In 1996, after more than two decades building mid-engine flat-12-powered Boxers and Testarossas, Ferrari returned to its roots with the 550 Maranello. The marque’s new front-engine V12 flagship 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).
Why the change? Ferrari’s management felt that its mid-engine cars were too extreme for many owners, so decided to move into more every-day-usable territory.
Improved comfort didn’t mean reduced performance, however. The 550’s 5.5-liter V12 produced 485 hp, a noticeable increase over the F512M’s 4.9-liter 440-hp flat-12. As a result, the Maranello’s 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-production 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 2000 Geneva Auto Show. The new model looked almost identical on the outside but featured some significant mechanical improvements. These included a 515-hp 5.7-liter V12, a more sophisticated “Skyhook” suspension system, and an optional F1 transmission—the first time Ferrari had offered a V12-powered car with paddle-shifters. Top speed rose to 202 mph, the 0-60 mph time fell to 4.2 seconds, and the car’s balance shifted away the 550’s sports-car focus to a more well-rounded GT experience.
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-production model featured a more useful roof—a weather-proof, high-tech glass targa panel with five driver-adjustable levels of tint that could be flipped backward onto the rear deck—and 25 additional horsepower.
The 550 and 575M remain exhilarating to drive, but in today’s fast-moving marketplace they’re no longer the bargains they were a decade ago. Indeed, prices now overlap with those of the newer, faster, and more sophisticated 599 GTB Fiorano. But if you’re looking for a more analog experience, and especially that classic gated shifter, check out the Maranello.
The 550 Maranello reintroduced to Ferrari’s lineup the classic front-engine V12-powered two-seat berlinetta, a configuration not seen since the demise of the Daytona in 1974. When introduced, Ferrari’s new flagship had a $200,000 list price and few choices besides interior and exterior color.
Under the tutelage of then-CEO Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, however, extra-cost options quickly proliferated. By the 2000 model year, buyers could check boxes for modular wheels, colored brake calipers, Scuderia fender shields, Daytona-style seats, a quilted headliner and rear shelf, carbon-fiber trim for the door sills, door panels, seats, backrests, and center console, and much more. The $30,000 option list had arrived.
With an eye on the past popularity of models like the Daytona Spyder, in 2000 Ferrari launched the 550 Barchetta Pininfarina. It was a roadster in the true sense of the word, with only a skimpy fabric top (which required a degree in mechanical engineering to erect) providing minimal protection from the elements. The Barchetta’s window sticker was $250,000, and most came fully loaded at that price, making it a relative bargain compared to the Maranello. And with only 461 prototype and production Barchettas built in 2000 and 2001, the model has become collectable as the last of the three-pedal, drop-top Ferraris.
Some 3,600 550 Maranellos were built between 1996 and 2002 before production began of the updated 575M Maranello. The new car’s base price was roughly $215,000, although most examples received an additional $15,000-30,000 in options. With the introduction of the $21,000 HGTC Handling Package, which included stiffer suspension and carbon-ceramic brakes, the day of the $50,000 option list had arrived.
Despite their lower production numbers (2,056 were built from 2002-’05), the 575M has proven to be less valued by enthusiasts than the 550. Unless, that is, you’re looking to buy one of the relatively rare examples fitted with a six-speed stick-shift. For that privilege, expect to pay a premium of $100,000—or more.
By 2005, Ferrari had become a master of producing limited-production “speciale” versions to revive slowing sales of aging models. And so, at that year’s Los Angeles Auto Show, the company revealed the 575M-based Superamerica. Billed as the world’s fastest convertible, the Superamerica featured a window sticker just under $300,000, more power than the 575M, and a variable-tint, rotating, glass targa roof dubbed Revocromico. While showy, this high-tech marvel of engineering proved problematic in the real world, and has long handicapped the model’s collector appeal, even with only 559 examples built.
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
|550 Barchetta Pininfarina
These prices are for cars in good-to-great condition as of February 2022.
The 550 Maranello, 575M Maranello, and their derivatives offer relatively bulletproof reliability in the high-maintenance world of exotic cars. They are new enough that authorized dealers are still familiar with them, yet old enough that most experienced independent shops know them equally well. Plus, unlike the earlier BBs and Testarossas, standard service work can be done without pulling the engine from the chassis.
