I recently had the chance to drive a Ferrari 550 Maranello, which is a front-engine, V12-powered Ferrari that I can’t afford. This wasn’t always true. Just a few years ago, you used to be able to pick up a Ferrari 550 Maranello for something like $90,000. Now the average asking price of one of these is just shy of $170,000, and people have started storing them inside inflatable climate-controlled car bubbles.
This, of course, leads me to ask the following question: why? And, maybe more importantly, how? How can a car that was just ninety grand in 2013 suddenly double in value in less than 4 years? In the last 4 years, has this car become twice as good? Twice as cool? Are owners finding gold bars worth $75,000 in a secret stash in the trunks of these things?
To find out, I borrowed a 550 Maranello from my friend Cyrus, who lives in New Jersey. And here’s what I discovered: The 550’s recent rise in value can largely be attributed to a combination of several interesting factors that have all come together right at the same time.
Factor number one is most obvious: Every 550 Maranello has a stick shift. If you’ve been paying even the slightest attention to the exotic-car world over the last few years, you’ll notice that stick-shift models have shot up in value. People are doing ridiculous things to get exotic cars with manual transmissions, like paying four times more for a 3-pedal 599 GTB than they’d pay for an automatic version. It’s insanity — and the 550 Maranello has benefitted from this insanity.
But it isn’t just that the 550 Maranello has a stick shift. It’s also going up in value because the 550 is basically the last stick-shift V12 Ferrari. Yes, Ferrari did make manual versions of later models — like the 575M, the 612 Scaglietti and the 599 GTB. But each of those are wildly difficult to find — and their prices are absurdly inflated. Meanwhile, every single 550 Maranello has three pedals, meaning you don’t have to go searching for the needle in the haystack (or "the manual in the Autotrader listings," as it were).
And then there’s the performance. If you want a stick-shift Ferrari, you could always get a 1980s or 1990s model, like a 308 or a 348. But you’ll find that those cars won’t even out-accelerate a modern sporty hatchback — and, frankly, they probably won’t handle as well as one, either. The 550 Maranello, meanwhile, mates the enjoyment of a Ferrari gated manual transmission with performance that’s still impressive in 2017: It has a 480-horsepower V12, and it’ll do zero to 60 in something like 4.5 seconds on its way to a top speed of just under 200 miles per hour.
Indeed, the 550 Maranello seems to be right at the sweet spot for car enthusiast interest: It’s not so old that performance and maintenance are awful, but it’s old enough that it has the all-important stick shift.
I experienced all this when I got behind the wheel of Cyrus’s 550 Maranello. Here’s the reality: Even though this car came out 20 years ago, in 1997, its performance is still highly impressive today. It wasn’t even acceleration from a stop that impressed me most. The thing that really excited me was the 550 Maranello’s unbelievable passing power. This thing feels faster from 40 to 80 than most cars feel from zero to 60. It just has unending, massive torque, and you can easily downshift to the proper gear in order to access it.
And speaking of downshifting to the proper gear, it’s hard not to fall in love with the transmission in a 550 Maranello. Gated shifters are simply the best: They look good, they feel good, and they have that wonderful "clink" sound when you shift into each gear. In the 550 Maranello, you also get a surprisingly easy, linear clutch pedal and a quick-revving engine — which make easy work out of rev-matched downshifts. Combine that with the 550’s ultra-precise steering and handling and it’s impossible not to be impressed with this car. The 550 Maranello isn’t small, but it feels tremendously nimble and surprisingly unintimidating — especially considering "it’s a Ferrari" and all that.
Of course, there are a few flaws. Ferrari models from this era still have some strange switches and ergonomics — like, for instance, three locations for headlight switches, an unusual blank switch directly in the middle of the center controls, an odd power locking system and the horrible late-1990s Ferrari immobilizer system, which will cause you to angrily curse your car virtually every time you start it. Also annoying is the tremendously long front overhang, which is prone to scraping on virtually every driveway.
And then you have to decide whether you like the styling. The 550 Maranello is beautiful, sure, but it isn’t very "Ferrari-like." It doesn’t have the low, wide exotic-car look of the period’s F355 and 360 Modena — meaning you won’t be stopped at the gas station by staring, pointing children and excited people with camera phones. If you like that (and I do), you’re in luck, because this is a subtle way to enjoy the Ferrari experience. If you want the attention and the recognition, you’ll want to consider another model.
In the end, the Ferrari 550 Maranello is an amazing car — and an amazing experience. It’s gorgeous, the stick shift is sublime and the sound, as you’ll hear in the video, is glorious. Maybe most importantly, it still offers thrilling performance, even 20 years later. To me, this car hasn’t really shot up in price so much as it has regained its rightful value based on its many, many merits. The 550 Maranello is certainly worth $170,000, and I suspect it’ll never again fall to the point where mortals can afford it. If it does, you should buy one. We all should. Find a Ferrari 550 Maranello for sale
Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.
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