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Legendary Michael Schumacher is said to have helped develop this car while Ferrari president Luca Montezemolo put the case for its role reversal in design saying that mid-engine supercars had had their day. They lacked practicality and civility, he claimed; the front-engined 550 range addressed all this plus was easier, for folks with less than Schumacher’s skill, to drive fast but safely. And the was proven right.
Colin Chapman’s maxim was to ‘just add lightness’, but to create a great driver’s car (irrespective where the engine is plonked) you don’t always have to pare the weight to the bone, and nowhere is this more evident than with the Ferrari 550 and 575. Large and relatively heavy, these powerful front-engined coupés appear to beat the laws of physics with their huge performance and fabulous handling, despite a kerb weight of around 1700kg.
‘Ferrari builds brilliant driver’s car’ should hardly come as a great shock, but it’s not until you experience a 550 or 575 that you realise just how impressive the feat is. Both cars are incredibly fast but they’re also fabulous to drive with delicious steering, superb balance and mountains of accessible torque courtesy of a free-revving all-alloy V12. Yet despite such epic performance these coupés are beautiful and understated with their Coke bottle curves, and at the moment they’re a performance car bargain.
Sure, you need deep pockets to buy as well as to run a 550 or 575 (or any Ferrari really-ed), but these cars are still incredible value right now and already prices are starting to rise. Give it another five years and you’ll look realise what a steal these GTs currently are.
1996 The 550 Maranello replaces the Testarossa-derived F512M. It’s powered by a 485bhp 5474cc V12, driving the rear wheels via a six-speed manual gearbox. With 419lb ft of torque on tap the car can sprint from a standstill to 62mph (100kph) in just 4.3 seconds on its way to a top speed of 199mph.
The suspension is by unequal-length double wishbones front and rear with two settings for the dampers: Sport and Normal. When the suspension is adjusted, the switch also controls the traction control which, incidentally, has the same two modes.
2000 An open-topped 550 Barchetta is introduced; 448 are made, of which 45 are right-hand drive. The car is created to mark 70 years of Pininfarina and 50 years of the design house collaborating with Ferrari. Included with the car is a pair of open-faced helmets and two 550 Barchetta Pininfarina caps, so make sure these extras come with the car.
The Barchetta shares the regular 550’s running gear but its top speed is capped at 186mph. The only weather protection is courtesy of a flimsy cover that’s suitable for use up to 70mph. Available in yellow, red, blue or black, options include four-point harnesses, a Fiorano handling pack and a fitted luggage set.
2000 In October 1998 Ferrari sent a lightly modified 550M to a 12-kilometre oval test track in Columbus, Ohio and set three new world records: 100 miles at an average speed of 190.2mph; one hour at an average speed of 184mph and 100 kilometres at 188.9mph. To celebrate these records Ferrari built 33 road-going 550s to the exact specification of that record-setting car; 10 of these were right-hand drive.
The differences over the standard car were the Fiorano handling pack, leather-trimmed roll cage, suede-covered steering wheel, and carbon bucket seats with Daytona stitching and race harnesses. Other changes included the fitment of Scuderia wing shields, a sports exhaust, red brake callipers, Bordeaux carpets and a ‘WSR’ plaque.
2002 The 575 Modificato supersedes the 550 Maranello. There’s now a 5.7-litre V12, and adaptive dampers for better body control without sacrificing the ride. The driver can still select between Sport and Normal modes. The interior is refreshed and Ferrari’s F1 semiautomatic transmission is now available; the first time with a road-going V12 model. The bigger engine now packs a 515bhp punch and there’s a hefty 434lb ft of torque; the top speed rises to 202mph while the 0-62mph sprint time is cut to 4.2 seconds.
There’s a raft of other updates too, including improved aerodynamics (in part through the adoption of redesigned undertrays), a redesigned dash and new seats with six-way electric adjustment.
2005 The open-topped 575 Superamerica appears, just 559 of which are made, 43 of which feature a manual gearbox. The roof treatment is completely different from the 550 Barchetta as there’s a glass roof which rotates through 180 degrees to lie flush with the rear deck, opening up the cabin in the process. Dropped in 2006, after an impressive 2056 575s were made, the majority being left-hand drive.
