Buying Guide Ferrari 550 Maranello

Buying Guide Ferrari 550 Maranello

Ferrari’s front-engined V12 supercar is now an appreciating asset, so here’s how to buy one and ensure it stays that way.


Words NIGEL BOOTHMAN

Photography TOM WOOD


Eight steps to buying a Ferrari 550 Maranello

Buying Guide How to buy the surprisingly easy-living Ferrari 550 Maranello


Once it got depreciation out of the way from its £143k launch price, the Ferrari 550 Maranello has increased in value since it was discontinued, with the best now nudging £100k. This isn’t simply down to its usability – the 5.5-litre V12 has proved to be tough, while the rest of the car has shown little more than minor foibles by supercar standards. The manual gearbox and minimal driver aids – just basic traction control – add to its appeal as the last old-school V12 Ferrari. To keep it on top form, owners will need to spend around £3000 a year, assuming you buy a good one that avoids maintenance and repair costs skyrocketing. To guide us on how to go about that, we’ve enlisted the help of Mike Wheeler of Rardley Motors, Tim Walker of WalkerSport, Elias Elia of Autofficina and SMDG’s Steve Moody.


Buying Guide Ferrari 550 Maranello


Which one to choose?

  • The 550 Maranello two-seater coupé was launched in 1996. It was based on the four-seater 456GT, but orientated towards higher performance and sharper handling. Discontinued in 2001.
  • 1998 550 WSR (World Speed Record) was a limited-run replica of the car that set the then-record of 183.995 miles in one hour. It featured carbonfibre seats, four-point harnesses and stiffer suspension.
  • Launched in late 1998, the 550 Barchetta was a roofless version of the Maranello. However, it followed the speedster recipe rather than a conventional cabriolet, with an emergency rain hood rather than a proper roof.
  • In 2009, after a run of 575 GTZs, coachbuilder Zagato rebodied three 550 Barchettas, which had an electric folding roof. They sold for £1m each.

History and servicing

Service history is the single most important factor in assessing a 550, because it directly affects how much you’ll need to spend in the near future. It also reveals a good deal about the previous owner(s) and has a proportionately large influence on the car’s value. Check that the service book is the original and not a duplicate – it should be properly filled in and stamped, ideally with supporting invoices. A consistent history is the most important thing, even for cars that have covered few miles.

The first page of the service book should show the supplying dealer’s stamp and the correct chassis number – which should be checked, of course. The interval for a cambelt change (not a big job by Ferrari standards at a standalone cost of £850) is only three years, although longer intervals may be excusable on low-milers. Potential buyers often overlook one thing when examining a car and its history file – whom they’re buying it from. Ask if the dealer owns the car or is selling it on a commission basis, or if they’re brokering the sale for a customer – in which case it has implications for your chance of redress. A broker isn’t responsible for a car’s condition or provenance, and private sales don’t come with a warranty.


Engine bay

Cam cover gaskets can leak oil, and the coolant hoses in the middle of the vee should be replaced with silicone items, because the originals perish due to heat and then split. Samco now makes a kit to replace all seven hoses in the cooling system, costing £348; swapping only the three that are most prone to failure is cheaper, but accessing them requires several hours of labour.

If you can hear or feel a vibration at idle that goes away when the engine is revved, the engine mounts may have sagged, leaving the engine resting on the crossmember. In the past, owners tended to fit upgraded mounts from the later 575M. However, revised mounts for the 456 and 550 are now available from Ferrari, costing £260 for a set. Budget another £480 to get them fitted. Replacing the HT leads can be even more expensive. If they’re perished, a replacement set costs £1500.


Ferrari 550 Maranello

Other visual checks to carry out include the radiator, which is prone to leaks, so look out for drips. Radiators are also painfully expensive to replace – around £2500 fitted – so it’s more cost-effective to have them repaired. These are low-slung cars, so you also should check for damaged undertrays.


Suspension, brakes and steering

The power steering reservoir can drip on to the nearside top and bottom inner wishbone bushes, causing them to perish. Bush replacement is around £600, the cost of which is mostly down to labour because decent aftermarket replacements are available from the likes of Powerflex.

If it looks low at the front, the springs have probably collapsed. They’re £255 each to replace, plus an hour’s fitting. More expensive are the adjustable dampers, which have a solenoid actuator to stiffen them when the Sport mode button is engaged. It tends to get left in one mode – and when it is eventually used, it can blow the fuse or the solenoid itself. The Bilstein dampers are the same as those on contemporary Chevrolet Corvettes, but they’re still £1500 each because of those actuators. Thankfully, the manufacturer can now refurbish them for a much more reasonable £400.

If the fly-off handbrake seems weak, or the lever stays up when pulled without engaging the ratchet, you may need a new ratchet. Try to find a replacement ratchet in isolation, because many replacements are sold as an expensive assembly complete with the lever. Discs and pads aren’t too costly, averaging £200 per corner including labour. The original equipment-spec Pirelli P Zero Rosso tyres last as little as 5000 miles. To fit the standard 18in wheels, they are 255/40 ZR 18 on the front (about £190 each) and 295/35 ZR 18 on the rear (which can be more than £550 each). Other makes with a harder compound last longer but grip less well. Check tread-depth indicators on all four tyres and examine the full width of the tread – uneven wear is common, especially on the front.


