Supercar for Four

The 456 made Ferrari’s family cars fast. Really fast.

Supercar for Four 1
January 17, 2014

Ferrari’s four-seat “family cars” have always held an unusual place in the marque’s lineup. While they are neither as fast nor sporting nor visually appealing as Maranello’s two-seaters, they are just as loved by their owners; for example, the 250 GTE, Ferrari’s first 2+2, was by far the most prolific model of the early 1960s.

By the late 1980s, however, enthusiasm had mostly evaporated for the company’s then-current four-seater, the 412, which had been in production in one form or another since 1972. A new car was sorely needed, and in late 1992 Ferrari unveiled the sleek, modern, all-new 456 GT.

Where to begin? The most obvious change from old to new was the understated, flowing aluminum bodywork, which owed as much to Pininfarina’s designers as the wind tunnel. As a result of the latter, the 456 received Ferrari’s first road-going active aerodynamic device: a small spoiler that deployed from underneath the rear bumper.

While the 456 was still built on a traditional steel frame, its underpinnings were anything but typical. Speed-sensitive power steering was used for the first time, and electrically adjustable shock absorbers made their first appearance in the V12 lineup.

The 5.5-liter engine’s vee angle was now 65°—another first, as well as the vee angle used ever since. The V12 produced 442 hp and 398 lb-ft of torque, output sufficient to launch the 3,726-pound car to 60 mph in a tick over 5 seconds. Top speed was 186 mph, and that terminal velocity could be reached in comfort thanks to the 456’s luxurious cabin.

The 456 was available only with Ferrari’s first six-speed manual transmission when it arrived in the U.S. in 1994. In ’97, however, Ferrari introduced the GTA model, which featured an excellent, electronically controlled four-speed automatic built by Ricardo around GM internals.

In 1998, the updated 456M (for Modificata) debuted. The M received only a light face-lift and was no more powerful on paper than the original car, but it felt faster in the real world. In addition, the M was more refined and better handling than its predecessor, and featured a much-improved interior.

The 456 and 456M (and their GTA brethren) were essentially four-seat supercars when new. Today, these machines have the added bonus of being great buys—along with the 550 Maranello, the 456s offer the best bang for the buck in V12 Ferraris. For those who want a refined yet seriously fast Ferrari with room for the kids, check out the 456.

 

Marketplace

 

Like all new ferraris, the 456 GT sold well initially, but sales soon dried up due to serious quality issues, ranging from poorly sealing doors to various electrical gremlins. These problems, and accompanying warranty repairs, led to Ferrari producing no 456s for the ’96 model year. Production resumed for the ’97 model year, when the introduction of the automatic transmission-equipped GTA helped revitalize sales. The arrival of the improved 456M in 1998 also helped move cars, although M sales never reached the level of the earlier model.

Supercar for Four 2

Slow sales in period mean that the 456 is a relatively rare car now, especially when compared to Ferrari’s V8 models. Total production for the 456 was 1,548 GTs and 403 GTAs; when 456M production ended in 2004, just 640 stick-shifts and 631 automatics had been built.

Happily for today’s buyer, these low build numbers haven’t translated into high prices: The 456 and 456M are the least-expensive modern V12 Ferraris you can buy. In addition, they are now fully depreciated from their $225,000-250,000 base prices when new.

Cars with a manual transmission are generally preferred to those fitted with an automatic, since the former delivers noticeably improved performance on the street. However, transmission choice usually doesn’t mean a higher price, just a faster sale.

As usual, “high-mileage” cars cost significantly less than lower mileage cars, but it’s rare to come across a 456 that doesn’t have at least 10,000 miles on the clock; 15,000–20,000 is common, and 30,000 isn’t unusual. Higher miles shouldn’t necessarily be a deterrent to buying a 456, as most of these cars’ problem areas are influenced by time, not usage. —Michael Sheehan

 

Supercar for Four 3
Model                                  Low               High            
456 GT/GTA $45,000 $55,000
456M GT/GTA $55,000 $65,000
Supercar for Four 4

 

These prices are for fully serviced cars in good condition.

 

On the Road

 

The 456 and 456M are less sporting than their 550/575M stablemates, but they offer a much more relaxed driving experience. Here’s some of what we’ve said about these four-seat supercars.

 

I stop the 456 and slip the gear lever into third. Keeping the revs in the neighborhood of 1,500 rpm and feathering the clutch ever so carefully, I ease her off and she gets up and goes without complaining at all, gathering a considerable head of steam as she clears 100 mph in the same gear! Such a test provides proof of the astounding flexibility of what is likely the most refined engine ever to emanate from Maranello.

While traveling at triple-digit speeds, the composure of the chassis, suspension and powerplant is awe-inspiring. The car doesn’t even break a sweat.

—Winston Goodfellow
“The Seduction” FORZA #3

 

The 65° V12 responds crisply to the accelerator’s urge over 4,000 rpm, like a grissini snapping between your teeth. But, unlike the sportier and lighter 550 Maranello, there’s a smooth velvety edge to the power delivery. The 456M might not have the hearty aggression of its younger sibling, but its performance envelope is so far inside true supercar territory that it makes no difference.