DRIVING AND PRESS COMMENTS
When Evo magazine set out to establish the greatest driver’s car of the 10 years up to 2004, it pitched such icons as the Porsche 911 996 GT3, Pagani Zonda C12S, Honda NSX-R and Lotus Elise 135 against each other. Also in there were the Renault Clio Williams, Subaru Impreza P1– and Ferrari’s 550 Maranello. All brilliant driving machines, but it was the Ferrari that clinched it because it offers such massive, effortless, easily accessible performance.
Evo’s Richard Meaden wrote: “It has so much presence and charisma without resorting to shock tactics. It’s the epitome of what a big, potent GT should be. You simply get in and drive. As with all great cars there’s no one facet that dominates the experience. Yes the engine is mighty but the chassis is its equal.
“Unlike with the 575, you never get the impression the chassis and engine are locked in combat. Nor do you ever feel intimidated by the performance. It’s one of the few cars at this level where you’re happy to switch off the traction control and drive by the seat of your pants. There’s never been a supercar that’s so exploitable and rounded in its abilities. And to think you’d pay £70,000 for one now”.
Evo’s Jethro Bovingdon fully agreed: “I couldn’t believe it could be as driveable as people said, but I was wrong. Within a few hundred yards I felt completely at one with it. Ferrari’s achievement with the 550 is probably unparalleled in this test: to get a 1700kg coupé to handle, stop, and steer like this is a kind of magic”.
Meaden was among the first to drive the 575M when it was launched in 2002. The conditions were challenging which meant there was only so much high-speed driving he could achieve, but he was impressed all the same. He wrote: “Despite the filthy conditions there’s already a clear difference in feel between the 575M and 550, the new car reacting with more immediacy and a feeling of less inertia. It feels lighter on its springs when driven hard into compressions, and less prone to the 550’s habit of running out of body control when confronted with a series of awkwardly spaced crests and troughs. There’s still a lot of momentum at work, and you can still drive the Maranello hard into its bump stops, but the 575’s adaptive dampers feel better able to keep the mass in check”.
VALUES AND MARKETPLACE
The usual rules apply at this end of the market; only buy a Ferrari that comes with a full service history, with the work done by a recognised specialist. Also make sure there’s plenty of evidence of cash having been lavished on any potential purchase; these cars cost plenty to maintain, so anything run on a shoestring will be a liability. Analyse the service book carefully; check that the chassis number in it is the same as the one on the car and that the details of the supplying dealer are presented on the first page.
Also get the car inspected by a Ferrari specialist before buying – don’t use a general car inspection service.
In terms of which model to go for, don’t assume the 575M is better than the 550M just because it’s newer. Some owners reckon the earlier car is the most engaging to drive, and the two differ by more than you’d think. Perceived wisdom says you should buy a car with the Fiorano handling pack which stiffens and lowers the suspension (by 10mm), plus it has a thicker anti-roll bar.
However, Mike Wheeler of Rardley Motors isn’t convinced. He told Classic Motoring: “The earliest cars were a bit soft but Ferrari quickly stiffened things up. Any car that’s in good condition will handle superbly, with or without the Fiorano pack. I’ve known of owners claim their car has this pack fitted and they say what a difference it makes to the handling – when the car has standard suspension. It makes a big difference how you drive the car, but for most people the Fiorano pack is unnecessary”.
Many 550 and 575 owners don’t buy to use – they’re buying to invest. In this case a Fiorano pack might be seen as essential as any 550 or 575 without one might be seen as a lesser car, and collectors usually want only the ultimate. But if you’re buying to use, don’t get too hung up on buying a Fiorano-equipped car. Incidentally, some owners think that their car has a Fiorano pack because it has red callipers, but these were available as an extra-cost option on their own.
While all 550s came with a six-speed manual gearbox, the 575 introduced the option of an F1 transmission. It’s effectively a clutchless manual so there’s no torque converter and when hooked up to the torquey V12 it’s a brilliant transmission – arguably more accomplished than when mated to the V8 in a F355.
Says Wheeler: “The 575’s fly-by-wire throttle makes a difference as it’s more integrated; on the 355 there’s a traditional throttle cable so it’s effectively a partanalogue, part-digital system. On the 575 it’s fully digital so it works really well, which is why the F1 has gained quite a following among 575 buyers in recent years.
However, the manual gearbox is much rarer with just 69 built compared with 182 F1s. As a result the manual gearbox currently carries a big premium but I think the F1 will become more sought after in time, as younger buyers snap them up – buyers who are used to two pedals rather than three”.
