Giant road test Ferrari 456 GTA vs. Aston-Martin DB7, BMW 850CSi E31 and Maserati 3200GT

2016 / 2017 Drive-my.com

Ferrari 456GTA vs. GT rivals celebrating modern classics. Bargain GT greats! Next-generation classics Ferrari 456 GTA vs. Aston-Martin DB7, BMW 850CSi E31 and ­Maserati 3200. Second coming. Once the domain of only the wealthy, these GTs now offer remarkable value. Ross Alkureishi shows you how to live a jet-set lifestyle for less. Photography Tony Baker.

With many of the headlines during the 1980s and early ’90s being dominated by hot hatches, performance saloons and supercars, you could be forgiven for believing that the GT scene ended with the Daytona, Ghibli et al. Yet, at this most discerning end of the market, the biggest marques continued to do battle, their targets remaining the same – the supremely well-off who sought cars that would ferry them huge distances at über-high speeds, and all in the best possible taste. But if limousines were too regal and high-end saloons a touch soft, it had to be a sporting coupé. Where to turn, though?

Aston Martin and Maserati were running on fumes in terms of cachet, Ferrari had for too long focused on mid-engined madness and most German offerings were simply too neue klasse.

Ferrari 456 GTA vs. Aston-Martin DB7, BMW 850CSi E31 and Maserati 3200GT - driven

Thank goodness, then, for the 1990s and its fresh wave of technology-laden offerings. Whether you have £10,000 or £100,000, your tastes are Italian, German or stiff upper lip, our selection of Gran Turismos from that decade now offers temptation by the bucketload. Striking designs, ultra-high performance and ludicrous levels of comfort – all at a fraction of the list price. Let battle commence…


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Aston Martin DB7

Clockwise: Callum’s styling has aged well, and the DB7 still turns heads; cabin is a little cramped but luxuriously appointed; supercharged straight-six.

PRICE NEW £78,500

PRICE NOW £20-35k


The DB7 has done its time in the ‘old Aston’ wastelands, and is most definitely on the up. It would have happened even if you put aside its lithe Ian Callum-penned lines – the once-shunned DBS returned to favour, after all – but bring them back into play, and oh my…

 

Aston-Martin DB7 automatic

Aston Martin DB7 road test R47 HKO / UK


After the visual brutality of the V8 years, the model revisited the glory days of the company’s svelte DBs of the 1950s and ’60s. In 1994, Motor Sport stated that: ‘There are few, if any, cars that would pip the Aston in a beauty contest.’ Today, that still holds true. The Maserati 3200 arrived five years later and, of the two, the DB7 is the original comeback pin-up. It’s the model that saved the marque, propelling it towards the new century and kicking the previous decades’ financial struggles firmly into touch.

Today, it still mesmerises. Its sinuous front end evokes its Superleggera ancestors, and even if the rear – complete with Mazda 323F taillights – is somewhat less well resolved, all its other glorious lines permit forgiveness.

The cabin is finished in traditional burr walnut, Connolly hide and Wilton carpets – exactly what the first owner would have expected of a car costing £78,500. Jaguar XJS underpinnings ensure that it’s snug, but in a cosseting rather than claustrophobic manner.

Firing up the engine doesn’t elicit the same sense of aural theatre as our Italian duo, but the Tom Walkinshaw Racing 3.2-litre unit is yet another nod to its DB forefathers. True gentlemen drive a straight-six, albeit one now equipped with an Eaton M90 supercharger.

It’s this that ensures instantaneous throttle response. The 360lb ft of torque is delivered progressively, and with a titillating whine from the blower; it’s never intrusive, but it’s certainly gratifying as peak power feeds in at 5500rpm.

The steering isn’t over-assisted and the brakes offer sturdy levels of stopping power. The fourspeed auto shifts smoothly but knocks a little bit off the car’s sporting image, as does a ride that’s generally obedient and happy on B-roads until pushed into overly spirited territory. But on straights it remains a supremely relaxing tourer.

