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.