Buying a left-hand drive car might save you money, but there’s an international market for these cars, with buyers happy to shop anywhere in the world for one. As a result, some LHD cars are cheaper in the UK as buyers here prefer RHD, but European buyers won’t think twice about shopping in the UK if the price is right. The only thing that’ll scupper a sale is fluctuating exchange rates.
Mike Wheeler adds: “Far more 550s and 575s have the steering wheel on the left rather than the right and as a result there’s a much bigger pool of cars to choose from in Europe.
“As a result it can be worth buying from there; I’ve seen some superb cars for sale across the Channel and with the internet it’s easy to see what’s for sale anywhere in the world. The biggest problem with buying overseas is tracing the car’s history as there’s no HPI equivalent in Europe”.
On that note, just 467 right-hand drive 550s were made including the 10 World Speed Record cars. On top of this there were 42 RHD 550 Barchettas. This compares with 61 Superamericas, just five of which got a manual gearbox.
According to Mike Wheeler, you’ll pay at least £80,000 for a right-hand drive 550M worth having with the very best cars ticketed for up to £150,000 – or maybe £160,000 if you can track down one of the World Speed Record cars. This compares with an entry-level price of around £75,000 for a good 575, rising to £120,000 for a truly superb car equipped with the popular F1 transmission. Conversely if you can find a superb 575 with a manual gearbox you’ll pay up to £150,000 for the honour of ownership.
Open-topped cars come up for sale only very occasionally and they’re only really bought by collectors which is why few of them have covered a significant mileage. Right-hand drive cars carry a premium while mileage also makes a big difference to the value. As a result there’s a wide spread of values for the 550 Barchetta, which run from £250,000 up to £400,000, while the 575 Superamerica isn’t quite so valuable; you’ll pay anywhere between £225,000 and £350,000 for a good one.
Colours and specifications can also affect a Ferrari’s worth – or simply make it easier or more difficult to sell. Says Wheeler: “Buyers want their Ferraris in strong colours such as metallic blue or green, or red (predictably). There are quite a few silver and gunmetal cars around but they tend to be less sought after.
“A contrasting colour for the interior always goes down well. Some buyers get unnecessarily hung up on options but in standard form the car is superb – which is why modified cars are generally best avoided. A sports exhaust can be worthwhile but you have to be careful buying a 550 or 575 that’s been altered, especially if the suspension has been modified. If you do buy a modified car make sure those changes are reversible”.
Not good enough for you straight out of the box? When it comes to the 550 and 575’s running gear, most owners are of the view that the factory-set-up is best by far.
That said, some changes might be worthwhile if you need to have your car set up more for your own style of driving, especially if you’re going to undertake track days. The key thing with any upgrades is to only work with people who really know what they’re doing. For example, it’s possible to fit all sorts of aftermarket suspension parts, many of which are adjustable – but if whoever fits them doesn’t know how to set everything up properly you’ll be left wishing you’d kept everything standard. Ohlins, for instance, produces adjustable coilover kits but if not set up properly you’ll wish you’d never bothered. However, set up correctly they can transform your Ferrari’s dynamics, so don’t dismiss the idea altogether.
Perhaps the most popular mod is to fit a sports exhaust, but the quality of these is variable, some produce lots of booming which makes it unbearable on a long journey.
Rarer than you might think and already some cars are quite tatty and/or neglected, so really excellent examples can be hard to find. Mike Wheeler compares them with the Daytona, and with some justification as the configuration is the same. While build quality is good, it’s not up to BMW or Merc levels so you need to be careful when buying – get the car inspected by an expert and go through the paperwork with a fine toothcomb. Running costs are necessarily high, care of expensive parts, but buy a good 550 or 575 and look after it, and the steady rise in values over the coming years should more than offset the running costs.
1 Best model? 550 World Speed Record
2 Worst model Anything with a patchy history or unverified mileage
3 Budget buy 575 F1
4 OK for unleaded? Yes – but use superunleaded
5 Will it fit your garage? L4550 x W1935mm
6 Spares situation Good, but some tyres and ECUs are scarce
7 DIY ease? Basic servicing is fine; leave the rest to specialists
8 Club support No, but there are plenty of specialists
9 Appreciating asset? Going up
GOOD BUY OR GOOD-BYE?
A modern-day Daytona – at a fraction of the cost
WHAT TO LOOK FOR GENERAL
1 A service history is paramount so check for missing entries. As you’d expect, tlc doesn’t come cheap. Graypaul, for example, asks £750 for basic pitstop with a major bi-annual service, excluding spark plugs but there a fine specialist support from the likes of Herts-based Superformance (see adverts).
