Normally, as we look wistfully back at the great and the good of yesteryear, we celebrate a car for its innovations – its firsts. The Ferrari 456, however, is different. This is a car that could just as well be celebrated for its lasts.
Penned by Pietro Camardella at Pininfarina, the 456 was the last Ferrari to use pop-up headlights. Designed as a consummate Grand Tourer, it followed the same revered long-nose, front-engined, rear-wheel-drive layout that had long been proven by the best of the 2+2 breed. Pietro’s design was elegant in its simplicity, and drew unmistakably on the set-back cabin and curvaceous rear forms of the iconic Daytona. Many of the body panels were made from aluminium, hung from the tubular steel space-frame chassis using a specially-formulated sandwich material called Feran to permit the welding of the two dissimilar metals, while others were made from composites in order to keep overall weight in check.
Until the 488 GTB briefly resurrected the idea in 2015, the 456 was the last Ferrari to use the traditional model designation derived from the swept volume of a single cylinder in cubic centimetres. The 5.5-litre 65-degree V12 was a new development, but despite being a relatively unstressed engine, at the time it was also the most powerful road car the company had ever created. Weighing in at just 1,690kg yet bestowed with 442hp meant its wedge-like form slipped through the air easily, sonorously sprinting from 0-60mph in just 4.8 seconds on its way to a suggested but probably still unruffled 192mph top speed. In the pantheon of the world’s fastest four-seaters, that was enough to rank it second only to the other-worldly Porsche 959.
Although most preferred the open-gated six-speed manual transaxle, the 456 was the last Ferrari to be offered with a conventional hydraulic automatic transmission that, one could argue, perhaps more naturally suited its continent-crushing persona.
When the 456M (M for Modificata) was unveiled in 1998, it ushered in the first commercial application of carbon-fibre in the construction of its bonnet, along with a number of aerodynamic improvements and an enhanced interior. The V12 engine, having already found its way under the low nose of the 550 Maranello, received a revised firing order for even smoother running, before going on to secure its place in history by claiming the International Engine of the Year award two years running.
But there’s one final reason why this is a car we should all celebrate. With prices of almost anything adorned by the famous prancing horse now reaching far into the stratosphere, the 456 is the last affordable Ferrari, with automatic examples wearing sticker prices more akin to a family SUV.
While so much Italian exotica isn’t so much purchased as collected, Ferrari chief Luca di Montezemolo’s intention was for these cars to be used, driven and enjoyed. The Ferrari 456 might just be your last chance.
A brand new family SUV or a Ferrari 456 – which would you prefer? Let us know in the comments below.