By the time the V12 Vantage superseded it in 1999, the DB7 had become Aston’s best-selling model ever. Its big brother would eventually snatch that title, which means that the ‘six’ is now rarer – as well as being cheaper to run.

It also offers an excellent-value entry point into the world of Aston Martin, something that now barely exists in Ferrari terms. And while it’ll require marque-appropriate levels of care and expenditure, each drive – and backward glance – will remind you exactly why you bought it.


TECHNICAL DATA Aston Martin DB7

Sold/no built 1993-1999/2449

Engine all-alloy, dohc, supercharged 3236cc ‘six’; 335bhp @ 5500rpm; 360lb ft @ 3000rpm

Transmission four-speed automatic, RWD

Suspension independent, by wishbones, coils, anti-roll bar, telescopic dampers rear longitudinal control arms

Steering power-assisted rack and pinion

Brakes ventilated discs

Weight 3794lb (1725kg)

0-60mph 5.8 secs

Top speed 165mph


WHAT TO LOOK FOR

1 Radius-arm mountings and rear jacking points are particularly prone to rot.

2 Leaking or burst air-conditioning evaporator units are rare but expensive to fix. Budget £3000 because the entire dashboard needs to come out.

3 Dashboard shrinkage is easily missed, but it causes the leather to come away at the front. A competent trimmer can replace it, but it’ll cost around £2000.


Thanks to Aston Martin Owners’ Club (www.amoc.org); Chris Done; Chris Fendt.

 

Maserati 3200GT

Clockwise: muscular profile reflects the Maserati’s forceful nature; leather trim abounds in fine cabin; V8 engine is equipped with twin turbos.

PRICE NEW £62,950

PRICE NOW £12-20k


Feral. That’s the only word to describe the 3200 – in Sport mode, anyway. Flick it off and it becomes, well, slightly less feral. That’s not meant as an insult – it perfectly suits my tastes – but climb into this after the DB7 and you might think that the GT world had gone barking.

Maserati 3200GT

Maserati 3200GT road test W116 VLC / UK


You’d be right, too, for this is an aggravated hornet of a car – ideal for relaunching a brand that was on its knees. Fiat’s 1993 buyout of de Tomaso’s controlling stake meant that Maserati came under the Turin-based behemoth’s considerable umbrella. Suddenly, unheard-of funds were ploughed into the marque’s revival. Perversely, at the head of this renaissance sat one-time rival Ferrari – surely sending the spirits of the Maserati brothers and Adolfo Orsi Snr into a spin.

The new pretender’s clothes – by Giugiaro’s Italdesign – lend it a bewitching presence. Cowled headlamps at the front give it a noticeable resemblance to the DB7, but with sweeping swage line, hunched shoulders and truncated tail, it has an altogether more aggressive stance.

Despite visual sorcery making it appear by some margin the most compact of our cars – it is, but by only 4in – it shares with the 456 the honour of having the most usable cabin because the rear will accommodate two semi-tall adults. In terms of finish, too, it’s a match for the Ferrari, with soft leather abounding, and incredibly supportive electric sports seats.

The twin-turbo V8 makes its character known from start-up; blip the throttle and it spins like a wind turbine in a force 10 gale. On the hoof, it’s fierce. The fly-by-wire throttle takes a bit of getting used to, as you swing wildly between allout attack – turbos whistling, quad exhausts blaring – and timidly caressing the accelerator.

Find the middle ground and you can revel in shattering performance. It’s a higher-energy drive than the other three, but feels much more at home in non-linear environments. The steering could do with a bit more feel but enter a bend at pace and it tracks faithfully. Even with the traction control on, its rear end will come unstuck, warning you as you approach its limits.

The automatic transmission doesn’t take any serious edge off the performance, and you’re barely aware of it shifting cogs. While the volatile drive stirs your blood, the suspension is reasonably comfortable and huge Brembo calipers allow you to speedily rein matters in.

Later 3200s dialled-down the hair-trigger throttle, but the original still delivers an exquisite punch. If you like to ramp it up from spirited to bonkers, then this is the car for you: £20k for the very best examples is verging on the criminal.


