As our Thrill of Owning for September we have chosen something truly hard to beat, except for the very best modern supercars: the Ferrari F550 and its sibling and successor F575). A 5.5 litre V12 from Maranello – can it really get much better?
The F550 was presented in 1996 as a successor to the 512 (Testarossa). Designed by Pininfarina, the car is a mix of lines and curves or more precisely of design items from the past and that were to come in the future. It is not the most beautiful Ferrari but the 550 nonetheless has a distinct styling that has stood the test of time well. In other ways it was however a distinct break with the eighties: the engine was back in the front and Luca di Montezemolo, Ferrari’s long-term boss, at the time of the launch had expressed a clear wish for the 550 to be the return to Ferrari’s racing GT car tradition. This means the car looks considerably longer than the mid-engined 355 and 360, although it was only 10 cm longer than the latter at around 4.55 metres.
Luckily the GT ambitions in no way compromised the chassis which has stood the test of time even better than the styling. It is the extremely well-balanced but also very advanced, and it received wide praise even in comparison to the 360 Modena launched a few years later (1999-2005). Tests concluded firstly that the 550 is a true supercar but that even so the ride is more balanced with less going on than in the equally excellent 360. This is partly due to the individual wheel suspension but also to the front axis being wider than the rear, i.e. the same solution than on the Citroën DS! Ok, sorry, probably not a comparison Ferrari would appreciate.
At the heart of the car is a fantastic V-12 cylinder, 5.5 litre engine delivering 485 hp and 580 Nm torque, later increased to 515 hp and 590 Nm torque in the 575, exclusively coupled to a six-gear manual gearbox (in the 550) but where the torque of the engine meant you rarely need to use more than half the gears. The engine is linked to the adjustable suspension such as to limit the max torque in the softer settings and thereby improve power delivery. Surprisingly though the lovely V12 noise is somewhat muted, arguably improving the car’s GT quality but also the reason many cars have received another exhaust system allowing for a bit more tenor and bass.
The interior of the 550 is pure Ferrari from the analogue age in a combination of leather and aluminium that remains difficult to beat even today. The seats are electrical and adjustable in a variety of positions and all cars had air-con as standards, both features that did not necessarily appeal to the purists as they added unnecessary weight.
A total of 3600 F550 Maranellos were produced until the F550 was replaced by the F575 in 2002. From 2001 a small series of 448 convertible F550 called F550 Barchetta Pininarina was also produced.
The F575 (2002 – 2006) was the 550’s successor and was body-wise just a minor facelift. The engine’s volume was increased to 5.75 liters (+30 hp). From 2003 a semi-automatic gearbox was available and from 2005, as for the 550, a small open top series was produced under the name F575 Superamerica. This was however not a traditional soft top convertible, rather the car had a carbon roof that could be moved backwards, hence a targa construction.
Unlike its predecessor the 512, the 550/575 has not yet taken off price-wise which is obviously one reason why we write about it. Both cars with reasonable mileage and in excellent condition can be had for around EUR/CHF 90.000 – 100.000, around half the price as new, and generally the F550 comes slightly cheaper than the F575. The convertible/targa series due to the limited numbers produced are in a different league. altogether so forget about those. Noticeable is also that most 550/575’s have indeed been used, again a testimony to the car’s qualities (and reliability!), so mileages of 40.000 – 70.000 kms are normal, obviously meaning that a reliable service history is an absolute must! Worth remembering is also that the F550 was only available as a manual whereas most F575 were sold with the semi-automatic.
This being a Ferrari V12 it is clear that each bill will make you cry, but just as clearly you will forget all about it every time a road opens up, you shift down to third and let the 12 tenors find their voice!
Will the F550/F575 take off price-wise as so many other Ferrari models have? That is obviously difficult to say, but factors that speak for it is obviously the car’s uncontested road and engine qualities. And even if it does not it is clear that the downside at this point is very limited to inexistent. So even though owning a V12 Ferrari is hardly rational, this is probably as sensible as it gets! And as the following video will show you, there is indeed a remedy for that somewhat timid V12 sound…