Supercar for Four 5

This big Ferrari has huge grip and generates addictive levels of sideways g. But when you feel the little black box working its magic during serious high-speed sweepers…you instinctively feel grateful for that margin of safety the ASR gives.

In Sport [mode], body (and there’s plenty of it, at 3,726 lbs) control is exemplary through undulating switchbacks, the chassis exquisitely damped and settling fluidly into corners. Fierce braking into bends still shows a marked tendency for the nose to dive, but the front end now feels altogether more of a cohesive whole, stubbornly tracking the steering wheel’s chosen line.

—Joanne Marshall
“With the 456M to Portofino” FORZA #13

 

As inviting as the 456M’s interior is, it has one shortcoming compared to the 456 GT: It doesn’t fit taller, longer-legged drivers as well as the earlier car. I’m six-foot-three, and while the headroom is more than adequate, the M’s seat rails would have to be moved rearward for someone my size to seriously consider owning one. The steering wheel, too, is closer than it should be.

The character of the M’s engine is different from that of the 456 GT. Although that car was also very fast, this feels a good deal quicker, and it has an aural excitement the earlier model lacks…you hear this engine, and its smooth growl under full throttle is amazing.

—Winston Goodfellow
“The ‘Practical’ Ferrari” FORZA #53

 

The 456M turns in smoothly and is very nimble for its size, but I’m always aware of its weight as the pace quickens. The car leans a lot, too, even in Sport mode, though this doesn’t seem to affect its overall grip; more than once, I exit a corner only to realize I could have taken it faster.

The 456 is no canyon carver [compared to the 550 Maranello and F355], but as soon as the road opens up a bit the big Ferrari is back in its element: planted, powerful, quiet and extremely comfortable. Even if it didn’t have back seats, this is definitely the car of the three to take on a road trip…the 456 delivers a sense of effortlessness the other two can’t match, simply eating up the miles.

—Aaron Jenkins
“Veni, Vidi, Vici” FORZA #85

 

Supercar for Four 6

The Garage

 

The 456 is an attractive, high-performance Ferrari that’s fun to drive. However, the model shares one unfortunate trait with its 2+2 predecessors: Ferrari stuffed it full of gadgets to make it attractive to buyers who would otherwise be considering a
luxury sedan. And gadgets are something the company has traditionally not done well.

The list of such potential problem areas is long, and includes: an intrusive and poorly thought-out security system from 1996-on; speed-sensitive power steering; speed-sensitive power windows (which push the glass tightly into the door seals to improve sealing above 80 mph or so); complex power seats from a small supplier; and self-leveling rear suspension from an untried supplier. In addition to being irritating, problems with any of these systems can add significantly to the car’s operating costs.

Also increasing that bill are the engine’s solid lifters, which require periodic maintenance. The 456’s V12 was the last Ferrari to have such lifters, as well as the first to utilize a timing belt, which must be replaced every five years or 30,000 miles (whichever comes first). On GTA models, routine maintenance requires removing the rear bumper, transmission cooler, assorted plumbing and ducting and more, which further adds to the price.

An annual fluid-change-and-inspection service will cost around $1,000. A major service, which includes replacing the timing belt, runs $6,000-and-up on a stick-shift car and starts at around $8,000 for an automatic. —Brian Crall

MAJOR ISSUES

DOOR-WINDOW LEAKS
The 456 has a well-deserved reputation for serious air and/or water leaks around the door windows, thanks to significant design deficiencies in the window regulators and door/window seals. The factory later offered updated (and expensive, at roughly $1,000 per side) door seals, which make a real difference. However, the factory’s program to modify/repair/update the window-regulator mechanism fizzled out almost as quickly as it started, and few cars received that update. The 456M’s windows are much better but not completely trouble-free.

SHORT-LIVED MOTOR MOUNTS
The 456’s motor mounts deteriorate rapidly, which allows the engine to settle onto the steering rack. This, in turn, allows the oil-pressure sender to come very close to the front anti-roll bar, which, if it flexes upward, can break off the sender—the result of which is a rapid and catastrophic loss of oil, and potentially severe engine damage. The factory now offers improved motor mounts, which cost around $1,500.

DISINTEGRATING FUEL-TANK RUBBER
The fuel pumps sit inside the fuel tank, supported by rubber isolators that can deteriorate with modern, reformulated gasoline. The real problem is that rubber debris created gets scattered throughout the gas tank, the fuel lines and fuel pumps, and clogs the fuel filters and fuel-injector nozzles; the clean-up-and-repair process is labor-intensive, and thus expensive. Replacement parts are (usually) available, but there’s no permanent fix for this issue.

WORN VALVE GUIDES
For the first several years of production, the 456 engine utilized bronze valve guides with a high copper content that are prone to rapid wear. (Guides made of the same material were also an issue in the F355 engine.) Today, cars with severely worn valve guides are beginning to show up more and more often. The fix is to install the factory’s updated steel valve guides; while there are many variables involved, expect a repair bill that reaches five figures.