TECHNICAL DATA Maserati 3200GT

Sold/no built 1998-2001/4795

Engine all-alloy, dohc-per-bank 3217cc V8, twin turbos; 370bhp @ 6520rpm; 362lb ft @ 4500rpm

Transmission four-speed automatic, RWD

Suspension independent by double wishbones, coils, anti-roll bars and adaptive damping

Steering power-assisted rack and pinion

Brakes ventilated discs

Weight 3571lb (1620kg)

0-60mph 5.5 secs

Top speed 168mph


WHAT TO LOOK FOR

1 Carbon tracks within the throttle bodies can wear, causing engine-management issues. Replacement with original parts costs £2500-plus, but an upgraded rebuild can be done for as little as £400.

2 Wishbones are prone to cracking. Budget £800 per replacement arm, of which there are eight.

3 Front lower ball-joints are a weak spot and cost £800 per side to replace


Thanks to The Maserati Club (www.maseraticlub.co.uk); John Lambden

 

BMW 850CSi E31 8-Series

Clockwise: BMW features understated styling; the interior is festooned with switches and seems more ’80s than ’90s; mighty V12 overcomes car’s weight.

PRICE NEW £77,500

PRICE NOW £7-35k


Presented at the 1989 Frankfurt International Motor Show, the new BMW 8 Series looked sharp and fresh – like the love child of a Ferrari and an M635CSi. And yet it went out of fashion quicker than a Global Technacolour T-shirt.

BMW 850CSi E31 8-Series

BMW 850CSi E31 8-Series road test M24 OKK / UK


As much as I desperately want one, the fear factor of all that technological jiggery-pokery malfunctioning kicks in. For the CSi, the M70 engine was bored out to 5576cc, and so comprehensive was the work carried out on it that the powerplant received a new S70 designation.

There were stronger front hubs, stiffer dampers and shorter springs for the suspension, plus a six-speed manual Getrag gearbox. The showpiece, however, was the new hydraulic four-wheel steering system that enabled the rear wheels to respond to the car’s speed and steering angle to turn in the same direction.

The BMW has a gloriously louche pillarless profile and, save for a front air-dam, a rear skirt with diffuser and a ‘Powered by M’ logo on the engine, there’s little to identify it as a product of that exalted department. Inside, it’s similarly discreet. Other than the badges on the gearstick and steering wheel, plus special red instrument needles, it all appears relatively standard.

Here, ‘standard’ means three words: techno, techno, techno. Seriously, there are switches everywhere, and I’d need at least two days with the manual to be au fait with all of them.

Slot the meaty gearlever into first, and throttle down elicits an explosion of torque from the V12. At a lardy 1975kg, the BMW is the slowest of our quartet in the 0-60mph sprint, but impressively by only 0.1 secs. Even in Sport mode – with its more aggressive throttle settings – it’s a velvety smooth experience. The disparity between the sledgehammer performance and the tranquil cabin is astounding.

The high-geared steering ensures that it remains surprisingly manoeuvrable at low speeds. In the bends, meanwhile, the four-wheel steering and ASC+T (Automatic Stability Control + Traction) enable this brute to handle better than it has any right to. With that heavy lump up front, it lacks the inherent balance of the Ferrari, but you can have some serious fun.

The front will loosen only gradually, enabling you to use the rear to steer and power through. It’s a shame that Munich never developed the M8 further than a 550bhp prototype, but tough market conditions ensured that it remained stillborn.

Yet, to those in the know, the 850CSi remains an M car in all but name. If you wish to conquer continents in a single sitting, then this potent BMW is the car for you. Your most difficult task will be finding a good one.


