FERRARI 550 MARANELLO REVIEW

Fancy a V12 Ferrari for BMW money? We show you how to avoid the pitfalls of buying a Ferrari 550 Maranello...

The 550 is a surprisingly compact and lithe machine, but even taller drivers should be able to fit behind the leather-stitched steering wheel with ease. The seats are firm and heavily bolstered, but the leather will have mellowed nicely by now and early cars are as comfortable as a warm bath. Unusually for a 1990s Italian car, the driving position is pretty much spot on.

There are no silly manettino traction control sub-menus on the steering wheel to navigate here. Simply twist the key, select first gear on the open-gate manual ’box, release the fly-off handbrake and ease the surprisingly manageable clutch to biting point.

Around town, a 550 is almost as docile as a Mondeo, but get onto an open road, put your foot down and brace for a relentless slug of lag-free power, accompanied by a chilling howl from the engine.

The 550 was always praised as much for its handling as its performance. It’s no Lotus Elan, but it’s as happy tackling nadgery B-roads as it is powering non-stop down to Monaco.

 

VITAL STATISTICS

1996 Ferrari 550 Maranello

Engine                                    5474cc/V12/DOHC

Power (bhp@rpm)                  485bhp@7000rpm

Torque (lb ft@rpm)                 419lb ft@5000rpm

Top speed                                199mph

0-60mph                                  4.7sec

Consumption                            16mpg

 

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

BODYWORK & CHASSIS
 

Any car that doesn’t run smoothly, feels down on power or produces unpleasant noises just isn’t worth bothering with. One known foible is when a car demonstrates low fuel pressure and/or falls onto six cylinders. Such behaviour could indicate major mechanical woes, but the inertia switch that cuts power to the fuel pumps in the event of a front-end accident can fail without warning. The switch is easy and cheap to replace.

Rust is a key concern, especially on examples with suspiciously low asking prices. Chief among the rot-spots is along the sills, where flaking paint can quickly deteriorate into bubbling metalwork that can cost thousands to rectify. Any brown staining around the stainless kick plates should increase suspicion, too. While stone chips are not necessarily a problem (these cars received anti-corrosion protection at the factory), they should start alarm bells ringing at track-day use.  

 

ENGINE

Carburettor engines were fitted with Solex units when new, but these were notorious for starting problems and many owners have replaced them with Webers. So a non-standard carburettor isn’t necessarily a warning to look for other modifications! Poor starting may also be cured relatively easily by a swap from the original specification. 

Bosch mechanical fuel injection was a feature of the six-cylinder 220SE and 300SE/SEL models. It’s pretty reliable but is not really a DIY job when it goes wrong. Getting it fixed can often prove very expensive. Some recommend retarding the ignition timing on injected engines as a safety measure now that there’s no more high-octane leaded petrol.

Bosch mechanical fuel injection was a feature of the six-cylinder 220SE and 300SE/SEL models. It’s pretty reliable but is not really a DIY job when it goes wrong. Getting it fixed can often prove very expensive. Some recommend retarding the ignition timing on injected engines as a safety measure now that there’s no more high-octane leaded petrol.

If the handling is anything other than engaging, it could be as a result of failing damper actuators – look out for a warning light illuminated on the dashboard. Having said that, there’s a known problem that extreme cold can fool the engine management system into thinking there’s a fault, so make sure you assess a given car in a warm garage. 

 

RUNNING GEAR

Beware of cars sporting performance-enhancing engine management CPUs, lowered suspension, aftermarket wheels and similar items. Increasing a 550’s power without upgrading the suspension, brakes, etc, will increase the stresses on the car, while fitting bigger wheels and/or lower profile tyres will have a detrimental effect on the handling and ride. Performance exhausts are commonplace, but you should only consider cars that have been fitted with known brands such as TubiStyle or Larini.

The notorious F1 ‘flappy paddle’ gearbox was only introduced on the 575, so all 550s will sport a six-speed manual ’box. First gear is notoriously tricky to engage until the oil has warmed through, but it should be fine thereafter. Beware any car that is reluctant to engage first, third or fifth gear, whose shifter rests in neutral anywhere other than the dead centre of the gate or which jumps out of gear unexpectedly.

 

BRAKES

Examine the wheels for flaking powder coating and impact damage. The wheels are porous, so failure to repair damage will result in deterioration that eventually causes the wheel balancing weights to come away. Obviously, this has a detrimental effect on handling and steering.

 

OUR VERDICT

The 550 is quite simply outstanding value for money at just £35,000 – that’s how little it currently costs for a slice of Italian V12 exotica. Admittedly the car in question (for sale on the internet) was a Cat D victim, but had apparently received nothing more than a respray. Budget another £3000 and you’ll get a slightly leggy right-hand drive car or a low-mileage left-hooker, while £40,000 willl bag you an average-miler that anyone would be proud to put on show.

Criticised at its 1996 launch for being less than pretty (although it was an oil painting compared to the preceding Testarossa-based F512M), the 550 has matured over the years into a handsome GT that, while not quite in the 365 GTB/4 Daytona’s league, harks back to its design, especially from the rear.

Then, of course, there’s the engine – 5.5-litres of glorious V12 that punches out nearly 490bhp, 
can sprint from 0-60mph in a smidgeon over 4.5 seconds and will top nearly 200mph. You can actually fit luggage into the boot too. What’s not to like?

With the possible exception of very early Aston Martin DB7s, the Ferrari 550 represents one of the best-value entries into thoroughbred supercar ownership and values are unlikely to drop any further. Buying the right car is refreshingly easy  – the 550 is unusual in that it suits practically all available exterior/interior colour combinations, and there’s only one engine/gearbox option.

 

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