The Ferrari 512 BB is a good example of how history can be a fickle mistress. This was the first-ever mid-engine V12 Ferrari road car and, in its factory-prepared “LM” spec (that comes with the Ferrari Essentials Pack), the last racing-GT Ferrari produced for almost a decade. Styled by none other than Leonardo Fioravanti at Pininfarina, the 512 BB’s shape and interior cues would also go on to become a template for Ferrari for decades after—a design of sensuous beauty that was highlighted by its codename at Pininfarina (BB—for Bridgitte Bardot) …
Its engine (sampled from the Formula 1 312Ts that were then dominating F1) was the iconic Colombo V12—in many enthusiasts’ eyes, the most “Ferrari” of Maranello’s power-plants. Indeed, the sound that came from that white maze of pipes circling out of the 5-litre Ferrari V12 cannot be mistaken for anything else but the sound of a Ferrari V12 from that era—the sound of pure motorsport emotion.
So how to explain the less than stellar reputation of the 512 BB and that of its racing variant, the 512 BB LM? The 512 BB LM in particular seems to be mostly remembered as an unconvincing GT runner, the car that could never quite reach its full potential in an era dominated by the mighty Porsche 935s.
But as always, there’s a lot more to it than that …
It’s true that the 512 BB LM was cursed with poor reliability in the early phase of its development, and it’s equally true that it was built at a time when Ferrari was heavily distracted by F1. Also true is that it was produced right at the time when the Porsche 935 was underlying the cold new reality of GT racing: successful GT racers had to be built from the top-down as racing cars, not road-going cars tuned for motorsport.
All true, and perhaps these facts reflect why the 512 BB LM’s pedigree has drifted away through the years. And yet, as you’re about to discover for yourself with the Series II and III Ferrari 512 BB LMs coming to the Ferrari Essentials Pack, these Ferrari-prepped racing-only GTs were magical machines that graced yet another chapter in the Ferrari legacy from the late ’70s, a time when bell-bottom pants were big, but flared arches and massive aero-details on IMSA and “LM”-spec GT-runners were a hell of a lot bigger—and a hell of a lot sexier!
The very first mid-engined V12 road-going Ferrari
Despite having run and dominated endurance racing from the ’60s with the mid-engined “P” series of race cars, Enzo Ferrari was reticent to mimic this layout for his road-cars. And while the history books would suggest the first road-going mid-engined Ferrari was the Dino 206 GT (designed by Leonardo Fioravanti at Pininfarina and employing a “small” 2-litre V6 that had been created by Enzo’s son, Dino), that car was not technically badged as a Ferrari, but rather sold to rival the Porsche 911 under the “Dino” marque.
Meanwhile Ferrari persisted with front-engined road-cars in the guise of the exquisitely shaped, aggressively-raked Ferrari 365 GTB/4 (Daytona), the racing version of which you can already pilot in Project CARS 2.
Enzo, it was said, did not believe that his customers could handle the difficulties of a mid-mounted V12 on a road car. It was an understandable position. After all, while the Dino’s mid-mounted V6 was pushing around 190hp, the Daytona’s V12 was thumping out close to 400hp. At a time when cars had no nannies, and tyre manufacturing was nowhere near today’s standards, 400hp was some serious power to stick mid-ships.
Enzo Ferrari then needed persuading that the successor to the Daytona—which just so happened to double as one of Ferrari’s most successful models—should adopt a mid-engine layout featuring a full-blown Ferrari V12.
What changed Enzo’s mind is unknown, but likely-as-not, two major factors played a role: The first was the whole-scale success of the Dino models which, between 1966-1980, would sell over 10,000 units. And the second was the small matter of what the competition was doing—primarily Lamborghini, first with the Muira and then the Countach, and then Maserati with the Bora and the Merak.
With the end of the Daytona’s lifecycle approaching, Ferrari decided to test the waters. Fioravanti at Pininfarina was tasked with styling a mid-engined car—a car that he and his team fell in love with and which debuted at the 1971 Turin Motor Show. Named the Ferrari 365 GT4 BB, the BB stood for Berlinetta Boxster, and while it was most certainly a Berlinetta, a Boxster it was not— the F1-derived 180° V12 was actually a flat 12 that was mounted longitudinally, and good for around 380hp of throaty-sounding muscle.
It’s noteworthy, too, that the car was first shown not at Ferrari’s stand, but at the Pininfarina stand. (It would only make it to the Ferrari stand at the Paris Auto Show in 1973, by which time it was ready for production.) It is also noteworthy that the Daytona continued production alongside the 365 GT4BB for almost a year: even at that late stage, Ferrari was yet to be fully convinced that the future of its road-car division was with a mid-mounted V12.
The 365 GT4BB, though, turned out to be a steady performer for Ferrari, which produced 387 cars between 1973 and 1976; a good run for the car that was, in reality, a short-stop to the creation of Ferrari’s all-new superstar supercar that rolled out in 1976.
