Ferrari 550 Buying Guide

Offering a beguiling mix of performance and usability that makes it a desirable modern classic, here's what to look for when buying a Ferrari 550

Prices
• Project £40,000-50,000 • Good £60,000-80,000 • Concours £100,000-200,000 •
• Most expensive at auction: £400,500 (delivery mileage 550 Barchetta)

Practicality ★★★
Running costs ★★
Spares ★★★
DIY Friendly ★★
Investment ★★★★
Desirability ★★★★

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The Ferrari 550 Maranello arrived in 1996 as a replacement for the long-running mid-engined Testarossa/512TR range. With a return to a front-engine layout, handling predictability was improved, although at the expense of outright grip levels – a compromise that perhaps better suited its role as a long-distance tourer.

A number of chassis components were shared with the 2+2 456, but the 550 offered more power from its 5.5-litre V12 and possessed far tighter sporting characteristics too. A six-speed manual was the sole transmission option throughout, while the majority of the cars were coupés with a smaller batch of Barchettas being crafted near the end of the six-year production run.

The overall design and handling balance was spot on from the very beginning and very few changes were carried out until the updated 575 arrived in 2002. Build-quality too was decent throughout. Values are generally influenced more by which side the steering wheel is on rather than the overall condition of the vehicle.

Your AutoClassics Ferrari 550 inspection checklist

Engine

The 5.5-litre V12 remained unchanged throughout production. Engines are robust and many 550s have covered big distances with no major issues. The key to a happy ownership is ensuring that a regular maintenance schedule is not deviated from; cambelt changes should be undertaken every three years and lambda sensors every 45,000 miles. As with the 456, which shares the same basic engine, cam seals tend to weep oil, which if left unchecked can end up on the timing belt.

Radiator hoses require periodic replacement. The set under the intake manifold are especially prone to cracking due to the excessive heat generated.

Gearbox

The six-speed manual is pleasant to use and few examples have suffered any major issues in this area. It is worth noting that a batch of early cars could exhibit some notchiness when changing into first, third and fifth gears, rebuilds are expensive so make sure gearchanges are smooth.

Clutches tend to get hard as they wear and if excessive pressure is required it may indicate that a replacement is on the cards.

Suspension and brakes

Steering racks tend to last approximately 30,000 miles. Excessive play around the mid-point may indicate that a rebuild is on the horizon. Some owners tend not to notice or simply ignore the issue, so check the service history if the car does exhibits any signs of a worn rack.

With so much power and a heavy kerb weight, the 550 goes through tyres with alarming regularity. Check for excessive wear on the inside edges as the negative camber can affect this section first.

Vehicles produced from 1997 to 1999 were fitted with magnesium wheels, which had a tendency to crack at the wheel bolt inserts. These were all replaced by Ferrari with aluminium wheels. The magnesium items had solid spokes while the aluminium replacements were hollow.

The suspension bushes will require periodic checking too, especially the upper A-arm units as these can sometimes fail prematurely; a metallic rattling sound over rough surfaces is what you should listen out for.

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Bodywork

Decent corrosion protection and a generally pampered life mean that rust is not a big concern on the 550. Aluminium panels can sometimes exhibit corrosion though so it is worth giving the bodywork a once-over to ensure that everything is in order.

The rare Barchettas came supplied with a basic soft-top cover, which was intended for occasional use, though few owners bothered with them. Check around the footwells and behind the seats for any evidence of water having settled there from an unexpected shower.

Interior

Barchettas may exhibit more discolouration on the headrests and dashboard than their coupé counterparts although the interior tends to be pretty hard-wearing overall.

Buttons and switchgear can show signs of wear though and the dashboard leather has been known to bubble and lose its tight shape on some cars.

History

  • 1996: Ferrari 550 launched as successor to mid-engined 512TR. 5.5-litre V12 produced 478bhp and the power was sent the to the rear wheels through a six-speed manual transmission.
  • 2000: Limited edition 550 Barchetta introduced.
  • 2001: Last 550 Maranello rolls off the production line with 3083 coupes and 448 Barchettas built.
  • 2002: Ferrari 575M introduced, more an upgraded 550 than an entirely new model.
  • 2009 (post production): In a collaboration with Zagato, five units of the special edition Ferrari roadster GTZ were made available. These cars were based on the Barchetta Roadster.

AutoClassics say…

The 550 follows a long line of classic front-engined Grand Tourers such as the 275 and Daytona, its superlative performance and added practicality over its mid-engined predecessors has ensured its continued popularity on the classic car scene. Values have been on a steady upward trajectory and low-mileage garage queens are now commanding big numbers.

The majority of 550s tend to have led pampered lives, but with the first cars now celebrating their 21st birthdays, some may have slipped through the cracks, so avoid patchy service histories as remedying mechanical issues can get very expensive.

Don’t dismiss high-mileage cars with good service histories though, as the robust mechanicals can make this the most cost-effective way into 550 ownership.

The red exterior/cream interior combination typically tends to be the most common, although the curvy lines look stunning in rare Tour De France Blu as well.

Barchettas are the rarer and more collectible option but the added practicality and arguably better-resolved lines of the coupes make them very desirable too, especially for owners intending to put some mileage on their cars.

Specifications

5.5-litre V12
  Power 478bhp
  Top speed 199mph
  0-60mph 4.3sec
  Economy 17mpg

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