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Ferrari 456M GTA | The Brave Pill

A bargain V12 Ferrari to bring back memories of a PH classic thread...

By Mike Duff / Saturday, March 28, 2020

Beyond concerns regarding stocks of beans and bog rolls, the first reaction many of us had to the Corona-lockdown was to wonder on the likely effect it would have on the values of used cars, especially the sort of faded exotics that Brave Pill exists to celebrate. Several threads are already running in the forums, with a significant percentage of posters reckoning it will only be a matter of months before it's possible to barter a couple of dozen of Andrex's softest in exchange for anything less sensible than a lightly used Honda with FSH.

The reality is almost certainly less extreme, especially as the purchase of elderly luxury motors is regarded as a non-essential activity and is effectively suspended for the duration. Once things free up the prices of some cars may well fall, especially in the parts of the market suspended on little more than hot air. But that's not where Brave Pill hunts, and it's hard to imagine a world where adventurous types won't be prepared to roll the dice on a low-cost V12 Ferrari, with this week's Pill being the cheapest currently on sale.

We've been here before, of course. One of the inspirations for Brave Pill's foundation was back in 2012 when Chris Harris called out the dangerous charm of a £17K Ferrari 456, and then PHer Paul Goodlad had the stones to actually buy it. Goodlad then proved the naysayers wrong by running it for six years for an average of two grand per annum before selling it for a sizeable premium over what he paid. That's not so much living the dream as getting the keys for the penthouse on top of it.

Eight years on and the buy-in for this high-stakes game has grown. Our Pill's £31,500 price tag means it is the cheapest 456 in the classifieds by nearly £10,000, the only other Ferraris being offered for similar sums being Mondials - the brand's perennial punchline. While our Pill has the less appealing option of the four-speed automatic gearbox and a 95,000 mile odometer reading - it is also the later significantly fettled 'Modificata' version in the handsome combination of silver with black leather.

Considering that the 456 was launched nearly three decades ago, it still looks remarkably fresh. The company had sold diminishing numbers of its four-seat Grand Tourers throughout the 'seventies and 'eighties - with the huge, boxy 412 having been axed without a direct rtop of the range, priced above even the 512 Testarossa. It was one of the first cars launched under the regime of Luca di Montezemolo and marked a huge step forward. The Pininfarina-styled lines were stunning from all directions, with the decision to use pop-up headlights keeping the design taut and uncluttered. (While the 355 was the last Ferrari launched with pop-ups, the 456 outlived it to be the last offering them.)

Early reviews were close to radioactive in terms of praise, singling out design, cabin quality and the car's composed handling. But the star feature was always the newly developed 65-degree 5.5-litre V12. This made 436hp, a relatively unstressed specific output for a naturally aspirated Ferrari even then, but it combined a zingy top end with substantial mid-range torque. Performance was huge, the manual 456's 4.9-seond 0-60mph time making it the quickest car in the range when it was launched, and a 192mph top speed making it the second-fastest four-seater on the market, running up only to the much less practical Porsche 959.

I only got to drive one at the other end of the car's long life. It was a magazine comparison test which pitted a 456 M GTA almost identical to our Pill with a Bentley Continental T and a Mercedes CL55 AMG, involving three days blasting over a wintry Exmoor in late 2000. By any objective standards the freshly launched Merc was the best car there, but the others were so much more charismatic the poor CL did little more than fill in the background of group shots. Both Bentley and Ferrari were spectacular, but for completely different reasons - the old-school Conti as a huge, crude experience, the Ferrari for both its impressive agility and the operatic talents of its tireless engine. Even the slow-witted four-speed auto wasn't too much of an imposition given the quantity of mid-range muscle on offer; it certainly didn't feel like a car that was already eight years old at the time.

Yet while it was by far the most technically sophisticated Ferrari four-seater up to that point, the 456 shared one unfortunate habit of its front-engined predecessors - horrendous residuals. Earlier buyers required mine-deep pockets to fund the gap between what they had paid and what their cars were worth just a couple of years later. In 1994 a 456's £146,000 list price was nearly twice as much as the £79,000 required for a 348 GTB; five years later the mid-engined car was still worth more than £50,000 but the V12 was under £40,000. However rich you might be, that's still the sort of depreciation that leaves welts.

On the limited upside, the plunging residuals meant the 456's running costs looked less scary in relative terms. The V12 proved to be one of the most reliable engines that Ferrari had made up to that point - in heavily developed form it lasted until 2011 in the 612 Scaglietti. And although routine maintenance is expensive, and out-of-routine costs can blur the line between tragedy and comedy, the 456 remains one of the less risky Ferraris from this period, certainly if you can find a good one.

Could this be it? It's certainly no garage queen, and the advert's limited selection of images and detail-light text raise as many questions as they answer. Enzo the PH Hamster hasn't been able to dig out the registration for this one, denying us a peek at the official MOT record, but the vendor promises that the car will come with a full MOT as well as a "fully documented service history."

Some will doubtless regard the odometer reading as being scarily high; Ferrari miles often seem to be like dog years given the market's strange fetishization for barely-used cars. But more sensible types will regard the near-six figures as proof the car has been properly enjoyed, and looked after well enough to get it there. An average of 4,300 miles a year is hardly ridiculous, is it?

Plus there's the courageous example set by Mr Goodlad, who bought a 456 that looked considerably less loved than this one and managed to enjoy six years of cut-price Ferrari ownership. In these gloomy times, shouldn't we all be looking on the bright side?


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