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Motion & Emotion

Ferrari Goes Electric With New Testa Rossa J

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I admit that the Porsche Boxster is perhaps not the most obvious entry point into a story about a replica Ferrari on a three-quarter scale, but bear with me because if you understand where the Boxster is coming from, you will understand the Ferrari Testa Rossa J.

Most Boxsters of a certain age did not come from Porsche in Stuttgart but from Finland, where Valmet built them for Porsche. And the Ferrari Testa Rossa J comes from Bicester, where The Little Car Company built it for Ferrari. And what is important here is that if the Porsche is a Porsche, which it is, then this is a Ferrari.

As with any other Ferrari, it was designed and developed in Maranello. Like any other Ferrari, you can buy it from a Ferrari dealer, and like any other Ferrari, you can go through the entire atelier process until you end up with a car with a specification that is most likely unique to you. Perhaps most telling, especially for those who insist that it is not a Ferrari, is that it also has a Ferrari number plate.

All this gives the Ferrari Testa Rossa J a certain glory. For example, you do not need to wait years to see what Ferrari’s first fully electric car might look like because you are looking at it right now. With a top speed of less than 60 miles per hour, it’s undoubtedly the slowest Ferrari ever made. And while British bluebloods like Jaguar, Aston Martin and Bentley love to plunder their past, Ferrari has resisted the urge to build modern versions of its older classics – until now. Priced at €93,000 (£78,000) before shipping and taxes, in real terms, it’s almost certainly the cheapest Ferrari ever sold until you price it on a bang-for-buck basis, at which point it’s by far the most expensive.

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Now that you know what it is let us look at how it came to be. The first thing to say is that this price is by no means a kids’ go-kart with Testa Rossa bodywork slapped on, and not by a long shot.

The bodywork, for example, is made of beaten and rolled aluminium. Its shape was determined by the original drawings for a 1957 Testa Rossa and then shrunk to 75%. The paint is the same as Ferrari uses for its other cars.

Let us go deeper. Under the body is precisely the same spaceframe chassis construction as on an original Testa Rossa. It has the same double-wishbone front suspension, even the same geometry, for heaven’s sake. Only the brakes are wrong: an early Testa Rossa should have drums at every corner, but the Testa Rossa J has discs in the interests of safety. Bespoke discs made just for this car by Brembo.

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And one more thing: the companies Ferrari and The Little Car Company have worked with reading like a Who’s Who of original equipment manufacturers: Brembo is joined by Bilstein for the dampers and Eibach for the springs. Borrani supplies the optional steering wheel, based on 1957 original, and Nardi the beautiful wooden steering wheel, which is precisely the exact specifications, albeit scaled-down, as the one supplied 65 years ago. This may be a toy, but it is a solemn one.

A single reattached electric motor powers the car. It is powered by three batteries located under the nose, each a small briefcase and equally portable. If you have three more batteries lying ready in your garage, you can charge your Testa Rossa J while it takes to take out the old batteries and put in the new ones. It’s not relatively as easy as changing the batteries in your TV remote control, but it’s not far off.

If you are a stocky guy of a certain age, you’ll look silly getting in and ridiculous once it’s installed, but this car was not built for you, so stop complaining. What’s amazing is that the Testa Rossa J accommodates me in reasonable comfort at 6ft tall. The big V12 is not where my feet want to help, undoubtedly. They are all left-hand drives.

They look down and marvel at the gauges, for they are designed precisely like those of an original TR, right down to the spidery fonts. Of course, they have been converted; oil and water temperature now show battery and engine temperature.

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There are other concessions to the modern world. For example, I do not remember seeing a Manettino controller on a 1957 Testa Rossa. It has four modes – Novice, Comfort, Sport, Race – and offers a range of top speeds from under 12 km/h to what Ferrari coyly calls ‘over 60 km/hr, which is 37 km/h. I think it’s good for about 50 mph, with a range of about 60 miles before you need to replace the batteries. And considering that the car can only be used on private property, that’s probably both fast and far enough.

It weighs 250kg, at least until I get in and increase the car’s total weight by more than a third. You turn an authentic-looking knob to the right, press the accelerator (from an F8 Tributo), and off you go.

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The track at Bicester Heritage could not be better suited to the car, being short, narrow and – today – damp. In this environment, the handling is enjoyable. The car rides quite stiffly on its Pirelli Cinturato CN54s (as supplied for the Fiat 500 in the 1950s), and there is the odd jolt through the spacer frame, which is in keeping with the behaviour of cars of this type at the time.

  • Ferrari Goes Electric With New Testa Rossa J

So you jet around wondering if you should feel stupid for having so much fun with a car designed for a quarter of your age and conclude that you do not care. What you want to do is spin the car, and I do.

There’s not enough power to spin the rear out – which is probably wise – but if you go into a corner too fast and take off, the weight transfer does the job for you. Then you can turn on the engine, get out on the opposite side and try to look respectable in front of the Little Car Company staff watching. The glassy-eyed critic coolly assesses his latest prey, not some grinning idiot old enough to know better pretending to be Mike Hawthorn.

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This is a rich man’s toy, a Christmas or birthday present for an unimaginably privileged teenager, and it has no relevance to anything. But that does not mean you can not rave about the look of this watch, admire its quality of craft or marvel at the effort that has gone into giving it legitimacy. There will only be 299 Testa Rossa J, making them rarer than LaFerraris. More than half have already been sold, and it will be worth the asking price when it sells out.

But I am not particularly interested in that. What I do care about is that The Little Car Company had the idea that Ferrari took it up and that together they have created something that, whatever its purpose, is of immense quality and of which all concerned will be justly proud.

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