That’s not to say these (or any) high-performance, low-production 17- to 30-year-old machines don’t have their problem areas. Here are the most common:
Under the hood, the biggest concern is probably the two motor mounts, whose rubber inserts will sag over time due to heat and the V12’s weight. In extreme cases with extremely worn mounts, excess engine movement could cause the oil-pressure sender to hit the front anti-roll bar, breaking off the sender and causing a potentially catastrophic oil loss. Ferrari recommends updating 550s with the later 575M mounts, but they aren’t much better, so make sure they’re inspected at every service. Parts and labor to change the mounts cost around $1,500. (I’ve compiled these rough costs from shops and dealers here in California, but while parts prices are fairly consistent, labor rates can vary widely depending on location.)
Elsewhere, the A/C compressor seals can leak oil. The cost of rebuilding and recharging the system runs roughly $2,000. If the coolant expansion tank cap leaks, buy a $50 replacement. Both the power steering feed line and high pressure hose can leak; replacing them runs around $1,400. If the throttle cable sheathing cracks, a new cable installed costs another $300. The hood pad sags with age and can rub on the intake manifold. A new pad, including labor, costs around $1,000.
When a Maranello is in the shop for a major service—which I’ll address shortly—it’s a good time to perform a number of other repairs. The red crinkle paint on the cam covers can fade and crack, and it’s a $200 repaint if done when the covers have already been removed. Likewise, the coolant hose which runs under the intake manifold requires replacement with every cam-belt service, or sooner. This is also a good time to check the intake manifold itself, which can loosen and cause vacuum leaks and/or a Check Engine Light. It’s a $100 repair if done during a major service.
Clutch throw-out bearings can go dry, and replacement is usually done along with a new clutch and pressure plate while it’s all apart to cut down on labor costs. Expect to spend around $4,000 for everything.
Because the 550 and 575M are fast and heavy, front brake pad and front tire life are both short—often less than 10,000 miles with normal usage. While the front rotors are good for about 20,000 miles, fitting new front brake pads and turning the rotors will run $750-850.
Leaking rollover valves in the fuel tank can cause a fuel smell in the cockpit and/or a CEL, while the internal fuel pumps’ rubber mounts slowly dissolve in today’s alcohol-infused gasoline, clogging the fuel filters. Combined, these problems can easily cost $4,500 to repair, plus another $1,200 if the fuel injectors need to be removed and cleaned.
The electrical and mechanical components which adjust the 550’s Bilstein shock absorbers are prone to failure; parts and labor run in the $1,000-per-corner range. The 575M’s Mannesmann-Sachs shocks are comparatively bulletproof, and many owners fit suspension components from the HGTC Handling Package to improve handling.
Speaking of 575Ms, the Superamerica’s electromagnetic Revocromico roof panel has an expensive habit of degenerating into a Rorschach ink-blot test pattern. The glass itself is becoming unobtainable, and repairing or replacing the rotating mechanical assembly can easily exceed $20,000.
Like all Ferraris of their era, the 550 and 575M suffer from the dreaded sticky switches syndrome (which also extends to the climate control panel). Pulling the “sticky” parts and sending them out to be refinished can run anywhere from $2,500 to $5,000. If the leather on the dashboard shrinks in the sun and pulls away at the edges, expect to pay around $6,000 to remove and recover the dash, the airbag cover, and the console in new matching leather.
As mentioned earlier, a major service on a Maranello doesn’t require pulling the engine. In addition, since most examples are driven only a few thousand miles per year, a major service is only needed every three to five years. Expect to pay around $8,500 for parts and labor, which is a very affordable cost in the Ferrari world, especially when amortized over three to five years of driving and ownership pleasure.— —Michael Sheehan
On The Road
The 550 and 575M Maranello combine refined road manners with impressive speed. Here’s some of what we said when these cars were new.
