My Car Quest

November 20, 2017

The Ferrari 400 Convertible – Great Idea Or An Abomination?

by Wallace Wyss

As a fine artist looking for cars to depict on canvas, I have been to many Ferrari events in the last couple years and there’s one thing missing at every one of them – 400-based convertibles.

Now the purists would say “Good-we finally got rid of those damned custom jobs” but I say don’t knock it until you have driven one.

Driving a Sheldon Brooks-converted blue 400 with automatic around Santa Monica really made my day one time, and the experience is still memorable 20 some years later. I had ample power, the purr of a V12, an automatic, seating for four, and Pininfarina styling. What’s not to love?

Actually some of the first cut ones were on the 365 GT4 2+2. The name came from the four overhead camshafts (GT4) and 2+2 seating. The engine was pretty close to the GTC/4, 4,390.35 cc with six side-draft Weber 38 DCOE 59/60 carburetors rated at 340 PS (250 kW; 340 bhp) at 6200 rpm. The gearbox was a five-speed, all-synchromesh manual with a single-plate clutch. Five-spoke alloy wheels were mounted on Rudge knock-off hubs; Borrani wire wheels were an option. This was Ferrari’s executive VIP type car so it had as standard leather, electric windows and air conditioning.

The Ferrari 400

The GT4 was replaced in 1976 by the nearly identical looking Ferrari 400. This time it had four taillamps instead of six. And when the 400 came along in ’76, it had an optional 400 Automatic, using a Borg Warner 3-speed automatic transmission (I had always heard it was a Turbo Hydramatic 400…)

Ferrari 412 Prototipo

But you could still order the five-speed transmission. The engine was stroked to 4.8L (290 cu in) and was rated at 340 PS (250 kW). It lost the knockoffs to five-stud wheels and you couldn’t get Borranis anymore.

At the nose, there was a new lip to the front spoiler. Only 502 examples were made, 355 of which were Automatics and 147 GTs. When the 400i came along in ’79 they went to Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection in 1979, perhaps because they were thinking it would need that to meet US laws. But ironically they didn’t import it as a US model.

Towards the end of 1982 the 400i was hot rodded up to 310 hp (231 kW). Someone at Ferrari loved the car as they gave it a fancier interior, a new center console and the outside got a few mods like a narrower grille featuring the rectangular foglights while the venting on the engine lid was toned down with body color paint.

Paul Banham Converted Car

Paul Banham Converted Car

A big mistake (for owners decades later) was to use Michelin TRX on metric sized wheels (try to find those tires today!). Experts agree that 1,305 examples were produced, 883 Automatics and 422 GTs.

The final version came in ’85, with the engine enlarged to 5L (305.1 cu in) – thus justifying a name change to 412, which was the single cylinder displacement in cubic centimeters. They dropped the outside reference to an automatic. The body got a few subtle mods, such as a raised rear deck, the bumpers matching the body-color; and the front spoiler was made deeper.

Paul Banham Converted Car

Paul Banham Converted Car

Again it was cursed with TRX tires, this time on flat faced wheels.

By now the market was pretty well saturated for luxury Ferraris and only 475 of those were made. The last were made in 1989 and. though some feel the mid-engined Mondial convertible with two plus two seating made up for its loss, I say “no.” That model did not have serious seating for adults in the rear. Ferrari did bring out a front engined 2 plus 2, the 456 but that was not an open car.

But you still see the 400 based cars around. One of the best appearances was of a black 1987 in the 2006 independent film Daft Punk’s Electroma.

The Conversions

I don’t know who made the most conversions. But I used to visit Richard Straman’s shop in Costa Mesa, California and he was cranking them out. One source on Ferrari Chat said he made 51 out of 400i and 412 models.