2 Further good news is that Ferrari’s revamped mechanical warranty programme now covers cars up to 15 years old. ‘New Power15’ costs £3120 annually, but the cost comes down by 15 per cent the next year if a claim hasn’t been made. Well worth thinking about given the cost of many repairs.
3 Becker Stereo units were standard, but many of these have since been swapped for an aftermarket unit. If this is the case take a close look at the state of the leather that surrounds the radio console, as it’s easily damaged.
4 Air bag covers can shrink but it’s possible to recover them. This must be done correctly though because the original one is scored in the back so the airbag can burst through; it must also be marked ‘Airbag’. It doesn’t always need to be recovered either; sometimes softening the cover and rebonding it is all that’s needed to tidy the panel up.
5 Dashboards can shrink (apparently due to the glue used at the time!) so look around the edges of the dash where it disappears around the outer edge. If you can see staples it has shrunk quite badly and this can’t be patched up so it’ll need to be recovered.
6 The heater control panel can become bubbly as they get older, but replacement overlays are available and they’re not very expensive. The heater’s twist knob coating can go sticky due to age or heat from direct sunlight, but this can only be stripped off and recoated.
7 Accessories should include a tyre inflator (in a pack), tool kit, spare keys and three fobs, of which two should be black and one red. It’s not unusual for the spare fobs to be missing as they get misplaced, but as long as you have either the red fob or the alarm slip in the history you can get additional fobs programmed via an official Ferrari dealer.
“For its size and weight, Ferrari did a magnificent job of making this GT perform like a sports car”
Heroic V12 holds no big nasties if it’s serviced right; check the car’s history. Some owners fit louder, brasher exhausts but it spoils this GT’s cruising gait
WHAT TO LOOK FOR BODY AND CHASSIS
1 Unlike early models, Ferrari did a pretty good job when it came to rustproofing the bodywork and as most of these cars lead pampered lives, any signs of corrosion are highly unlikely. If you discover any then find another car.
2 Things are helped by most of the outer panels being made of aluminium, but this presents problems of its own as paint adhesion can be a problem. It’s not a big issue though – there may just be signs of bubbling here and there, so make sure you spot it and haggle accordingly.
3 While corrosion shouldn’t be an issue, crash damage may well be. This is why an expert inspection by a good Ferrari expert is almost essential (and why we’d always buy from one), although just analysing the tightness and evenness of the panel gaps is a good start. Also check for any rippling in the boot floor and inner wings. As with rusting issues, if you find anything then walk away.
4 Watch out for windscreen cracks; a new screen is extremely expensive but in most cases you’ll be claiming on your insurance to replace it. Also check the door and window seals for perishing as new ones are costly.
5 Undertrays must be securely attached or they get pulled down at speed and break at the front as a result. A lot of undertrays are damaged by dealers who cut the louvres out so that they don’t have to remove the whole front undertray to drain oils; removing the undertray takes just a few minutes.
Great looking, sun seeking Barchettas are sought after and rarely come on the open market.
The front-engined 550 and 575 are every bit as involving as a mid-engined Ferrari and a lot friendlier to handle; still best as a trans continental mile muncher though.
There are dedicated Ferrari racing championships if you fancy having a go…
Left: All this should be there; manual ’boxes (right) rare finds: £3000 for new clutch!
WHAT TO LOOK FOR RUNNING GEAR
1 All 550s came with a six-speed manual gearbox which is strong, but some pre-1998 cars can suffer from tricky engagement of first, third and fifth. It’s because of iffy baulk rings so you really need to ensure a rebuild isn’t due because – predictably – these don’t come cheap while parts for 550s are now said to be nigh on unavailable.
2 Clutches harden with age, while release bearings can seize up through a lack of use, leading to a very heavy pedal. A new three-piece clutch kit is expensive… If you get change from three grand buy yourself a drink…
3 The majority of 575s were supplied with an F1 automated manual gearbox which works well and is reliable. Some potential buyers are put off by the perceived lack of reliability but it’s no worse than for the manual. The F1’s clutch pack doesn’t wear any faster than the manual car’s does; as always it’s down to how the car is driven.
4 Steering racks can suffer from leaks although it’s not a widespread problem. They can wear out in as little as 30,000 miles – or they can last much longer – so check for excessive play either side of centre which points to a replacement being due soon.
