I once heard a Ferrari specialist proclaim that the 456 would never become a classic. Now, I’m no longer convinced.
Truth be told, the much younger me was also rather disappointed with the Ferrari 456 when it was introduced back in 1992. To my eyes, it very much resembled a Toyota Supra. And I wasn’t alone in my critique of the new 2+2 GT from Modena either, as both press and laymen expressed similar views. If being diplomatic about it, many agreed that it was a very restrained and discreet design. Reading between the lines, that meant boring. Considering that it was only five years since they had given us the hugely dramatic F40, I could only agree.
But it was of course also an entirely different type of car: a true GT of the highest calibre. Chronologically it is often regarded as the successor to the Ferrari 412, but spiritually it’s actually closer related to the legendary 365 GTB/4 Daytona. That really applies to the design as well, where the overall proportions draw clear lines to the sixties icon. Only somewhat watered down of course.
Yet today I view the 456 GT rather differently, as I once again find myself astonished by Pininfarina’s talent for creating beauty. Now, some 27 years after its introduction, the design has matured perfectly, and on the odd occasion where I come across a 456 GT out in the wild, I always tip my hat to Mr. Pininfarina. The 456 GT is vastly more elegant than any Ferrari that followed.
Furthermore, it was of course Ferrari’s range-topping model, 100% pure bred with 12 cylinders, the finest Connelly leather interior, and not least quite accomplished aerodynamics which helped make it the world’s fastest mass-produced four-seater. It was a polished and capable package and the consumers clearly appreciated this. With almost 3,300 cars sold, it was certainly a sales success by Ferrari standards. However, the model has struggled in achieving acceptance and status among classic car enthusiasts. In fact, I very much accepted the views of the previously mentioned Ferrari expert: It will never be regarded as one of the big Ferraris.
But last year I encountered a Silverstone Green Ferrari 456 GT while attending the InterClassics show in Brussels. The colour looked great and was complimented by a tan leather interior, low mileage, low ownership, full history and a fresh service making it ready for immediate use. And its trump card: a manual transmission.
It’s a first class colour combination, and it was suddenly clear as crystal that the 456 GT is indeed a perfect budget alternative to the well-established classic Ferraris with V12 engines out front. Especially as it’s all wrapped in a package which is claimed to be of sufficiently high quality to allow the owner to actually use and drive his GT Ferrari as it was intended.
I’ve now succumb to the beauty and talent of the Ferrari 456 GT. No, I wouldn’t go quite as far as calling it a proper classic just yet, but it most certainly is a truly wonderful Grand Tourer in just about every perceivable manner: design, engineering, capabilities and its place in history. It might not have competed in motorsport or made the headlines in any other way either, but even now, I still haven’t quite been able to forget that stunning example which I met in Brussels. It simply oozed class, but in such a subtle way which I found immensely charming. And best of all – it’s a V12 Ferrari which you can actually drive and enjoy without breaking the bank.
But how do you feel about the 456 GT? Good or bad? An accomplished youngtimer? Maybe even one of the soon-to-be-big classics? Or does it still not do anything for you? Too boring? Too complex? Too expensive for what it is?