 

Supercar for Four 7

MINOR ISSUES

The self-leveling rear shocks are known to leak. Factory replacements are very expensive, but Delta Vee Motorsports will rebuild both units for around $1,500.

The 456’s poor-quality coolant hoses, particularly those under the intake manifold, are prone to failure. Scuderia Rampante Innovations offers high-quality replacements specifically designed for the 456. The full kit costs $1,350, but you can get just the hoses under the manifold starting at around $800.

The low-quality intake gaskets are prone to serious leakage. The factory now offers higher-quality gaskets for $800.

While the 456 was a vast improvement in most ways compared to its predecessor, it took a step backward in one area: Ferrari’s infamous “sticky” interior parts. In addition to becoming gooey and messy as their rubbery coating breaks down, these plastic components—ranging from the center-console buttons to the dashboard air vents—can be quite fragile. Replacement pieces are hard to find, but Sticky No More will refurbish the originals at a reasonable price.

 

Owners’ Take

 

Don Sawhill

1999 456M GT

Purchased in 2001 at 15,000 miles for $160,000; sold in 2013 at 31,000 miles

What did you use your 456 for?
Ride and drives, mostly. I eventually sold the car because I wasn’t using it; all the events I wanted to attend were in San Francisco, which meant a two-hour drive before I even got there.

Supercar for Four 8

What did you like most about the car?
The torque was great, and it was very comfortable, very smooth and rode well. I also liked the color, Le Mans Blue; most of the 456s you see are black or silver.

Any dislikes?
The maintenance. I encountered the usual stuff: leaking shocks, bad motor mounts, leaky gas tank, the occasional short here and there, that kind of thing. It was expensive to maintain. It cost $5,000 for the belts every five years or so, and about $1,700 a year for the fluids and inspections to make sure nothing was falling off.

It’s funny, Ferrari is one of the most highly regarded manufacturers in the world, but when it comes to simple things, like switches or controls, they were not where they should have been, like Porsche. But then there’s a lot more exclusivity than with a Porsche. At many of the meets I went to, I was the only 456 there, or maybe one of two. I was certainly the only one with three dogs in the car.

How reliable was your 456?
It never stranded me or anything like that, although the leaking gas tank was a real concern.

Did you take it to a dealer or independent shop?
I started with a dealer then went independent. It wasn’t anything to do with a warranty—it didn’t have one—I switched when I found a mechanic I really liked.

How about wear and tear?
It was great. I put Lexol on the leather a few times and the seats held up really well. When I went to sell it, of course, the headliner collapsed.

Would you recommend this car to a friend?
Yes, but with some caveats. The maintenance is going to hit you hard, and you really need to find the right mechanic. A lot of people say they can work on these cars, but not a lot really can.

 

Bob Roche

2004 456M GTA

Purchased in 2012 with 50,000 miles for $50,000; currently has 61,000 miles

Did you have any concerns about buying a high-mileage 456?
Not in this case. This car, unlike several others I looked at, showed very well. It had only two previous owners and had been maintained by the same mechanic since new. All the service records were there, and the original engine had been replaced under warranty, so while the car had 50,000 miles, the engine had less.

What do you use your Ferrari for?
My wife and I have taken several trips in it. I have three boats in a marina near San Francisco, and at least once a week drive down [about 100 miles] to see them.

What do you like most about it?
I love the classic design, but the biggest single thing is that it has enough luggage space for long trips, at least if you use the rear seats for stuff. It’s very quiet, too. I’m 70 years old, so I want some comfort and to be able to get in and out easily. To me, paddle shifters and the newer stuff wasn’t as interesting.

Any dislikes?
There’s some wind noise from the side windows, and the seats don’t quite go back far enough for me; I’m six-foot-two. My wife doesn’t like that it doesn’t have a cup holder, but I didn’t buy a Ferrari to be concerned about that!

How reliable has your 456 been?
I had one turn-signal bulb go out, which turned out to be a bad connection. Recently, I had the suspension flag light up on the dashboard. I just had that checked out, and two of the sensors on top of the front shocks are bad. The shocks themselves are okay, and the sensors are on order.

Do you take it to a dealer or independent shop?
Independent. I’m still taking it to the same mechanic who’s serviced it all along.

How about wear and tear?
It has perfectly flawless paint, which I suppose could be a repaint but I don’t think so. Wear and tear in the interior is limited to the edge of the seatback where you slide into the driver’s seat. The perfect leather on the rear ledge had probably been replaced, but I had my upholsterer fashion a protective cover for it; I leave the car at the harbor all day and it just bakes.

Would you recommend this car to a friend?
Oh, yeah. It’s very practical, a great balance of usability and classic design. Plus, they are undervalued. If you can find a good one, it’s a bargain.

Also from Issue 132

  • Flashback: 275 GTB
  • 458 Speciale first drive
  • 308 GT4
  • 212 Export from _The Racers_
  • 1964 24 Hours of Le Mans
  • Collectors Michael and Kathy Leventhal
  • F1: It's finally over
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