You know how you sometimes think that a person’s name has destined them for their job? I came to think of this earlier this week, hearing of a guy called Andrew Drinkwater, working for the UK Water Research Centre. Yeah I know, very funny, but who knows, perhaps there’s indeed something in the sub-conscious that leads these people through life to their future careers? There’s however a second category of people where the connection is less direct, but where the professional choice is still kind of obvious. I mean, if you hear the name Luca Cordero die Montezemolo and you see a guy looking like the below picture, you know straight away that he’s the president of Ferrari, right? How could he possibly have any another occupation?
Jokes aside, our friend Luca has actually had a number of other jobs through his illustruous career before (and after) Fiat president Gianni Agnelli made him president of Ferrari in 1991. However, not only does he sound and look like a president of Ferrari should, he was also critical to Ferrari’s development both on the track and off it during the 90’s. It was under di Montezemolo’s leadership that Ferrari hired Jean Todt as team president and a few years later Michael Schumacher as driver, leading the F1 team back to their first driver’s and constructor’s world titles in 20 years. Off the track, di Montezemolo also had clear views on Ferrari’s future line-up: he wanted the new models to return to the classical Ferrari set-up with a front-mounted V12 engine in the style of the Daytona, rather than the mid-engined cars which had been the focus through the 80’s. He also wanted them to be true drivers’ cars in the sense of cars that you can drive every day, meaning a clear improvement in build quality.
The two cars that represent di Montezemolo’s philosophy best are on one hand the beautiful F550 which I wrote about a long way back in 2015, but on the other the less well known Ferrari 456. Both share the same fabulous base engine, but the 456 is of course a four-seater and actually something as unusual as a very discrete Ferrari that some people (let’s call them less discerning) could actually mistake for something else. It doens’t screem “look at me!!”, usually doesn’t come in red, and today actually trades at far below EUR 100′, probably making it the best value there is to be had among classical Maranello cars, especially since it’s actually a really good car that is clearly underrated. All good reasons to look closer at it this week!
Starting with that discrete design, that’s absolutely not the same as saying that the 456 isn’t pretty. On the contrary, it’s by most considered one of the more beautiful recent Ferraris. It has kind of a timeless look with the 90’s, rounded styling elements clear to see. Interestingly, the 456 was the last Ferrari to feature pop-up headlights. It’s also one of the more colour-sensitive Ferraris, with most cars coming in silver or various shades of metallic blue, colours that suit the car really well as opposed to the Ferrari red which really doesn’t. The inside is a clear step-up compared to 80’s cars like the Testarossa (or indeed the 365-400-412, a car with the same concept produced through the 70’s and 80’s) with a whole different quality feel to the interior. It’s quite simply a nice place to spend many hours in. That feeling of well-being is further supported by the wonderful work Ferrari did with the V12 under the bonnet.
It’s certainly complanining on a high level, but sometimes V12’s can suffer from a lack of torque at low revs. This was notably a criticism BMW had to hear with the 850, and it can be traced back to various aspects of how the engine is built. Ferrari was conscious of this during the development of the 456 and used various tricks and all the experience of the team back in Maranello to improve power especially at lower revs. They notably went back to the 65 degree-angle of the Ferrari Dino days, but also changed the firing order of the 12 cylinders (each by the way 456 cm3 in volume and thus the source of the car’s name). Rather than alternating the firing order along the crankshaft as is usually the case, the 456 fires the cylinders next to each other, which together with some other clever engineering gave the 456 a clear boost in low-down torque. The naturally-aspirated masterpiece puts out 442 hp in total, which for a weight of around 1900 kg is really all that you need.
The 456 was built on the verge between the mechanical and digital age, meaning it still has some interesting pure mechanical components, such an accelerator by wire. Unfortunately, this doesn’t really make it an ideal do-it-yourself car (even though adjusting that gas wire can do wonders and is quite simple!), and the 456 needs regular service to a larger extent than more modern Ferraris, including a new cam belt every 3-4 years. If it’s taken care of properly, it is however fundamentally well built and ticks all of Luca di Montezemolos desired boxes for an everyday Ferrari. The other thing it needs plenty of, as a true representative of the mechanical 12-cylinder engine age, is unfortunately fuel, but that’s hopefully not a surprise to anyone. Apart from that the 456 is a wonderful, true GT, ready to transport you and your three passengers (with the two in the back preferrably not being basketball stars) and their luggage to some nice southern location, without any need for an infotainment system with 29 speakers!
The 456 was available with a 6-speed manual (with the most beautiful gearshift gate ever built) that you definitely want, and a 4-speed automatic you don’t necessarily. I mean sure, you can imagine the 456 with an automatic, but how could you ever choose not to have a gear changer looking like the one pictured further up? There’s also roughly as many of the Modificata version, the facelift produced from 1998 and onwards and which featured an updated interior, body elements and chassis, but not more power. For both, the market today starts at around EUR 65-70′, going up to to maybe EUR 90′. One thing to note here is that if you speak to Ferrari specialists, they will tell you that the engine isn’t really run in until after 50′-70′ km, meaning you don’t necessarily need to go for the low-mileage cars, but rather those that have been driven, enjoyed and maintained. That’s good, because those tend to come from the right owners, and they’re also typically found towards the lower range of that price range.
There’s no doubt quite a few people who would love to own a Ferrari 12-cylinder but who find most of them a bit too flashy to be seen in. I’d probably count myself among those, and for us the 456 is rather ideal. It has style, it has grace, and it provides all the Ferrari pleasure but in a more discreet format, and right now at a lower price tag. Around 3300 cars were built in total between 1992 and 2003, from 1998 in the “M” for Modificata version. In a world where underrated classics have become few and far between, and none more so than those combining 12 cylinders with a manual transmission, here is certainly one of the last good representatives. So in summary, we should all be thankful to Luca Cordero di Montezemolo for taking on the job his name destined him to!