5 The power steering reservoir also tends to leak onto the top and bottom inner wishbone bushes, causing them to perish.
6 Watch for broken springs, leading to the car sitting low on one corner. The adjustable dampers are very expensive so check for leaks; also ensure they work properly. They tend to get left in the same mode all of the time, then when this is altered something fails.
7 Suspension bushes need to be replaced periodically if the car’s handling isn’t to become vague. They won’t all need to be replaced at once.
8 But if there’s a metallic rattling sound as the car is driven over bumps then it’s because the bushes in the upper wishbones are in need of replacement. Dampers are £1500 a corner if they’re past it although original maker, Bilstein, can recondition them for a third of the cost.
9 Magnesium wheels were fitted between 1997 and 1999. These feature hollow spokes and absorb water when the powder coating gets damaged, which leads to them cracking around the bolt holes.
10 An official recall led to all of these magnesium wheels being replaced with aluminium items which are much stronger – they also feature solid spokes.
11 The magnesium wheels were made by Speedline so look for an SL marking on the back of one of the spokes; the aluminium wheels are made by BBS. The Speedline wheels still crop up for sale and some cars still feature them, but you really want the BBS wheels for obvious reasons. It goes without saying that you don’t want to see kerbing damage.
12 These cars are heavy which takes its toll on the tyres, especially if driven with any verve. They’re most likely to wear on their inside edges first because of the negative camber dialled in. They’re best replaced in pairs and you need to stick with premium brands which only bumps up the cost.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR ENGINE
1 The V12 that powers all 550s and later 575s is a tremendous unit but it needs plenty of maintenance and is far from infallible. The cam belts should be replaced every three years, although the 575 stretches this to five years.
2 The problem isn’t so much the belt breaking as the tensioner bearing seizing through a lack of use. As a result, if the engine is started regularly to keep everything turning, a car that covers few miles each year should be able to go to four or five years between belt changes. Having said this, it’s not a particularly expensive job (Rardley charges in the region of £2000, for example), so a car that’s had them done every three years or so regardless is likely to have been cherished.
3 Oil leaks aren’t unusual and they need swift attention. The most common issue is with the camshaft oil seals. If not sorted quickly the oil will get onto the timing belt which only bumps up the bill even further.
4 The coolant hoses in the middle of the V tend to perish from the heat, then they split. More durable silicone replacements are available and a replacement set isn’t too costly, but replacing them all can easily take a day because of poor access.
5 The radiator neck can crack through constant heating and cooling, and if not caught in time it’ll lead to the engine overheating. Radiators corrode then leak, once again leading to overheating. Predictably, the cost of fixing a cooked engine is extremely high.
6 Any vibration at idle which disappears when the engine is revved is likely to be worn engine mountings. This is more likely on a 550 as 575 mounts are stronger, so fit these as a matter of course come replacement time.
7 If there’s any hint of misfiring then it’s highly probably because the HT leads are on their way out. Don’t dismiss this expenditure too lightly; a fresh set costs the thick end of £1000, not least of all because there are 12 cylinders to cater for…
Interior is plush (watch dash tops); beware of suspension mods; check authenticity.
THREE OF A KIND
ASTON MARTIN VANQUISH As a front-engined supercar with a V12 engine, the Vanquish is arguably the Ferrari’s closest rival. First seen in 2001 with a 460bhp 5935cc powerplant, the Aston could manage 190mph, but by the time the 520bhp Vanquish S arrived in 2004 the top speed has jumped to a nice round 200mph. With its cuttingedge construction the Vanquish is fabulous to drive, while prices are comparable with the Ferrari’s.
BENTLEY CONTINENTAL GT On paper the Bentley is a direct rival to the Ferrari with its front-mounted 12-cylinder engine, but it’s more of a grand tourer even though it’s searingly fast. Available in open (GTC) or closed (GT) forms, the Continental can do almost 200mph while cossetting its occupants. While you can buy a Bentley for a lot, lot less than the Ferrari it will cost you elsewhere and there are also a lot more neglected examples out there, so be careful.
PORSCHE 911 TURBO (996) It may have only half as many cylinders as the Ferrari, but don’t let that put you off; a generous displacement and forced induction mean the 911 is stupendously quick. It’s also relatively usable and fabulously built and because this generation of 911 is the current runt of the litter (as the first of the water-cooled models), it’s currently extremely good value. But prices are rising – and they’ll go much further…