Koenig’s 600bhp Ferrari Driving a twin-turbo BB. Singing a new tune. What do you do if a ‘standard’ Ferrari feels a bit too slow? Bolt on a couple of turbos, suggests Richard Heseltine, after braving a Koenig BB. Photography Tony Baker.
If your Ferrari Berlinetta Boxer was too slow, Koenig had the solution. A Boxer with extra punch Richard Heseltine tries to tame the wild horses of Koenig’s twin-turbo BB.
Your main point of focus is the gauges; in particular, the ones calibrated in bar and degrees Celsius. It has been drilled into you that this isn’t a car that likes being driven slowly. It’s packing a twin-turbocharged flat-12, a bear-trap clutch and a hair-trigger throttle: stop-start motoring really isn’t its bag. Unfortunately, as of right now, we’re inching our way through roadworks. As a result, there’s every reason to expect a meltdown at any moment. But no, only the driver is boiling over, exhausting his repertoire of curse words as other road users would rather reach for their phones and snap away than thread their way through the bottleneck.
Scroll forward an hour and it’s a different story. There are faster cars than this Koenig-modded Ferrari 512 Berlinetta Boxer, but few are as stimulating and seductive on a deserted B-road. That it’s ballistically quick comes as no surprise, given that it’s producing as much as 635bhp (opinions vary; it could be more). The revelatory part is that this 1980s throwback doesn’t want to kill you. It’s almost civilised.
Sort of. Ish. You expect to emerge as a bundle of frayed nerves and in need of oxygenation, but no. This was a period when it wasn’t uncommon for the aftermarket industry to slap turbos onto just about anything without making concessions to such trifling matters as drivability. That, and life expectancy. Outrageous performance claims were made, the inconvenient truth being that such conversions often resulted in large bangs and even larger holes in customers’ wallets. That isn’t the case here.
The contentious part with this particular car isn’t so much the reworking beneath the skin, but more the skin itself. You see, to some it stretches the boundaries of taste, to others it blatantly violates them. There is nothing subtle about this Ferrari’s looks, and the steroidal add-ons are bound to irk the purists. You wouldn’t expect otherwise. It isn’t as though this is anything new, either. In period, Maranello’s top brass was so incensed by what it saw as an act of desecration that it legally banned Koenig from selling cars with the Prancing Horse logo. Unbowed, it poured kerosene on an already lit bonfire by releasing even more extreme variations on the theme, badge or no badge. What’s more, they were magazine cover stars the world over, to further irritate the suits at Ferrari.
Somehow, you suspect that company founder Willy Koenig enjoyed putting their noses out of joint. The former publishing magnate had enjoyed a successful motorsport career as a gentleman driver prior to the formation of Koenig Ferrari Specials in 1977, the ‘Ferrari’ part of the title being dropped almost immediately. The firm came into being after he purchased a 365GT4 BB, only to be disappointed by its performance and handling. He set about rectifying its perceived shortcomings, his efforts impressing other owners to the point that his after-hours hobby became a business. By the dawn of the ’80s, Koenig Specials offered three distinct conversions. The base model, all things being relative, was a lightly tuned 512BB equipped with a freer-flowing exhaust and so on, which produced around 370bhp. Then there was a more radical take, to which Mahle pistons and modified cylinder heads were fitted, which was good for an alleged 450bhp. Top of the range from 1982 was this: the twin-turbocharged variant that, Koenig claimed, ensured a top speed of 206mph and 0-60mph in 3.9 secs.
The Munich tuner’s main collaborator and foil was Austrian engine-builder Franz Albert, the veteran racer opting for a pair of Rajay turbos, two air-to-air intercoolers (and as many wastegates), plus extra oil coolers, a dry-sump lubrication system and a transmission oil cooler.
Modifications to the donor car didn’t end there, either. Vittorio Strosek, a former apprentice to Luigi Colani who would later earn fame for modifying Porsches under his own name, devised a glassfibre bodykit that was bonded to the shell. This comprised a new shovel-like front bumper/spoiler combo that reputedly decreased lift by as much as 30%; massively flared rear aches; chunky rear bumper and functional side scoops; plus an integrated rear spoiler, usually with a Countach-style wing. Some cars also did away with pop-up headlights, at least two featuring fixed units behind Perspex covers. There was also the option of side strakes that foretold the Ferrari Testarossa, plus additional NACAducts and umpteen other orifices.
Inside, the sky was the limit. You could keep the interior as Ferrari intended, or denuded of anything extraneous for that full racer vibe. Most punters, it seemed, instead opted for leather on leather – often in the most garish of hues – and Koenig wasn’t above outfitting cars with Persian carpeting and suchlike. As to the vexed question of how many BBs were converted in period… nobody knows. It’s a mystery, because Koenig Specials has no build records to speak of. The figure most often touted is 50 – which sounds plausible with the full turbo/body conversion having run to DM130,000. Just to add to the confusion, however, no two cars were ever alike and not all wide-arched turbo cars had, er, turbos. Koenig, it seems, gave several cars the wideboy look, but kept them normally aspirated. As if that wasn’t enough, it wasn’t above selling conversion packages so that overseas specialists could perform surgery on its behalf. On the flipside, some turbo cars lacked the decorous treatment. It was all a bit mix ’n’ match.
A few cars even made it to Blighty. One truly grisly looking example in pearlescent white with a lipstick-red leather interior was built for a Saudi prince who had it UK-registered for use when in London. It was based on a 512 that he had crashed previously. Another British-licensed car appeared in Street Machine magazine – a title not known for featuring mega-money exotica back in the mid-’80s. A black car with gold BBS wheels was also given the full turbo-look treatment by the grandiosely named Automotive Design Consultants (a firm based within throwing distance of Wormwood Scrubs prison).
