Monday, 6 April 2015

History of the Ferrari 400A & the Straman Convertible

Those who thought Ferrari had deserted the sports and GT markets when he added power steering and air condition as standard equipment on some models were really in for a shock when the 1976 Paris show previewed a Ferrari equipped with an automatic transmission.

The car is basically the same as the previous 365 GT4 2+2, with the engine enlarged to 4823cc. It comes int wo versions: the 400GT, with a five-speed manually shifted transmission; and the 400A, with a turbo Hydra-matic three-speed automatic transmission.

The transmission is furnished by General Motors, and re-calibrated to fit the torque characteristics of the V-12. The five-speed manual is made by Ferrari.

Pininfarina had also done further work to add comfort and convenience to hte interior-redisgned seats, for example. The front seats slid forward ont heir tracks when the seatback was tilted forward (to allow more room for backseat passengers to get in or out) and were of a new shape that gave more comfort. A quadraphonic stereo system was made a part of the radio/tape system.

Outside, a small spoiler was now incorporated into the lower part of the front end, the taillights were redesigned, a remote-control outside mirror was attached to the driver's door, and the Cromadora wheels were now attached by five lug nuts instead of the center-lock knock-off hubs used before.

Neither this, nor the previous version, was made for U.S. sales, because Ferrari had decided to concentrate on the V-8 as his 'Americanized' Ferrari-and it's a pity.

Whilte Walter Mitty might imagine himself (in one of the earlier Ferraris) as Taruffi in the Mille Miglia, or Gendebien in the Tour de France, there is no mistaking the Rodeo Drive or Park Avenue feeling of the 400GT or 400A. The historic V-12 engine sound is there, muffled by insulation, but the luxurious interior with its air conditioning and stereo sound system leave no doubt about the purpose of this model.

The available power and the excellent suspension will allow high-speed touring in great comfort and with a feeling(real) of safety, but it isn't the Ferrari of old that asked to be driven hard on a winding read while chasing or being chased by Porsches and Cobras.

It is a Ferrari for those of us who now put creature comforts and style ahead of power and speed, without really sacrificing all of the latter.

And to take the 400 step further Richard Straman's firm, Classic Automobile Restoration began converting the 400's to Cabriolets in 1980. Straman's firm started out in restoring classic Rolls-Royces, Mercedes and the like, first made a name for itself in the Ferrari enthusiast's world by converting a 275 GTB to a spyder much in the fashion of that done originally for Luigi Chinetti by the Italian carrozzeria Scaglietti. After that came assignments to make Daytona coupes into drop-tops and now there are at least thirty California Ferrari owners driving around a Straman conversion.

But the biggest challenge so far was the 400A conversion. The top was cut off, and various braces were installed on the body to add rigidty. Straman prefered to fabricate his own top bows rather than to try and use a set from an existing convertible. One of the biggest challenges in the creation of the 400A convertible was creating a well for the top, and still leaving the rear seating area undisturbed. Finished, the car resembles a Rolls Corniche in its imperious air of luxury, although the aggressive wheels and exhausts give it more of an Aston-Martin Volante flavor. Pininfarina isn't likely to create a Ferrari open 4-seater, but if they did, odds are it would look very much like Straman's creation.

The Daytona Spyder conversions occasionally elicit comments from "purists" (ah, to belong to that rarified breed...) because of the fact that Straman was, after all, merely copying what Pininfarina, Scaglietti and Ferrari all created before him. Ethically, they're right. Practically, one has to have a Ph.D. in Ferrari Lore(proposed by several people) to tell the difference between the real Spyder and the replica. But in the case of the 400A, Richard Straman has gone beyond mere copying and gone where PIninfarina, Scaglietti, et al would likely go if they could be convinced of the feasibility, marketability, etc.,etc. And in Straman's case, the results are more than satisfactory.

These cars are a very rare breed, there are several other coach builder who've tried to cut Ferrari and no ones' come close to Straman in terms of quality. And twenty five years ago, the conversions cost over $20,000. Today, you'd have to multiply it by 4 and it's cost prohibitive. It's not done anymore, that era is over. These car were the last of there breed. And Where do you find them in nice shape? It's very difficult because there were so few made. And lastly, where can you find a nice open top V12 Ferrari Convertible for under $50,000? Very difficult if not impossible. With the values of other V12 Ferrari cars sky rocketing out of sight, these cars are probably one of the great values left in the V12 Ferrari market.


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