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.
The 550 and 575M Maranello were supercars in their day. In addition to their still-impressive performance, they offer the added benefits of quiet, comfortable cockpits and, in the high-maintenance world of exotics, relatively bulletproof reliability. Plus, thanks to the depreciation inherent in almost all Montezemolo-era Ferraris, these cars have become veritable bargains. The 550 Maranello is the best buy going in V12-powered Ferraris; where else can you get 485 Italian ponies for $75,000 or less?
The 550 and 575M appear to be fully depreciated, and while these are not cars to buy as investments it’s possible they will, someday, see some modest financial appreciation due to their rarity. Just 3,600 550s were built between 1996 and 2002 (and the 550 was the last new Ferrari offered exclusively with a traditional stick-shift), while only 2,056 575Ms were produced from 2002 to 2005. The 550 Barchetta may also appreciate in the future—Ferrari built 461 prototype and production models in 2000 and ’01—but I suspect that won’t be the case with the 575M Superamerica. Although only 559 examples were produced, the Superamerica’s sophisticated “Revocromico” roof has not proven as reliable as the rest of the car, and the potential repair costs limit the car’s appeal. Mechanical repairs to the rotating top can easily exceed $20,000, replacing the special glass can cost $30,000 and sourcing the parts can often take months.
Revocromico roofs aside, the Maranello models have proven quite rugged, which means that buyers shouldn’t be afraid of cars with “high” mileage (i.e., 10,000 miles or more), which can cost thousands less than rarely driven, sub-10,000-mile examples. In fact, cars with higher mileage tend to be in better condition than those with very low miles, since they likely have neither been left sitting for long periods of time nor have suffered through multiple owners who drove them hard, put them away wet and then flipped them.
When it comes to 575Ms, expect to pay a premium for the relatively rare stick-shift transmission, the Fiorano sport suspension and the GTC Handling package (which included stiffer suspension, carbon-ceramic brakes and faster F1 shifting). Most enthusiasts consider one of the optional suspension setups mandatory, as the early, non-sport-suspended cars tend to “porpoise” when driven hard.
As always with any Ferrari purchase, do your research, buy the best car you can afford and have it inspected by a shop that knows the model inside and out. Extensive repairs can easily turn an apparent bargain buy into a money pit, so look for a car with a full, documented service history, even if it costs a little more up front.—Michael Sheehan
These prices are for cars in good condition with roughly 10,000 miles. The Recent Listings section below shows asking prices; actual sale prices are usually at least 10-percent lower.
1997 550 10,000 miles. Red with black interior. Original manuals and keys. Excellent condition inside and out. Asking $70,000
1999 550 17,000 miles. Grey with black interior. Factory carbon-fiber racing seats. Tubi exhaust. Timing-belt service done last year. Asking $85,000
2001 550 20,000 miles. Red with tan interior. Factory modular wheels, quilted rear deck. Superb condition inside and out. Asking $90,000
2002 575M 16,000 miles. Black with black interior. F1 transmission. Red stitching on seats, door panels and dash, Ferrari horse on headrests. Recent major service. Super clean. Asking $100,000
2003 575M 22,000 miles. Grey with tan interior. F1 transmission. Scuderia shields, Ferrari crest on headrests, power seats, premium sound. All books, records and service history. Condition is 9 out of 10. Asking $89,000
2004 575M 9,000 miles. Grey with black interior. F1 transmission. Scuderia shields, power seats, premium sound. All books and records, full service history and two sets of keys. Asking $90,000
On the Road
IT MAY HAVE BEEN DESIGNED nearly 20 years ago, and its styling is quite understated both inside and out, but the 550 Maranello is still something special. You discover this the first time you put pedal to proverbial metal, regardless of gear or rpm, and the 550 surges forward on a seriously impressive wave of torque. Although the 5.5-liter V12 is rated at 485 horsepower and 411 lb-ft of torque, it feels much stonger; this engine is so flexible you can drive around in third gear all day long, from well below 20 mph to well above 100.
As is typical of Ferrari’s V12s, the 550 delivers a special treat high up in the rev range, as the engine spins closer to its 7,000-rpm power peak (redline is 7,700 rpm). Once the tachometer needle spins past 6,000-or-so rpm, the engine’s mechanical symphony takes on a harder-edged wail and the power suddenly surges even more strongly. It’s an intoxicating transformation, one that you’ll want to experience over and over again.
