Twin overhead camshafts on each of the V12's two banks of cylinders drive four valves per cylinder. Fuel comes from a Bosch Motronic M5.2 fuel injection system with a single spark plug per cylinder. A dry sump provides the oil lubrication, while the transaxle has a single-plate clutch.
A couple of recalls issued by Ferrari affect the drivetrain. The first is for a fuel pipe clamping ferrule that attaches the flexible fuel pipe to the end fitting. This can leak in the engine compartment and the recall applies to all 550s built between January 1997 and August 1998.
The second drivetrain recall is for the gearbox oil cooler pipes, which may leak and leave the transaxle with insufficient lubricant, so check underneath any potential purchase under the rear for oil leaks.
Early 550s suffered from the gearbox not wanting to select first, third and fifth gears, the forward ratios in the open gate. A gearbox rebuild could set you back £9,000, so make sure the lever doesn't jump out of gear when you accelerate, lift off the throttle or dip the clutch. The clutch itself is generally hard wearing, but it is sensitive to different driving styles so a heavy-booted driver can easily get through a clutch in less than 10,000 miles while a more considerate owner should see 20,000 miles before a new clutch is needed.
Cam belts are a notorious point of contention with mid-engined Ferrari owners, but in the 550 the belts are easily accessible. The cam seals can wear and leak, so these are best changed with the belt. Water can also leak into the V of the engine, which is usually down to worn or split hoses. Specialists recommend fitting silicone hoses to help with this, but owners should bank on replacing the engine's hoses every four years. Water can also leak on to the ECU from blocked drain holes at the base of the windscreen, so keep these clear.
Check the engine's undertray is not damaged as some mechanics cut a hole in it to change the oil rather than remove it. If it's broken, it will flap at higher speeds and eventually break loose. While under here, also check the oil drain plug is intact as it can ground out on speed bumps and steep driveways.
Oil pressure in the engine should register immediately on the dash gauge and settle to around 70psi. Any smoke from the engine is a bad sign as these motors are regarded as tough and durable. Some owners have experienced blown cylinder head gaskets and some early motors suffered from poor cylinder ring fitment, but these problems should have been cured by now.
Don't be afraid of a car with an aftermarket exhaust, so long as the exhaust is from an established supplier such as Larini and been properly fitted. Beware the 550 needs a catalytic convertor to pass its MoT.
Specialists recommend buying a car that has been used regularly over a very low miles car if you intend to drive the car. Sitting idle for prolonged periods does more harm than good and a well used car should cost around £2,000 per year to service. However, average fuel economy of 11.6mpg might temper high mileage use.
"Obviously full main dealer or specialist history is what you want. Belts need doing every three years, Service every year. Never heard of a clutch failing, but as they wear, they get heavier and heavier. A lot of car for the money. Maintenance might cost £2-3K per year, but compared to depreciation on newer, more mainstream cars/manufacturers, it's a small price to pay for an almost zero depreciation car."