As Ferrari announces plans for mid-engine hybridisation, let’s take a minute to remember when Modena almost took a totally different design path.
The 1980’s were a particularly turbulent time for Ferrari. After a successful period in the 70’s – when the Italian team won the F1 World Championship in 1975 and 1977 with Nikki Lauda and again in 1979 with Jody Scheckter, the best the team could muster were two Constructor’s Championships (1982 and 1983) and two second-place finishes in the Driver’s Championships (Didier Peroni in 1982 and Michele Alboreto in 1985). Even worse, Ferrari-favourite Gilles Villenuve died during qualifying for the 1982 Belgian Grand Prix at Zolder and Ferrari founder, Enzo Ferrari died in 1988.
Away from motorsport, the 80’s gave us some of Ferrari’s most iconic creations. The Testarossa, 288 GTO and F40 all came out within three years of each other – with the 201mph F40 becoming the fastest production car in the world in 1987.
Ferrari found it increasingly difficult to manage its road and track divisions. After overseeing four Ferrari F1 World Championships, Mauro Forghieri was brought in from the F1 team to help design the road cars. There had been murmerings of four wheel-drive making its way into Formula 1 after Audi’s four wheel-drive dominance of Group B rally. These rumours were quickly snuffed out but not before Ferrari developed its own four wheel-drive system, called 4RM or ‘4 Route Motrici.’ Although this system was developed for the 4RM in 1987, the first production Ferrari to use the system was the Ferrari FF, 24 years later.
Two 408 4RM prototypes were completed, a red one in 1987 and a yellow one in 1988. The ‘408’ name comes from its engine layout, 4.0-litres and eight cylinders. The 328-sourced V8 produced 300bhp and 275lb of torque.
Ferrari’s hydraulic four wheel-drive system wasn’t the only innovative part of the 4RM. The red 4RM had a steel chassis but the yellow one features an all-aluminum chassis bonded with adhesives. It wouldn’t be until 1994 that we saw this technology applied to a production car in the original Lotus Elise.
The yellow 4RM had a front splitter and casing for its headlights instead of pop-ups. Credit – largus.com
Forghieri’s motorsport influence can be seen in the excellent weight distrubition, 47/53 front to rear. But the added weight of the four wheel-drive system meant both 4RMs weighed in at 1,340kg, 80kg more than the comparative 328.
The 4RM was Ferrari’s interpretation of what a four wheel-drive supercar could be but it was never intended for production. Forghieri on the other hand did not want to relinquish all of the development he’d put into the project and joined Lee Iacocca at Chrysler – who had just purchased Lamborghini. Forghieri went on to help design the Lamborghini Diablo and Bugatti EB110, both legendary 90’s four wheel-drive supercars. Both of these cars illustrate what the 4RM could’ve been if Ferrari had taken a leap of faith.