To do so, you’ll need to row the six-speed transmission’s gear lever through Ferrari’s traditional gate. While heavy by the standards of normal cars, the 550’s shifter is smoothly mechanical in action and becomes lighter as the transmission warms up. The clutch is heavy at low speeds, but both lightens and feels perfectly matched to the shift effort as speeds climb. The brake pedal is well-positioned for heel-and-toe downshifts, which are part and parcel of the 550’s old-school, analog driving experience.
Old school, in this case, does not mean antiquated. Almost as impressive as the engine is the 550’s nimble handling. It may be a relatively large car on the outside, but it turns into corners with the immediacy of a much smaller one, and shrinks around you like one, as well. Grip is impressive, and body roll is well managed.
The flip side of all this performance is that the 550 can be comfortably used as a daily driver. Its ride quality is firm but not harsh, its cockpit is both comfortable and quiet, and there’s a decent amount of storage space split between the trunk and a parcel shelf behind the seats.
The 575M makes an even better argument for daily use, with a more comfortable ride (even when fitted with the de rigueur Fiorano sport suspension) and optional F1 transmission. Once again, though, the driving experience revolves around that magnificent engine. The 575M’s 275cc-larger V12 produces 515 hp and 434 lb-ft of torque, and feels noticeably stronger than the 550’s powerplant. (Measured performance is nearly identical, however, probably due to the 575M’s 173-pound weight gain.)
The F1 transmissions’ automated shifts are smooth but slower than those of later, single-clutch F1 ’boxes, like those found on the 599 and F430. The rarer stick-shift offers a more involving driving experience, but the F1 is certainly a willing partner both around town and on backroads.
It’s on those backroads in particular where the 575M reveals itself to be a kinder and gentler machine than the 550. The 575M doesn’t deliver the immediate turn-in or sublime body control of the 550; instead, it offers a more relaxed demeanor, better ride quality and a nicer interior.
So which Maranello is best? It depends on what you’re looking for. For the traditional, back-to-basics sports-car experience, the 550 Maranello is the one to buy. But if you want a more well-rounded GT, the 575M is your car.—Aaron Jenkins
I’ve been working on the 550 and 575M Maranello since they were new, and think they are great cars—both to drive and to own. Most owners I know have had very good experiences with these models, but, like any other limited-production exotic, they have their issues, and I think prospective buyers should be aware of them.
One of the most important things you can do to ensure a good ownership experience is find the right mechanic or shop. The 550 and 575M are very complex cars with a number of important, and very specific, service procedures, as well as various components that require close inspection and scrutiny, so look for someone who is extremely well versed with the model. Luckily, these cars are now old enough that there are many independent shops that fit the bill.
One significant advantage of the Maranelloes, compared to their BB/Testarossa predecessors, is that routine servicing is much less labor-intensive, and thus much less expensive. While the V12 engine uses rubber timing belts, as did the earlier flat-12, the belts are quite easy to change; removing the engine for a belt service is no longer required.—Brian Crall
- ELECTRICAL GREMLINS:
Not every 550 suffers from electrical issues, but they are a fairly common problem. The 550’s Bosch 5.2 Motronic engine-management system is known for being more “glitchy” than the earlier 2.7 setup. Many of these glitches are caused by the implementation of the very complex, Federally mandated OBD II on-board diagnostic system, which monitors numerous engine settings. Non-engine electrical gremlins are typically caused by various poor-quality wiring harnesses supplied from a then-new subcontractor. Making matters more difficult is that the 550 shop manual features substandard electrical diagrams and related information.
All that said, most gremlins can be solved by an experienced mechanic who knows the model inside and out. However, due to parts costs and the poor quality of the service publications, such repairs can get pretty pricey.
The 575M’s electrical system is significantly more complex than the 550’s—in part because most have F1 transmissions—but the available technical information is far better, making troubleshooting much easier. The risk of recurring gremlins is still present, however, if not common.
- LOW-QUALITY HOSES:
For most of its production life, the 550 was fitted with coolant hoses that Manny, Moe and Jack would have been ashamed to sell. While some of the hoses improved over the years, and these carried over to the 575M, I would still recommend replacing failed hoses with a higher-quality, aftermarket product like that offered by Scuderia Rampante Innovations.
