After more than two decades building exotic, mid-engine, flat-12-powered Boxers and Testarossas, Ferrari returned to its roots with the 550 Maranello. Introduced at the Nürburgring in 1996, the new, front-engine V12 model was clearly inspired by the iconic berlinettas of the 1960s and early 1970s, from its covered headlights (275 GTB/4) and fender vents (250 GTO) to its sweeping backlight, abbreviated tail and round taillights (365 GTB/4). Ferrari management had felt that its mid-engine cars were too extreme for many owners, so moved the company’s flagship into more everyday-usable territory.
Improved comfort didn’t mean reduced performance, however, as the 550 was fitted with a larger, more powerful engine: a 5.5-liter, 485-hp V12 versus the F512M’s 4.9-liter, 440-hp flat-12. As a result, top speed rose slightly, to 199 mph, and acceleration times fell a tenth of a second to 4.4. The 550 also featured automatically adjusting shock absorbers with driver-selectable Normal and Sport modes. This setup, combined with a 50/50 weight distribution, gave the 550 excellent, user-friendly handling.
At the Paris Auto Show in 2000, Ferrari unveiled the limited-edition 550 Barchetta Pininfarina. Mechanically identical to the Maranello, the Barchetta featured a chopped windshield, two rollover bars behind the seats and no roof beyond a token fabric contraption that was factory-rated to just 70 mph.
The 550’s replacement, the 575M (for Modificata), debuted at the 2002 Geneva Auto Show. The new model looked almost identical on the outside, but featured some significant mechanical improvements, most notably a 515-hp, 5,748cc V12 engine, a more sophisticated “Skyhook” suspension system and an optional F1 transmission—the first time Ferrari had offered a V12-powered car with paddleshifters. Top speed rose to 202 mph, and the 0-60 mph time fell to 4.2 seconds.
In 2005, appropriately enough at the Los Angeles Auto Show, Ferrari introduced an open-air version of the 575M: the Superamerica. This time around, the limited-edition model featured a more useful roof—a weather-proof, high-tech glass targa panel featuring five driver-adjustable levels of tint that could be flipped backward onto the rear deck—and 25 additional horsepower.
Today, the 550 and 575M are still exhilarating to drive, and they are available at much, much lower prices than when they were new. Indeed, the Maranelloes are the best-performance-per-dollar deal around when it comes to 12-cylinder Ferraris.