Ferrari 550 and 575

For many years, a core of Cavallino enthusiasts reserved title of “the best all-around Ferrari” for the late-1960s 330/365 GTC. It’s no wonder the next car to assume the mantle would follow a similar blueprint: mature but exciting styling, V-12 engine in the front, a two-seater built on a shortened 2+2 chassis.

This was the Ferrari 550 Maranello, unveiled in July 1996 at Germany’s Nurburgring racetrack. The name celebrated both its 5.5-liter V-12 and the Ferrari factory’s hometown.

The 1997 Ferrari 550 Maranello.
The 1997 Ferrari 550 Maranello was easy to drive and designed to be understated.
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It essentially was the Ferrari 456 GT four-seater rendered in tighter, lighter, sportier form. It also turned its back on the midengine layout that had defined Ferrari’s performance flagships for more than a decade in the guise of the Testa Rossa through 512M. The attitude behind those supercars was no longer in fashion at Maranello.

“I was a little disturbed by a car that was too much of a showoff, too difficult to use,” Ferrari CEO Luca Cordero di Montezemolo said at the 550’s introduction.

Avoiding “showoff,” circumventing “difficult to use” was the essence of the design and engineering brief. As usual, the recipe started with the engine, and the 550’s 5474cc V-12 was a masterpiece. It had a variable-volume intake manifold, titanium connecting rods, forged aluminum pistons, four valves per cylinder, and four cams. Horsepower was an impressive 485 at 7600 rpm. With a great deal of its 420 pound-feet of torque available at 3500 rpm, it was also impressively user-friendly.

Its tubular chassis’ wheelbase was four inches shorter than the 456’s, but their underpinnings had much in common: independent suspension with double wishbones, coil springs, electronically adjustable shocks, and antiroll bars.

The largest engineering stride was the new ASR traction control. This featured three modes: Normal, Sport, and Off. It would cut back engine power if it sensed a rear wheel slipping, and if things got particularly unruly, the computer-controlled system would activate the ventilated disc brakes’ antilock technology to intervene. The ABS also balanced braking effort between the front and rear brakes when deceleration reached more than 0.5g.

Sergio Pininfarina relished designing the 550, honing the shape with 4,800 hours in the wind tunnel. “It reminded me of how I felt in the 1950s, when I was first working with Ferrari,” he said. “Ferrari returned to the front-engine configuration with this car because the progress of technology allowed us to reach the same level of performance of a midengine design with better comfort and luggage room.”

A number of pundits saw the Ferrari 550’s restrained styling as too conservative at the time of its launch. Such misgivings soon wore away as the purity of the shape gained recognition as a Pininfarina classic.

The design was also quite practical. Compared to the Ferrari 512M, the 550 had three inches more leg room and 1.5 inches more head room, plus a larger trunk and a small storage area behind the seats. Yet it accelerated more quickly -- 4.3 seconds 0-60 mph. It was faster -- a real top speed just shy of 200 mph. And it handled considerably better -- the Ferrari 550 was more than three seconds quicker than the 512M around Ferrari’s Fiorano test track.

The 2002 Ferrari 550 Berlinetta
The 2002 Ferrari 550 Barchetta, a limited
edition, sold out before production began.

The idea of an open-air Ferrari 550 was evident not longer after the Maranello made its debut. Pininfarina had been building a number of custom-bodied Ferraris for Brunei’s royal family, including cabriolets. Ferrari followed suit with the 2000 Paris Auto Show unveiling of the Ferrari 550 Barchetta Pininfarina.

It was produced as a limited edition of 448 to commemorate 50 years collaboration between Ferrari and its great design partner. Distinguished from the coupe by a lower windshield, fairings and rollbars behind the seats, and a manually operated folding top, all were sold before production began in 2001.

In 2002, Ferrari introduced the Ferrari 575M Maranello. The M stood for Modificata, which was borne out in a displacement bump to 5748cc, a horsepower kick to 515, and installation of an updated version of the paddle-shift F1 gear-change system first seen in the 355 F1. Cosmetically, more-aggressive headlights were integrated, and the interior was revised with a new dashboard and seats.

The 2005 Ferrari Superamerica.
The 2005 Ferrari 575 Superamerica featured
a pivoting top of adjustable-tint glass.

An open version of this car made its debut at the 2005 Los Angeles Auto Show. The 575 Superamerica conjured Ferrari’s famed luxurious limited-production models of decades past. It opened its cockpit to the air via an intriguing rotating top of adjustable-tint electrochromic glass. The panel pivoted on points behind the passenger compartment and came to rest above the trunklid. It was a fitting exclamation point for a classic Ferrari.

Learn about these other great Ferrari Road Cars:

166 MM
250 GT SWB
365 CaliforniaTestarossa
212 Inter
400 Superamerica
365 GT 2+2
340 America
250 GTE
365 GTB/4 Daytona
375 America
250 GT/L Lusso
365 GTC/4
456 GT
375 MM
330 GT 2+2
512 BBi
250 Europa GT
500 Superfast
250 GT Boano
275 GTB/4
308 GT4
550 and 575
410 Superamerica
275 GTS
308 and 328
360 and F430
250 GT Coupe
Dino 246 GT
250 GT Spyder California
330 GTC
288 GTO
612 Scaglietti

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