The stock oil hoses of both the 550 and 575M are likewise of very low quality and prone to leakage. Any good industrial or aviation hose fabrication shop can use the factory fittings and make new hoses of very high quality at a fraction of the cost of factory parts.
While we’re on the topic, the 550 and 575M’s low-pressure power-steering hoses are also of pretty poor quality. Rather than replacing them with the pricey stock items, go for generic hydraulic hose from an industrial-hose supplier for much less money.
- BAD MOTOR MOUNTS:
The original motor mounts were very fragile, but the real issue was that, when they failed, the motor settled so much that the oil-pressure sender could get hit by the front anti-roll bar—an impact that could break off the sender, causing a catastrophic oil loss and engine damage. The updated mounts, which were also used on the 575M, feature a better design, but they are still of poor quality; their condition should be inspected regularly.
- HIGH-MAINTENANCE TRANSAXLE:
The 550 and 575M transaxles suffered more than their share of failed synchronizers and broken reverse gears, but most of the blame lies with owners who don’t service their cars properly or abuse them. The synchronizers’ well-being depends on annual transmission-oil changes; skip these at your peril.
As for reverse gear, the problem isn’t its helical-type design, but the fact that the gear is held in place by a pair of small snap rings, which can break when too much torque is generated. Using a pair of bushings instead of the snap rings would have prevented this problem, but it’s likely no one in Maranello expected owners to do tire-smoking burnouts in reverse.
- FUEL-TANK SEALS AND PUMPS:
The 550 and 575M’s fuel tank features three ventilation/rollover valves in the top of the tank. The seals on these valves are prone to leakage, which causes a fuel smell in the cockpit and/or the check engine light to come on. Resealing the valves is not difficult, but it requires removing the tank.
The fuel pumps inside the tank utilize several rubber parts to hold them in place. Unfortunately, the alcohol used in many current fuel blends in the U.S. attacks this rubber if the car is left to sit. The resulting rubber debris can clog the fuel filters and damage fuel injectors, which are costly items to fix. So far, no “gasahol”-proof parts are available.
- FRAGILE BILSTEIN SHOCKS (550 ONLY):
The 550’s electronically adjustable Bilstein shock absorbers can leak at the problematic adjustment-shaft seal. Replacements are expensive and may eventually begin to leak, too, but I’ve had good luck having the Bilsteins rebuilt by Delta Vee Motorsports, which appears to fit an improved seal.
Both the electrical and mechanical portions of the actuator—the component that actually adjusts the shock’s damping—are prone to failure. There are a few people offering mechanical repairs, but no one that I know of is offering electrical repairs—and, as you’d expect, replacement parts are expensive. If the gear at the top of the shock that the actuator works upon fails, you can get a high-quality replacement from Hill Engineering.
The 575M features different suspension than the 550. Made by Mannesmann-Sachs, the 575M’s “Skyhook” system is more sophisticated and significantly more reliable than its predecessor.
- The 550/575M’s long front overhang can present clearance issues with dips in the road and driveways. Early 550 radiators had a drain projecting from the bottom towards the left side; this exposed drain was routinely dragged on the ground, scraping off the drain plug and often damaging the $4,000 radiator. Similarly, the air-conditioning hoses wrapped under the radiator mount on the right side of the car can drag on the ground until they are worn through.
These cars’ intake manifold routinely loosens, causing vacuum leaks and, in some cases, the check engine light to turn on. The manifold should be checked, and tightened if needed, at every service.
- The original timing-belt tensioner bearing support was prone to failing. A new version was designed, and a service bulletin was distributed to dealers; by this time, most original units have been replaced.
- The lower cam-drive bearings and lower cam-drive housing gaskets are both known to fail. The former causes excessive noise, the latter causes large oil leaks and both should be inspected when the timing belt is changed.
- Carbon-ceramic brakes and the F1 transmission were available as options on the 575M. Both components have proven very reliable, but both are extraordinarily expensive to repair or replace when something goes wrong. CCM brake pads cost around $4,500 for four, while replacing all four rotors and pads will cost roughly $32,000. The two electrohydraulic components that control the F1 gearbox each carry low five-figure price tags.
Prices vary significantly; these are rough estimates for costs at an independent shop.
- Minor service (every year): $1,000
- Major service (every 30,000 miles): $4,500-5,000
- Clutch replacement: $5,000-6,000
- Brakes (pads plus rotor resurfacing): $1,000
1999 550 Maranello
Purchased in 2006 for $115,000 with
15,000 miles; currently has 42,000 miles
What do you use your Ferrari for?