Time for Bridgitte Bardot
Ferrari, in 1976, had been out of GT and sportscar racing for half-a-decade; their focus was now entirely on Formula 1 where the team of Luca de Montezemolo, Mauro Forghieri, and Niki Lauda were on the cusp of bringing an era of total dominance back to Maranello.
In GT and sportscar racing, though, Ferrari clients had also been left with little-to-no factory assistance. The Daytona had been factory-prepped only after US-importer Luigi Chinetti had shown its potential, and it was again Chinetti and his North American Racing Team that eagerly grabbed the new 365 GT4BB and entered it at the 24-Hours of Daytona in 1975. Chinetti would keep racing this until 1978, but with little success—a sixth place finish at Sebring in ’75 being its best result.
By 1976, though, it was already clear that the NART-tuned racing 365 GT4BB was not going to repeat the success of the Le Mans class wins the Ferrari-tuned Daytona had enjoyed in ’72, ’73, and ’74.
The 365 GT4BB was not even entered for Le Mans in 1976: With IMSA spec’ cars banned, NART, without factory assistance, could not legally enter the race, making that season’s race the first time in Ferrari’s history where they had no presence on the grid of the world’s greatest endurance race.
To say Ferrari were distracted by F1, where only Lauda’s near fatal accident at the ’Ring had stopped the 312 T from winning back-to-back championships, is to understate matters.
Just up the road from Le Mans, though, in Paris, Ferrari did have a major presence at the Paris Auto Show that year when they unveiled the successor to the 365 GT4BB—the Ferrari 512 BB.
Sharing much the same chassis, the major improvements that came to the 512 BB were the not-so-exciting radio and climate control, and the rather-more-exciting upping of the engine from a 4.4-litre to an epic 5-litre V12, which transformed the car into nothing less than a full-blown supercar with a top-speed of 187 glorious miles per hour.
Inside and out, the drop-dead sensuous-looking 512 BB would remain the style-guide for all future Ferraris until the mid-1990s, and it would remain Ferrari’s top-end supercar until the Testarossa came along in 1985. This was, for many, the most beautiful car Ferrari ever built: And for Fioravanti and his team, the beauty of the car was summed up by their codename Brigitte Bardot (BB).
(Fioravanti finally cleared-up the true meaning behind the “BB” nomenclature to La Reppublica newspaper in August of 2018—here.)
The 512 BB started production in 1977, and by 1978, NART had modified two cars for Le Mans. Four 512 BBs were actually entered at Le Mans that year, but all failed to finish the race. For Chinetti and other erstwhile Ferrari customers, it was obvious that they could no longer compete without at least some factory assistance, as Ferrari had offered with the Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Competizione.
With Chinetti and other special Ferrari clients petitioning hard, and F1 now conquered with another title in 1977—three back-to-back constructor’s titles—Ferrari responded to their clients’ needs by overseeing work on a racing evolution to the 512BB in 1978.
The Ferrari 512 BB LM
Throughout the autumn and winter of ’78, the 512 BB was sent to the gym and put on a diet by the Ferrari Customer Assistance Department. The result? The V12, by early ’79, was pushing some 480hp (about 120 higher than the road version, and up to around 500hp in ’81). The diet, meanwhile, saw the 512 BB shed almost 600kgs.
While all that was happening, Pininfarina ran the car through the wind-tunnel and shaped it accordingly; the front end was lengthened considerably, the roof sprouted an aerofoil, the pop-up lights were replaced with fixed ones on the fascia, and a wing from the F1 Ferrari 312T2 appeared on the elongated, slipstreamed rear-end.
The car was now almost half-a-metre longer, but the new aero bits also meant a lot of the 600kgs that had been shaved off returned. The tyres were fattened too, and of course that meant flared wheel-arches, an absolute must-have for the late ’70s.
By early 1979, Ferrari had built nine racing 512 BBs which were sold to their clients as 512 BB LMs. Series II and III followed between 1980 to 1982 with another 16 cars.
Chinetti’s NART team gave the car its debut at the 24-hour race at Daytona in early 1979. It was not the debut that anyone had hoped for; the 512 BB LMs all retired, while an old Ferrari Daytona scored a second-place finish.
At Le Mans that same year, the same story unfolded for the new Ferrari: four were entered by Ferrari’s usual clients—Charles Pozzi, Ecurie Francorchamps, and NART—and only one finished in a distant 16th place.
It was soon apparent that the 512 BB LM’s major issue was with its ’box: in order to create a shorter wheelbase, Ferrari had chosen to sit the engine above the gearbox. That solved one problem, but with the centre of gravity heightened considerably, it created another—the car’s handling was compromised.
