Lifestyle

1996 Ferrari 456 GT Coupe


I've often told people trying to squeak into a Ferrari that if they can't afford the best example, they really can't afford an edgy one

Not since the 412's demise in 1989 had Ferrari offered a 2+2, and when the 456 GT debuted at the Paris Salon in October 1992, it was obvious that the long-awaited newcomer eclipsed all Maranello's previous four-seat Grand Tourers.

Although new from stem to stern, the 456 GT incorporated elements familiar to generations of Ferrari cognoscenti—front-mounted 4-cam V12, rear transaxle, tubular steel spaceframe chassis, and all-independent suspension—while making an appearance for the first time were electronically-controlled adaptive suspension and a 6-speed gearbox (there was also an optional automatic).

Essentially a detuned version of the engine powering the 550 and 575, the new 5.5-liter V12 unleashed no less than 442 hp. Except for the F40, the 456 was the most powerful road car developed by Ferrari up to that time.

For the 456, Pininfarina worked its magic once more to create a subtly beautiful curvaceous body contrasting with the hard edges of its predecessor. Aerodynamically efficient, the 456 remained stable up to its maximum of around 190 mph, a figure that made it the world's fastest production four-seater passenger car. Acclaimed on its debut, the 456's styling has not dated and is a tribute to Pininfarina's farsightedness in creating one of most successful designs of modern times.

Supplied new via Maranello Sales in June 1996, this rare manual transmission example has covered only 38,000 miles from new and remains in good condition throughout. The car has been in storage, unused, for the past couple years and thus we recommend a thorough service/checkover be carried out prior to use.

All handbooks are in the correct wallet, including a fully stamped service book. Ferrari 575 wheels and front disc brakes/calipers are the only notified deviations from factory specification.

The SCM Analysis

This car sold for $66,326 at Bonhams's Goodwood Festival of Speed auction on July 11, 2008.

The 456 was Ferrari's attempt to make a car that was "different from the other cars in all aspects by synthesizing the performance and driving pleasure of a sports car with the comfort and space of a gran turismo." That was a lofty goal and one that could only be achieved by small increments of differences given the fine gran turismo offerings from the competition. Ferrari's ultimate talent is its ability to exploit small increment improvements to make a truly superior car, and in that regard the 456 is a success.

The silhouette of the 456 is a masterpiece of Pininfarina design. It is a perfect balance of aggressiveness and elegance. The proportions are large enough to say, "I'm a grown man's car," but compact enough to be sporty. It is a hallmark of highline Ferraris that every centimeter of the interior is covered in plush carpet or rich leather. The 456 ups the bar with a warm interior that's elegant, simple, and uniquely Italian. Complementing the appearance, the interior has all the fully adjustable, electronic, and automatic features you would expect to find on a luxury automobile.

Breaking tires loose like a muscle car

Mechanics are the heart of any Ferrari, and in this area the 456 does not disappoint. The V12's nearly 450 horsepower is impressive, but the magic is the 398 ft-lb of torque at the sweet spot of just 4,500 rpm; the 456 can break tires loose like a skinny-tired muscle car. Variable-ratio power steering, three-way adjustable suspension dampening, self-leveling rear ride height, and a speed-activated rear spoiler ensure the handling is up to the performance. In short, the 456 is one heck of a nice car.

Ferraris are a rich man's toy, and nothing demonstrates the principle like a 2+2 Ferrari. Two-plus-twos are the workhorses of the Ferrari marque. They are designed to be a practical daily driver and are often used as such. Regular use translates to higher mileage, more interior wear, more exterior damage, and in general, less care. Rich new car buyers like to drive new, flawless, low-mileage cars, so after a few chips, their 2+2 gives way to a new car.

Slightly less rich people also like flawless low-mileage cars, so the natural buyer for a used 2+2 often avoids those cars with a few road scars in favor of a new something else. This leads to massive deprecation and a chance for a simply well-off enthusiast to own a wonderful car for a fraction of its original selling price. Life couldn't be better, could it?

I've often told people trying to squeak into a Ferrari that if they can't afford the best example of the model they are looking at, then they really can't afford an edgy one. Expensive cars have expensive problems. Just because a car's depreciated 75% doesn't mean the repairs are 75% less. As a car depreciates, the cost of repairs stays the same and the chance of needing repairs goes up. Mike Sheehan's "miracle of depreciation," which makes late-model Ferraris affordable, is of course

balanced by the reality of maintenance.

The 456 drivetrain is solid and reliable, but everything else is the luck of the draw. These cars are piloted by no less than 23 Electronic Control Units, which control starting, stopping, turning, as well as most every other aspect of the car. These sophisticated low-production modules are unusually expensive and often under-engineered for the job. Diagnosis of electrical problems often requires a $20,000 computer that is almost exclusive to Ferrari dealers. Lucky owners get by with reasonable routine maintenance; unlucky owners see five-figure bills.

Don't come whining to me

Bonhams's 456 was not the kind of car you want to buy at auction, unless you've had a chance to find out more than the catalog offers. The catalog states without explanation that the car has been in storage, unused, for the past couple years. Besides the normal concerns of buying a car that has been stagnant in storage, you have to question why it was retired in the first place. This is a car that was designed for regular use. A 456 doesn't get put away for preservation or because it's become tedious to drive. They get put away because of things like the very-expensive-to-fix window problem, where the side windows no longer go up all the way and the owner gets frustrated with wind and water leaks. The catalog warns that the car should be checked over before use. In car talk that means, "Don't whine to me when you get a big bill, I warned you to have it checked out." It's a reasonable bet that the first few miles won't come cheap for the new owner.

This is an interesting car to value. The SCM Platinum database shows 2007 sales of 456 GTs from a low of $52,400 on eBay to an absurd high of $154,000 at a Monterey auction. The Bonhams car being a rare 6-speed 1996 model and an equally rare right-hand-drive model in need of service adds to the confusion. This could be a difficult car to sell on the open market, but on July 11, there were at least two people who wanted it. The result was about what I would have expected for a good left-hand-drive example at a U.S. auction, and it fell in the middle of SCM's price guide range. Given the storage and service issue, I'd call this one well sold.


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