Then there’s this car. It belongs to Axel von Schubert, a man familiar with outré supercars having previously owned the only factory-converted Lamborghini Countach with a targa-style roof. Beginning life in 1978 as a carburetted 512BB, purchased new by a German industrialist via the Ferrari concessionaire in Bolzano, Italy, it went under the knife in 1982 at Koenig’s small underground facility near the Bohemian district of Schwabing. It subsequently changed hands a few times before it was acquired by a Spaniard who stored it with a Ferrari dealer in Valais, Switzerland. The car couldn’t be road-registered there due to emissions regulations, so he drove it on short stints using trade plates. It arrived in the UK three years ago.
Up close it’s suitably dramatic, but whether it looks better or worse for the stylistic changes rather depends on your aesthetic sensibilities. The Leonardo Fioravanti-penned outline was a masterwork so, to a great many, the plastic addenda serve only to sully perfection. To others, they render it that bit more aggressive; more purposeful than pretty or, in modern design parlance, ‘challenging’. Whichever side you cleave to, there’s no denying that it’s distinctive.
Canvassing opinion during our photoshoot in Maldon, Essex, reaction to the Koenig was overwhelmingly positive – not least with onlookers who didn’t get to experience the 1980s first time around, who look on with unfeigned wonder.
The garish OZ wheels are arguably the most divisive element up close, the rears clad in monstrous 345/35 Pirelli rubber that, according to Top Wheels magazine, were the same as those you would find gracing the back of a Formula 2 car. We’re not altogether convinced by that assertion: an F1 car would be closer. Then there are the exhaust pipes that jut out from beneath the bumper. There’s nothing discreet about them, more another signifier of evil intent.
Stoop to enter and the cabin, in contrast, lacks much in the way of theatre. It’s all very businesslike, the familiar instruments with their orange calibrations being augmented by additional nonmatching gauges in a secondary cluster that appears to have been haphazardly fastened into place. It isn’t exactly spacious, but nor is it cramped. The offset pedals are much as you remember, but the seats are not: they’re vaguely reminiscent of the Scheel items you would find in a BMW 3.0 CSL, and comfortable with it, but they are not what you would call attractive.
From cold, the flat-12 fires without complaint. There’s no churning or coughing, just noise. It’s eye-widening stuff, an antidote to the flat-planecrank parps emitted by modern-day Ferraris at idle. The twin-plate organic clutch is laughably heavy, though, the gearchange clunky between first and second at least until the transmission oil has time to warm up. Early running comprises mostly industrial parks and residential areas scarred with sleeping policemen and potholes. It copes admirably, but it’s only once you’re into open countryside that it comes to life.
You expect this hot-rodded Ferrari to be fast, but what comes as a shock is the linear power delivery. Turbo cars of old had epic lag to the point that acceleration comprised mostly standing on the throttle and then counting one…
two… three… before the boost kicked in. That isn’t the case here. The standard 512BB was always tractable by old-world supercar standards, and the Koenig pulls much like the regular car to about 3000rpm. Thereon, it is in a different realm. Without daring to venture beyond 6000rpm, thrust is as immediate as it is violent. Many current supercars are as quick as this dinosaur, the vast majority faster still, but none can match the Koenig for sheer unbridled lunacy. It doesn’t matter how cleanly you change gear, your head is invariably chucked forward and then back. You find yourself laughing out loud before making utterances that are short, crude, and exclamatory. Not that you can hear much, mind, the bark of a flat-12 with only token nods to silencing being of the heavenly kind.
The Koenig BB is firmly sprung, but not jarringly so. There are none of the tramlining shenanigans you expect, while the rack-and-pinion steering has plenty of feel – although the wheel does writhe over badly rutted surfaces.
Then you arrive at a corner. The donor car’s high-mounted engine and narrow track counted against it way back when, but here there’s no sense of weight transfer or skittishness. On a track, it may be a different story. Only the brakes let the side down: they work, but all ‘feel’ seems to be at the bottom inch or so of the pedal.
Make no mistake, this is a blunt instrument, but it isn’t anywhere near as belligerent as preconceptions would have you believe. The Koenig isn’t easy to drive, but it is immensely rewarding. The thing is, there is a caveat to the story in that the team at Hoyle-Fox Classics has invested countless hours in preparing the car for its owner, enhancements stretching to items such as a three-stage boost-enrichment system originally used on works Audi quattro Group B cars; uprated injectors; a high-performance ignition amplifier and coil; and countless other tweaks. You leave wondering whether the Koenig reworking actually worked, or whether this respected Essex firm made it fit for purpose. Somehow, you expect the latter.
What’s beyond doubt is that cars of this ilk continue to polarise opinion, but so did many coachbuilt Ferraris half a century ago. Norms shift, and ‘tuner’ cars of the ’80s are currently experiencing an upswing in appreciation. The Koenig BB isn’t the last word in sophistication, but it is a blast to drive – and noticeable with it. For some, that’s all that matters.
Thanks to Hoyle-Fox Classics: www.hoylefoxclassics.co.uk
‘THE CONTENTIOUS PART WITH THIS PARTICULAR CAR ISN’T SO MUCH THE REWORKING BENEATH THE SKIN, BUT MORE THE SKIN ITSELF’
‘THERE’S NO CHURNING OR COUGHING, JUST NOISE. IT’S AN EYE-WIDENING ANTIDOTE TO THE PARPS EMITTED BY MODERN FERRARIS’
‘MANY CURRENT SUPERCARS ARE AS QUICK, THE MAJORITY FASTER STILL, BUT NONE CAN MATCH THE KOENIG FOR SHEER UNBRIDLED LUNACY’