TECHNICAL DATA BMW 850CSi E31 8-Series

Sold/no built 1992-1995/1510

Engine all-alloy, sohc-per-bank 5576cc V12; 372bhp @ 5300rpm; 402lb ft @ 4000rpm

Transmission six-speed manual, RWD

Suspension independent, at front by MacPherson struts rear multi-link; coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bars

Steering powered recirculating ball

Brakes all discs

Weight 4354lb (1975kg)

0-60mph 5.9 secs

Top speed 155mph


WHAT TO LOOK FOR

1 Check front and rear arches, inner sills and the tyre well in the boot for rust

2 Ensuring that the hydraulic rear-wheel steering system is working is a must. Many of the parts are no longer available and the cost of repairs can be prohibitive

3 There’s a huge amount of electronics on the car, so make sure that each and every button functions as it should.


Thanks to The BMW Car Club (www.bmwcarclub.uk); Steve Carter, Steve Hamblyn

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Ferrari 456GTA

Clockwise: the pretty 456 is free of the later 550’s fussy styling details; interior is nicely finished but lacks sparkle; glorious V12 is a tour de force.

PRICE NEW £146,500

PRICE NOW £40-75k


Car makers have always raided their back catalogues for inspiration. The surprise is that it took Ferrari so long to rustle up a spiritual successor to its Daytona ( Giant road test 1993 Ferrari 456 GT vs. 1973 Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona / and single 1973 Daytona road test). Launched at the 1992 Paris Salon, the 456 offered a return to a more conventional set-up with big V12 up front, driving the rear wheels via a transaxle.

Ferrari 456GTA

Ferrari 456GTA road test W314 UJM / UK


With a long bonnet, pop-up headlamps and quad tail-lights, the comparisons with its predecessor were more than just mechanical. The UK list price for this, the most expensive Ferrari ever at the time, came in at £146,000 – more than twice the price of the Maserati when new. The 456 remains the most expensive of our selection, too – sadly, the days of a very good £30,000 example are more than a few years past.

Its Pininfarina lines do a good job of hiding the 456’s bulk, but dare I say that it looks a tad ungainly beside the 3200 and DB7? And less imposing – certainly from the rear – than the BMW. It sounds as if I’m being harsh on the 456, but I like my cars hardcore and this is just so easy to drive. The V12 is such an under-stressed unit that at town speeds it sits barely above idle, with just a continuous low-level growl reminding you of what’s up front. The variable-assistance steering is light, the changes in the automatic gearbox almost imperceptible, and the suspension soaks up ruts and imperfections with aplomb. Find an empty road and nail the throttle, though, and the big beast goes through a transformation.

Its 442bhp and 406lb ft of torque bellow it forward with a pace that seriously belies its weight. Never mind Prancing Horse, it has shire-horse power delivered with the efficiency of a thoroughbred, and trounces our other contenders in the performance stats.

In fact, because of its impeccable manners, it’s easy to find yourself fast approaching your first corner at an altogether inappropriate speed.

This prompts a sharp stab of the anchors to rectify, and a serious note to self for future reference. Bring matters back within limits and it displays mammoth levels of grip.

On our test track at 80mph, the engine barely needs to try, spinning at 2500rpm. It devours the miles, but only really tickles your whistle above 5500rpm. It can feel a bit uninvolving at lower speeds, but knocking the gearlever out of ‘D’ and down into ‘3’ or ‘2’ brings the big lump right on cam, sharpening things noticeably.

Find a road long enough and with a highenough speed limit, then, and you’ll be able to enjoy its stratospheric levels of performance.

Yet, despite its higher price, it’s probably the best one to plough your money into. If you want discretion, this is as close as a Ferrari comes.


TECHNICAL DATA Ferrari 456GTA

Sold/no built 1993-1997/1936

Engine all-alloy, dohc-per-bank 5474cc V12; 442bhp @ 6250rpm; 406lb ft @ 4500rpm 

Transmission four-speed automatic, RWD

Suspension independent by unequal-length wishbones rear self-levelling; coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bars

Steering power-assisted rack and pinion

Weight 3726lb (1690kg)

0-60mph 5.1 secs

Top speed 187mph


WHAT TO LOOK FOR

1 Service history is key: check what’s been done, when and by whom.

2 The self-levelling rear suspension can leak. Budget £850 per side for a reconditioned unit, supplied and fitted by an independent specialist.

3 Electric windows go out of adjustment, requiring fettling or a replacement mechanism at a cost of between £250-£1000 per side.


Thanks to Mike Wheeler at Rardley Motors (www.rardleymotors.co)

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