Review and road test of the Ferrari 456 (1993 - 2004)
BY ANDY ENRIGHT
Amid all of the headlines commanded by newer and more raucous models in the Ferrari range, the 456 has for a number of years now, solidly campaigned as the marque's most expensive model. It would perhaps be wrong to label it the flagship model, because unlike the heady days of the seventies and eighties, it's probably the smaller V8 engined models that now act as the chief sporting and technical showcase for the Maranello concern. The Ferrari 456 has always been more reserved and sophisticated and the understated styling has dated impeccably. A used example costs less than you may expect and comes under the spotlight here.
Models Covered: (2 dr coupe 5.5 litre petrol [GT, GTA])
The Ferrari 456Gt was launched in October 1993 to a rapturous press reaction. In keeping with the company's policy of making their cars more useable, the 456 reverted to the front engined, rear-wheel drive layout popularised by the Daytona of the early seventies. In fact many of the 456's exterior styling cues could be attributed to the Daytona. With a 2+2 body type and a thundering V12 engine rather than the flat 12 units that had preceded it in the 512TR, Testarossa and BB models, the 456Gt was a more practical proposition than its immediate forebears. The unloved 412 model which shared its 2+2 configuration was never a sporting drive, it's meagre residual value proving something of an embarrassment for Ferrari.
It wasn't until the 1996 introduction of the 550 Maranello, which used the same engine but with a harder-edged setup that the true role of the 456 model was established. Instead of being an out and out flagship sports model, the 456 was instead best viewed as competition for upper range Bentleys and Aston Martins, capable of demolishing countries in hours but equally at home outside a gentleman's club or restaurant.
The 456Gt and Gta automatic version were replaced in April 1998 by the 456M GT and GTA, the 'M' standing for 'modificato'. With a restyled front grille and its twin foglamps, an under-bumper rear spoiler, resculpted seats and a revised dashboard with different instruments and a new steering wheel, the 456M took an already beautiful shape and added a touch more aggression.
What You Get
An encounter with a 456M is likely to elevate it somewhat. In return for £167,714, you get what in many esteemed critics eyes is the world's most beautiful car - past or present. Pininfarina was criticised for the shape: some say it's instantly forgettable, others that it's impact has been lessened by subsequent derivative, humbler designs from the studio such as the Peugeot 406 Coupe. Styling a car to be visually impressive is easy; creating it as a thing of beauty is much harder. Take the Ferrari F355 and 360 Modena for instance. The 360 is undoubtedly more dramatic, but the F355 is a more cohesive, beautiful design. The 456 is definitely from the F355 school of thought. Put one on a motorshow stand and everyone will stare at it. But away from the spotlight, on a crowded street or a busy highway, it fades discreetly into anonymity.
With some care you can leave it in a supermarket car park or outside an Italian restaurant. Either way, you can do so with more peace of mind than you would enjoy with cars of half the price. What on earth is the point of owning the car of your dreams if you're afraid to take it anywhere? Or indeed, if you can't share it with more than one person? In original concept, this was supposed to be a true four-seater. Apparently, there were prototypes with more than two doors. What we've ended up with however, is a 2+2 with enough space behind the front seats to carry two children or a couple of reasonably accommodating adults - provided that the journey is relatively short.
Even if you're going a bit further, you could persuade your rear seat passengers to join you. So sumptuous is the leather and so effective the air-conditioning system that it's easy to forget the lack of leg space. Thankfully, when Ferrari updated the car to modificato specification they didn't alter the awesome power output of the four-camshaft V12 5474cc engine, but improvements were introduced to make it both smoother and quieter. This is basically the same powerplant you'll also find in Ferrari's 550 Maranello - except that here it produces 'only' 436bhp instead of the sportier Maranello's 485bhp.
What to Look For
It's common knowledge that when designing the 456, one of the key philosophies behind the car was increased usage. Chief of the Maranello concern, Luca di Montezemolo, quickly figured out that the best advertisement for Ferrari reliability was for the cars to be seen out on the roads more often. Rather than massively ramp up production, the alternative route was to make the cars more practical and user friendly - in other words to get people to subject their Ferraris to daily usage without the fear of malfunction. Whilst this policy was reasonably effective for the smaller-engined models, the plutocrats who bought the 456 models rarely had any need to commute anywhere or travel long distances by road except on holidays and as such, mileages are still reasonably small on most used 456 models you'll encounter.
Despite this, the 456 has proved to be largely reliable. The V12 engine is a relatively understressed unit, and hasn't given any major problems, but check for a weeping cam cover. Minor electrical problems have been reported, with the pop-up headlamps being an area of note. This reliability means that the 456 is not one of those cars that seem to arrive on the market shortly before the warranty runs out. Look for a full main-dealer service history, check for accident damage and make sure the car is HPI clear. When you're spending these sums of money, it pays dividends to take a look at a few cars and take an expert with you.
(approx based on a 1996 456GT) Ferrari 456 spares aren't inexpensive. A pair of front brake pads for the 456GT retail at £300, whilst rear pads are £220 and a new clutch kit is around £420. Expect to pay around £275 for a new alternator. A starter motor retails at around £250, whilst a replacement headlamp is £150. If you need a new exhaust, prepare to part with £5,000, including catalysts but excluding manifolds. This is not a misprint.
On the Road
The majority of used 456 models on the market will be the earlier 456GT, a car which provides enough entertainment for most. Despite being billed as a 2+2, rear head and leg room is predictably minuscule, so it's best to use the rear seats as additional luggage stowage. Performance is predictably crushing, with a top speed of 186mph and a rest to sixty time of 5.2 seconds. The exhaust note is slightly disappointing and the engine isn't overly vocal unless stretched to explore the upper reaches of the rev band, but in a car which fulfils the touring role so well that can perhaps be excused.
Still, it is a Ferrari, and as such it should handle like one, and the 456 doesn't disappoint. It will powerslide in corners like an overgrown Mazda MX-5, and the ZF Servotronic steering system features a rack whereby the steering quickens as it moves off centre. At first it's slightly unnerving when correcting a slide, reminiscent of the electronic intervention in a Nissan Skyline, but you soon become use to it and welcome its rapid reactions.
The brakes are impressive too, big four piston callipers, ABS and a hydraulic booster to augment pedal effort and ventilated discs from the 512TR which prove very resistant to fade. Like all good big cars, the 456 has the ability to shrink-wrap itself around the driver, feeling taut and direct with none of the wallow and lurch that its hefty1700kg weight would suggest. Although the 456 assumes the role of the kindly Ferrari patriarch, make no mistake that when it comes to trade punches, it's definitely the daddy.
If you are tempted by the 456, but aren't sure whether you can justify buying one due to price, then whatever you do, don't go for a test drive. The combination of that lusty V12 engine, minimalist leather and chrome interior and the lines of what many consider to be Pininfarina's finest achievement will seduce you, siren-like onto the rocks of financial ruin. If, on the other hand, you are one of the fortunate few whose bank balance can effortlessly accommodate the not inconsequential demands running a 456 will place on it, then stop reading now, find a 456 and buy it. Regrets? Every time your garage door whirs skywards, you'll wonder how it ever took you so long to buy one. A five star recommendation from the heart, and a charitable two from the head.
Ferrari 456 (1993 - 2004) review by ANDY ENRIGHT