For Series II and III, the 512 BB LM was slowly improved and results began to come; in 1980 at Sebring, third in class behind its arch-nemesis, the Porsche 935s; the same result followed at the Silverstone 1,000 km. But in truth, the age of modifying road-cars for racing was over and purebred race cars which were then modified for the road had taken over, and with a deficit of somewhere in the region of 200hp to the Porsche 935s, the 512 BB LM was born with an unsurmountable handicap.
Until one day at Le Mans in 1981, that is, when a 512 BB LM scored an astonishing 6th overall and first in IMSA GTX class with a car that was entered by Charles Pozzi and driven Jean-Claude Andruet and Claude Ballot-Léna.
Win or lose, some cars are just special
So how to judge the Ferrari 512 BB LM? It wasn’t a race winner; 200hp down on the competition saw to that. But does that really matter?
Not when you get behind the wheel of this absolutely magnificent-sounding GT-runner that just oozes what the late-’70s were all about—extravagant styling, profligate noise, and the purity of driving a V12 mid-engined race-prepped Ferrari, the last car that the Ferrari factory tuned for GT racing until the 288 GTO Evoluzione (a car that car never raced) and the ’89 Ferrari F40 Competizione.
And to make it even more competitive in-game, the Ferrari 512 BB LM has been placed into Group 4 racing.
Lead Vehicle Artist Casey Ringley Finds a Place for the 512 BB LM in Project CARS 2
The Ferrari 512 BB LM never really got any respect for its performance in-period, and that is largely down to how it used the regulations to race in a class where it never stood a chance.
The 512 BB LM did not meet production requirements to run in FIA Group 4, so instead it used a loophole in the regulations to enter races in the IMSA GTX (GT Experimental) class, putting it directly against a cavalcade of Gr.5 Porsche 935 Turbos.
The 512 BB LM was a nice racecar, particularly for endurance events or in the rain, but was vastly outmatched by cars weighing 200kg less with 300hp more power. Winning its class and finishing 5th overall in the 1981 Le Mans 24H is quite a remarkable achievement considering the performance disadvantage it faced.
To give better competition, we’ve chosen to place it in the Gr.4 class alongside the BMW M1 Procar and Porsche 924 GTP. All three get performance in very different ways, but the overall balance is quite good, and each one can shine at the right track with the right driver.
Inside the 512 BB LM
The heart of the 512 BB LM is a 4,943cc F110A flat-12 (they call it the Berlinetta Boxer, but really it is a 180° V12) with mechanical fuel injection producing, in race tune, about 475hp @ 7,250rpm and a healthy torque peak of 535Nm down at 5,000rpm. It was enough extra power over the road model 512 BBi that they had to redesign the gearbox internals for 1979 with straight-cut gears and everything strengthened for endurance.
Ironically, the flat-12 engine’s design intent was to lower the center of gravity, but installation here required it to be placed above the gearbox. This pushed the whole unit upward 15-20cm, which is not at all what you want to do with a 250-KG lump of metal at the back of a car.
This had a negative effect on the handling, making the car somewhat wayward and tough to predict. Most cars, including the reference car we scanned, appear to have addressed this by running narrow front tyres—only 215mm tread width against 330mm rears—to keep the car in balance. It’s a solution which appears to work quite well on our model too; the car loses some overall grip, perhaps, but the general balance is good and controllable.
Do keep an eye on your tyre temperatures with this one, though, as the extra weight and narrow fronts mean it works the rubber at both ends more than the other Gr.4 cars. Hard slicks can often be the better choice here in a race as it will let you push harder for longer.
Our reference car had all the suspension links measured to copy into our model. The design there is all standard, double wishbone stuff with front roll center near the ground, rear RC about 8cm higher, and similar motion up/down with chassis motion. Only noteworthy thing is that the steering geometry does follow the older design theory of large scrub radius with little mechanical trail; great for self-centering when catching slides, but it does give a little ‘delay’ to the feel of mid-corner steering forces.
The real standout feature of 512 BB LM is that bodywork. The angular shapes of the road car made for pretty poor top speed, and so it went to the Pininfarina wind tunnel for extensive redesign. The body was lengthened by 40cm, lines smoothed out and pulled down to the floor level, and a rear wing from the 312T2 F1 car added on for rear stability. Result of this work—aside from being, IMO, one of the most graceful GT car designs ever—were top speeds in the neighborhood of 195mph at Le Mans, a good 12-15mph up on the BMW M1 with similar power.
The 512 BB LM may carry an extra 150kg, but it carries it up to a handy Vmax. Use that top speed to your advantage and it can compete well with the lighter-but-slower BMW M1 and the even-better-handling-but-even-slower Porsche 924 GTP.
The Project CARS 2 Season Pass offers all four DLCs plus the Motorsport Bonus Pack, all at a discounted price.
The Ferrari Essentials Pack is available now for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and (PC Steam).
*The Pista di Fiorano is a Ferrari-only track, both in real-life and, of course, in Project CARS 2.