But he wasn’t the only one. There were also some made by Pavesi, perhaps as many as 18. Pavesi is a big outfit, they built the Stutz Blackhawks and are a professional automaker supply firm used by many Italian automakers so I would rate whatever they did highly as far as engineering. Then in England, AutoKraft did a dozen and other names I have heard associated with the open versions are: Scaglietti, Stommel-Con Moda, and Lorenz & Rankl.The 365-based ones are the rarest as the car was new then and not so many people wanted to cut them whereas with an older used car, you could rationalize it. Maybe only ten of the 365-based ones were made. But they are the most likely to be manual shift if you like to shift while driving open air.

The Purists Say “NO”

The true irony of these cars is that they cost about $35,000 to get cut, in addition to the price of the coupe, and now you see them on used car lots for less than that for the whole car, convertible top and all. Part of the problem is that some are not engineered at all. Oh, they have a top that folds but it looks wrinkled when it is up. And there is no standard top you can order for a car. And the methods of attaching it at the windscreen are more dubious in some cars compared to others. So the “bad cutters” spoiled the market for the cars cut by reputable folks.

Ferrari Made Two

The real foil to those who say “Ferrari would never do this” is that Ferrari did make two. One was the regular style, I believe that was green, and then there was one that was modified in the body shape that was sold to Greg Garrison, a TV producer, and later resold at auction after his death. That was a truly ugly car. If you were asking “Should there be an open version of this car?” most people would vote “no.” That car may have been built to test out carbon fiber body panels, so Ferrari wasn’t concerned with the looks, just how well the body stood up to testing.

Still, regardless of that faux pax, think the cut 365GT4, 400, and 412 convertibles will come out of the woodwork soon, maybe at the Monterey auctions and fetch high prices for the best of them. Why? Because there simply is no competitor unless you consider the BMW 6-series convertible which is sexy, and fast, but still not a Ferrari.

Now of course the problem is that some of these cars too, have dubious paperwork as they were brought in as gray market cars. Maybe now that they are old, old cars they can squeak under whatever regulations there are. I certainly wouldn’t consider buying one that is not licensed for the road now with a title from a U.S. state and current registration.

I wouldn’t commission one either. Because labor costs have gone up, and even if you can find a cutter, it would probably cost you $40,000 to cut one now and there is no light at the tunnel of seeing them sell for $100,000 or more.

But I suggest you could buy one that’s already converted at its present low price and restore it. But these are complicated cars, an engine rebuild would be, what? $50,000? Not to mention, being a gray market car, dealers in the US felt no need to stock body panels and mechanical bits so you always have that curse of having a car for which there is a search for body panels and parts compared to a Ferrari with U.S. spec. parts on the shelves.

So the path to owning and enjoying an open 400-based car is one that I would only recommend for the bravest, those folks who want the car Ferrari never built – a unique car based on a Ferrari chassis, powered by a Ferrari V12, built in Maranello and just happens to have a reclining roof.

THE AUTHOR/ARTIST: Wallace Wyss is a fine artist based in Southern California. Some of his art can be seen on Facebook – click here.

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Summary
The Ferrari 400 Convertible - Great Idea Or An Abomination?
Article Name
The Ferrari 400 Convertible - Great Idea Or An Abomination?
Description
Is a Ferrari 400 convertible a good idea?
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Comments

  1. proper things..i used one as daily vehicle and towed a car trailer or A frame everywhere as motor trader.
    exhausts where silly prices…so when mine fell off…and i mean fell off..i bought 12 rear silencers for a ford transit and welded them together..they cost 8 pounds each at the time.

    injection cars much easier to own.

  2. Butt ugly! The least attractive Ferrari made only more unattractive!
    Can’t imagine you are selling your beautiful Grifo?

  3. Arthur Mo says:

    Looks like somebody got bored on a Sunday and came up with this Who’s responsible Bill & Ben The Flower Pot Men

  4. NOT A FAN! HORRIBLE IMO…

    I 2nd that I can’t believe you are selling that Grifo!

    Will you buy another Grifo?

  5. I actually like it…no one wants to buy these and now someone did and puts a twist on the 400… I like it! 🙂

  6. zeroagenow says:

    ugly but probably rare so someone with more money than brains will collect them,lol

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