With the traction control tethering its leash, the Maranello gobbles up track with such nonchalance you don’t realize just how fast you’re lapping. The ASR takes the flap out of even the most unruly sporting driving—and it even works if you’re sloppy with your downshifts into bends, preventing rear-axle lockup by braking the rear wheels when you let the clutch out brutally.
Take the traction control out of the equation and the chassis has a natural tendency to understeer daintily. But it’s no more than a transient handling balance, for with 485 bhp under your right foot it’s relatively easy for the V12 to spur the tail into a slide. After the calming influence of the ASR, it’s quite a revelation to feel just how much and how controllably the rear does drift under acceleration. It’s good to feel you’re in charge again, but most of all this reveals not just how the colossal power manages to overcome such outstanding grip, but just how smoothly the 550 handles and responds to all the excess brio. It’s all hugely entertaining and all flatteringly easy—proof indeed of the 550’s immense chassis capabilities.
—“The Finest Road Ferrari Ever?” FORZA #5
The Barchetta’s engine comes to life with the twist of a key. Finally here is a Ferrari in which the engine can be truly heard from the driver’s seat, the lack of a roof letting you enjoy this 12-cylinder symphony in a way 550 Maranello owners can only dream about. It is intricate and mellifluous, soft and soothing, a multi-layered harmony of cylinders, cams, and valves.
Through the first couple of turns, the steering surprises with its rapidity—move it an inch and the nose dives to one side. Yet you quickly become accustomed to its directness and road feel. It is sensitive without being obtrusive, feeding the proper amount of information to your fingertips.
That the steering is so lively is undoubtedly due in great part to the chassis. It is commendably rigid for a car that started as a coupe, a minor shimmy only exhibited when encountering severely undulating or rough road surfaces. The wide stance and fat rear tires grip the road like a dog holding onto its favorite bone.
—“The Perfect Send-Off,” FORZA #40
The 575M’s 5,748-cc 65° V12 motor makes 515 hp, a healthy figure by any standard. Around here, though, torque is more important than horsepower for pulling away from dead stops, up hills, and out of corners. With 433 lb-ft, the Ferrari responds almost instantaneously to throttle inputs at low rpm, and noticeably quicker than its 550 predecessor.
The abundance of torque—and the sound that accompanies it—makes every corner exit a thing to be savored. It’s never snappy or unpredictable, however, and untoward behavior has to be induced by the driver if it’s to occur at all—especially with ASR traction control engaged.
Both spring and damper rates are about as stiff as you’d want them unless you’re converting your 575M into a Prodrive-spec racer. Ferrari reduced body roll considerably in transforming the 550 to the 575M, and the suspension strikes an excellent compromise between comfort and responsiveness.
We’ve tended to be purists on the F1 issue, having long preferred Ferrari’s charismatic and idiosyncratic gated shifters, but after spending nearly a week in the 575M we were honestly glad for F1 this time. The experience convinced us that F1 is the way to go if you want to drive your Ferrari in the real world. If you don’t, by all means choose the manual; it provides a genuinely more engaging experience. But if your plans for your Ferrari include getting to Paradise as well as driving once you’re there, we’d opt for F1.
—“Wine Country Classic,” FORZA #50
This is a large, heavy sports GT—but it doesn’t feel it. Cut loose on the twisting Col de Vence, the Superamerica seemed to jettison a good portion of its two tons; suddenly, it was behaving like a trim, lean sports car. Part of that sense of leanness is due to sheer horsepower. The Ferrari is crazily, impossibly fast. Dig into the throttle, and it doesn’t just accelerate—it seems to suck the approaching corner right into its ravenous maw.
The Superamerica’s six-speed F1 gearbox has been refined for quicker shifts in Sport mode and smoother operation in Automatic mode. During our test drive, the transmission was all but faultless, never hiccupping (even in the seemingly unending snarl that is afternoon gridlock in Nice) and always ready to perform a stunningly precise downshift.
Turn-in is smooth and linear; it’s a cinch to place this big car where you want it on the road. Steering initially feels light, but there’s plenty of info from the front wheels filtering through to your fingertips. You can easily feel when the nose is beginning to wash out, but that limit is so high it’s rare you’ll get there on a mountain road.
—“Super System,” FORZA #64