U.S. market's strict safety and emissions rules. Its signature elements were a twelve-cylinder engine, arrayed in Boxer fashion, and a remarkable new body by Pininfarina, a clear departure from earlier designs for Ferrari coupes.

It's a shame that Ferrari and Pininfarina never offered a factory spyder version, as the lines are so clearly suited to an open car. It is not surprising, therefore, that several firms sought to fill the void with independent conversions.

The 1986 Spyder on offer here was built by the Richard Straman Company. Finished in Ferrari's traditional Rossa Corsa and trimmed with black hides, this stunning cabriolet conversion has been meticulously cared for since new. Now with only its second owner, it has seen less than 10,000 miles and is in outstanding condition.

{analysis}{auto}130{/auto} This 1986 Testarossa Spyder sold for $67,650 at RM's Phoenix auction, held on January 23, 2004.

The end of an era for Ferrari in the United States came in 1974, when it was unable to get its 12-cylinder products to meet stringent safety and emissions regulations. Ferrari quit importing the twelves, and it was eleven years before the firm came up with the right 12-cylinder car to re-enter the U.S. market. When Ferrari did, the Testarossa was a winner.

It exploded onto the market, emptying billfolds like a trip to Walt Disney World. Introduced at nearly $100,000 a copy, at the time it was one of the most expensive cars ever produced. Despite the high price, dealers sold out multi-year allocations in a matter of months. During its six-year run, Ferrari produced 7,200 examples, more cars than were produced in the company's first 21 years of business, and the highest production number of any single Ferrari to date.

While Ferrari often built a few open variations of popular models, just a single Testarossa spyder, commissioned for no less than Fiat President Gianni Agnelli, was the only open Testarossa to come out of Maranello. Following a number of conversion attempts by various independent shops, Ferrari's rationale became obvious: Chopping the roof created serious spatial and structural challenges.

As the bulkhead already protruded into the cabin enough to limit seat travel, and the only space for a folding top was behind the seats, a convertible conversion compromised seat travel even more. Worse yet, the acutely raked windshield relied on the roof and side window frames for support, and with a conversion eliminating both, extensive re-engineering was needed.

While an acceptable solution to these problems could be found, the real deal breaker was the roofline. In its normal, coupe form, the Testarossa's roof extends through sail panels that continue down the engine lid to the back of the car. There was just no elegant way to make the soft top mimic the coupe's lines, so conversions tend to look hideous with the top up, severely limiting their appeal. As such, only a small handful of converted Testarossa spyders exist, and it would be rare to find two cars that received the exact same chop-top treatment.

This Testarossa Spyder was built for Ken Behring, the successful developer and former owner of the Seattle Seahawks, known to car guys as founder of the Blackhawk Collection. This is a premier automobile collection assembled by Behring and housed in a purpose-built building that was given to the University of California. Mr. Behring is a man who doesn't take no for an answer and he wanted an open Testarossa in spite of the shortcomings.

Most professionally converted Testarossas are likely to have no more significant mechanical problems than any factory coupe, though it's imperative to fully assess the quality of any converted car with an eye towards windshield reinforcement and convertible top fit. Thankfully, none of the converted cars I've driven have had any problems with cowl shake. That's the good news. The bad news is that while any Ferrari can be a money pit, a Testarossa more resembles a bottomless pool of quicksand. A recent survey of three large Ferrari dealers returned obscene quotes of $12,000-$15,000 for a major service, recommended every three years.

A number of other things can significantly add to the ownership expenses. Testarossas have a leather dash that will shrink even if the car is kept out of the sun-expect a dash that's "just a little pulled" to run a couple thousand dollars to make perfect. The complicated motorized seatbelt system was troublesome when new-if the belts are bad and you're lucky enough to find the necessary parts, the repair bill can run another couple of grand.

Some Spyders also had ignition problems. Ignoring a failure warning light can lead to a melted catalyst (or worse), meaning a seemingly insignificant running problem can cost $5,000 to repair with a new one. Another serious problem afflicting a noticeable number of Testrarossas is transaxle failure. A bad differential design can prematurely fail, requiring a $15,000 rebuild with an updated diff.

If this 1986 Testarossa doesn't have any hidden problems then the price was right on the money, a fair premium (around $10,000 or so) over a standard Testarossa of the same year and in line with what the seller could have reasonably expected to get. The buyer may find some surprises when he tries to push the seats all the way back, or puts up the top, but those will be forgotten on his first spring drive when he will enjoy the combination of open-air motoring and the 380-hp, 12-cylinder engine making its great sounds right behind his head. As so many Testarossas were built, cutting this one certainly didn't do any harm to the model at large, and so long as the new owner doesn't mind constantly answering questions about what he has, for the money spent, he got a very fair deal.-Steve Ahlgrim

(Photos, historical and descriptive information courtesy of the auction company.){/analysis}

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