Interior

Many 550s suffer from leather shrinking back from the front edge of the dash. It also tends to let go from the airbag and instrument binnacle. If the latter is peeling, expect to spend £2000 fixing it. If the whole dash needs doing, the bill can be £4000-£5000. Check door and window seals thoroughly. Door seals cost £500 per side and the seals around the rear side windows crack – but a replacement is only available with a window, costing even more than the door seals. Also, the switchgear and interior handles have a rubber coating that goes sticky. The only solution is to strip each item and paint it black, which is very time-consuming. If you view the car on a rainy day, check the bottom of each door card – if it’s damp, the seal inside it has failed and rainwater will be getting into the footwells. It’s not a serious problem, but is another reason to lower your offer.


Gearbox

Some 550s made before 1998 suffered tricky engagement of first, third or fifth gears; sometimes all three. Most problems will have shown themselves by now, but there are checks you can make. With the engine running and the car stationary, check the baulk rings’ condition by trying to push the gearlever gently towards each gear without pressing the clutch. It should baulk – if it doesn’t and allows a crunch, even with gentle pressure, something’s wrong. Also check selection on the move in normal driving, when there should be no baulking at all once it’s warm. Poor selection may just be down to gear linkage adjustment, but it’s a big risk to take because a gearbox rebuild costs £4k, while a new box will exceed £10k. Clutches are weighty to operate but beware if one seems excessively heavy – it may be the release bearing beginning to seize. A clutch, cover and bearing costs about £3000, including labour.


Bodywork

Accident damage is the only major concern when it comes to structural condition. The aluminium body is well insulated from the steel frame, so impact is the only way in which the two reactive metals can meet, resulting in corrosion. Sometimes the only way of discovering this is through an expert inspection – a wise move for any buyer. Get it done by someone with model experience who can offer a mechanical inspection and a detailed cosmetic assessment.

Inspect the interior forensically for signs of leather shrinkage. User-friendliness makes owners want to drive their 550s. The 485bhp, 5.5-litre V12 has proved to be tough if properly maintained. When buying, it’s essential to find out if that is the case. Last of the old-school V12 Ferraris is easy to live with – if you get a good one to start with.

‘The 550 has shown little more than minor foibles by supercar standards’
What to pay
  • 550 Maranellos now peak at £100k for ultra-low-mileage trophy specimens at dealerships, while well-looked-after cars sell for £80k-£90k.
  • WSR versions are desirable among the cognoscenti, fetching around £150,000.
  • 550 Barchettas are collector-grade cars, fetching £250-£300k.
  • Zagato-bodied cars are priced on application, given the tiny numbers made and their individual specifications.
  • It’s hard to find anything under £60k, unless you’re willing to shop around in Europe for a left-hand- drive example.

Owning a Ferrari 550 Maranello

Mark Charles

‘I always thought my first Ferrari would be a 308. I have a Jaguar E-type V12 and I’m partial to front-engined GTs, but it wasn’t until I had a ride in a friend’s 550 that I realised what they could do,’ says Mark, who has owned his car for 12 years. He’s unusual among 550 owners in that he’s happy to do some jobs himself. These include fitting a replacement alternator – a job for which a specialist would charge four hours of labour, as well as the £500 for the new unit. ‘If you’re reasonably handy, you can take on certain jobs,’ he explains. ‘There’s a thread on the Ferrari Chat forum with detailed instructions for removing, recovering and refitting the dashboard, which is a job for me soon.’ Like most 550 owners, he drives his regularly. ‘It’s a terrific long-distance tourer.’

Keith Hughes

Keith’s experience with his 550 sums up why they’re so highly regarded – he’s had it for nearly 20 years and has done little more than service it, although he did have to have a new windscreen fitted at one point. ‘It’s a 1998 car that I bought in 2004 with 28,000 miles on it. I tax it for six months of the year, so it’s laid up over winter, but I do drive it – I’ve been to Italy and back, among other trips. I’m 6ft 2in and it’s got plenty of room for me. It’s never let me down – it’s just about the perfect car.’ Keith pays about £750 a year for a limited-mileage insurance policy and has used a variety of independent service specialists. He’s added a set of slightly dished OZ Superleggera 19in wheels and reckons they’re a big improvement on the 550’s standard wheel set.

Jonathan Eckersley

‘I took the plunge and bought my 1997 550 in 2014. It was looking a little unloved after passing through nine owners, but it’s proven a good buy,’ says Jonathan. He took a practical approach to assessing its history. ‘Service history is essential, so take the time to read through it and join the Ferrari Owners’ Club. The file was full of receipts and dealer stamps, so I phoned around to check these out. Everything seemed in order.

‘I had my local independent specialist check over the car and we prepared a list of jobs. None of it was too serious, the worst being engine mounts that I’ll probably look to replace with 575 items at some point. The bonnet release handle was broken and cost about £200 to repair.’ sponsored by Carole Nash Insurance

The 550 Maranello has aged like a fine wine into a first-class modern classic. But Ferrari ownership comes with large bills, so factor in high running costs even if you expect to do very little mileage. Having the right stamps in your service book is vital if you want to see a decent return on your investment. Look out for regular oil changes and ensure that the lambda sensor and cambelt have been renewed every three years or 45k miles. Future values? Hard to say but when you buy a Ferrari at these prices you don’t normally come out on the wrong side. Assuming you’ve bought the right one in the first place. Classic car insurance quotes: 0333 005 7541 or carolenash.com

1998 550 Maranello – POA

This US-based example features the rare Blue Tour de France colour. It was delivered to the first of its four owners by Ferrari of Dallas in September 1998 and has covered 11,000 miles. The current owner has had it since 2009. Supplied with its original books and tools, including the warranty card. A service was carried out in February 2023, including new belts and tyres.

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