I use it mainly for club events, track days and weekend jaunts to the Wine Country.
What do you like most about the 550?
I think the overall performance is balanced beautifully. I like the torque of the V12—you can pretty much drive the car in only third gear—and the fact that it just does everything flawlessly; it handles, it brakes and it accelerates beyond most people’s expectations. It’s also extremely comfortable, it’s got wonderful luggage space and, on the highway at a steady 65-70 mph, I get a solid 18 mpg. All in all, I love it.
The Maranello’s front overhang is something you always have to keep in mind. Whenever you’re entering or exiting driveways, you have to angle the car. And when you’re pulling up to curbs…well, I’ve driven into one, and it’s an expensive lesson.
Do you have the car serviced by a dealer or an
My first experience with the car was with an independent, and it was just a good fit. My current guy has all the latest equipment, is very knowledgeable about the car, knows me and what I want, is fair and reasonable with his pricing and is spot-on with how long he will need to have the car.
How reliable has your 550 been?
It’s had no reliability problems whatsoever, and the car always runs the same: strong and hard. I put brake pads on the car once. I do the services—fluid changes, belts—methodically, following the book.
How about wear and tear?
The outside bolster on the driver’s seat tends to take on a blue-ish tint from my getting in and out wearing Levis; I have that renewed every once in a while. I have a clear bra on the front and mirrors and sills, but driving the car 30,000 miles, you get nicks in the paint. The switches started to get sticky, so they were all fixed and they look new now.
Dashboard shrinkage is a real problem with these cars if they’re parked outside. If you don’t cover the dash, the sun coming in through the windshield shrinks the leather—I’ve seen them with a whole inch of the inner dash exposed—and it costs $5,000 to fix. I had a heat-reflective film applied to the inside of the windshield to prevent that.
Would you recommend this car to a friend?
Absolutely. I love the car, all aspects of it.
2003 575M Maranello
Purchased in 2005 for $175,000 with
11,000 miles; currently has 21,000 miles
How did you come to buy your 575M?
Before I bought this, I looked at a lot of cars; I almost bought a Challenge Stradale, but that fell through. I’ve got long legs, and when I sat in a 575M that had competition seats, I thought, These are much better than the stock seats. But they’re pretty scarce, so I thought I would buy a car and just put them in. Then the dealer told me the seats were $22,000 a pop; it wasn’t such a good idea after all.
I went in wanting a stick-shift, but after driving
a lot of cars I decided I liked the F1 gearbox more.
I can shift pretty fast, but I can’t shift near as fast
as that thing does. Plus, I like the way when you downshift it [blips the throttle and] matches it;
that’s pretty neat.
What do you use the car for?
It’s a touring car, a weekend car, but I don’t track it. I say “weekend car,” but I don’t really like to drive it on the weekends; the traffic’s bad and there are bicyclists all over the place. But I’m retired, so I just go out during the week whenever I want.
What do you like most about the 575M?
It goes like hell! It’s not the fastest car in the world, but it’s pretty damn fast. I wouldn’t change a thing on my car if I had ordered it new; the combination of the sport seats, the Fiorano handling package, the carbon fiber, the F1 gearbox—I’m really happy with the car. It handles well, it does everything it’s supposed to do, and it’s real good at it.
I drive it all the time in Sport mode; it handles
better, and it’s easier on the clutch. After driving a car without it, I knew the Fiorano package was a must. The car felt much better, and I like to get on it.
I just drove the Ferrari Club of America’s 50th Anniversary 599 GTB, and that car’s brakes were just phenomenal. That’s the biggest difference between the two cars; I’d like to have the carbon brakes, those things really stop.
Do you have your Ferrari serviced by a dealer or an independent shop?
I used to go to the dealer where I bought it, but my mechanic there went to a new [independent] shop, so I go there now.
How reliable has the 575M been?
It’s been bulletproof. Nothing’s gone wrong on it, and maintenance has been really cheap. I couldn’t be happier. The clutch was replaced before I bought it, but I haven’t had to do anything with it.
How well has it held up?
There are no signs of wear that I can see. The dealer put on a clear bra when I bought it.
Would you recommend this car to a friend?
Oh yeah, absolutely. Well, not mine, but one like it! I couldn’t be more satisfied, to tell you the truth.