The Italian design house Pininfarina has been at the receiving end of much praise over the years, but one of their more controversial designs was Ferrari’s range-topping Testarossa, which in 1984 shocked the automotive world with its striking side strakes.
Controversial at that time, but matured and recognised since – and thus even more praise to Pininfarina for their wisdom and foresight. But now let’s travel back in time.
Koenig should be well known to every healthy boy reading car magazines up through the eighties: German Willy König earned his money in publishing, and used them to participate in motorsports at an amateur level during the sixties and seventies. He raced some rather serious machines from first Fiat Abarth turning later to the Lola T70, so it is perhaps no wonder that he found Ferrari’s latest top model in 1974, the mid-engined 365 GT4 BB, a bit too tame in the standard factory version.
But that could of course be rectified, and so Mr. König set to the task of modifying his new BB inspired by the racing cars. At the time, he was reported to have stated that he would “turn Ferrari into sports cars again”. That might well be something you chose to sneer at, but he in fact had a point seeing as Ferrari had just about abandoned that philosophy at the end of the sixties and had gone on to focus on more GT-like automobiles.
And there were clearly a good few people who shared Herr König’s conviction, as his little tuning hobby took off in 1977 and became a professional business.
It’s from the tuning company that I remember König – or Koenig as his company was called. And I must honestly admit that back in the eighties, I was just one of many left drooling over the magazines’ glossy paper while admiring his creations based on the Ferrari 365 BB, 308 and later 512 as they were presented with huge numbers on both horsepower, top speed and price. Later he expanded the business to other and more down-to-earth marques such as BMW and Mercedes-Benz – but they nevertheless shared his penchant for excessive bodywork modification.
And now we approach the shock of the day: Please stay seated everyone.
At that time in the eighties, König became famous and notorious for grafting side strakes / gills on all his cars – just as the hypermodern Pininfarina-designed Ferrari Testarossa had presented to an alluring audience in Paris in 1984. On the Testarossa, however, the gills served the purpose of letting in air to the hungry twelve cylinder engine just behind the seats. Something which the strakes did not do on König’s BMWs and Mercedes-Benz as they were front engined. Or rather, they did of course serve a purpose – it was just a purely cosmetic one. Which is rather comical in itself for a supposedly serious tuning company.
However, it became even more comical when König later in the eighties attempted to modify precisely the Testarossa. This time his main course of action consisted of removing the aforementioned side strakes! I can’t help but conclude that he must have been a brilliant salesman when he could sell both modifications concurrently, explaining the undoubtedly extortionate prices with equal conviction, regardless of whether it was for his services of adding or removing the gills.
I have often found myself – literally – laughing out loud over the complete paradoxical irony in this: The devoid-from-taste German removing the invention of the nearly infallible Pininfarina? Sacrilege!
But then I got to take a closer look at his early creations on the Ferrari 365 GT4 BB. Shock and Horror: They had side strakes! And yes, this was in the late seventies, several years before Pininfarina’s Testarossa had them. Look for yourself:
Admittedly they are slightly smaller than those on the Testarossa, but the meaning is clear and they are functional too. Obviously Pininfarina went further to town on the idea and it both was and still is incredibly bold that their strakes make up most of the Testarossa’s flanks between the wheels.
But the side strakes as such, however, Pininfarina cannot take credit for: It was apparently a German publisher who invented them sometime around 1974.
He should have stopped right there, I might add.