Why Do We Always Forget The Ferrari 456?
Photography by Ted Gushue
I finally had a chance to ask that question to a dear friend the other day when we were shooting his 911 in Bedford New York. Ben Clymer is the founder of Hodinkee.com, what I and many others consider to be the gold standard of the watch world. Ben’s had the pleasure of being in the right place at the right time for a whole number of exceptional cars, one of the latest being a very very clean 456.
Ted Gushue: Why is the 456 the Ferrari that we all like to forget about?
Ben Clymer: It’s a very forgettable car. It’s one of those cars where I’ve often said if you saw that car and it didn’t have badges on it you would think it was a mid-90s Mazda. It’s a very understated, a very kind of round, unsexy car in some ways. It is not something that gets the girls. It’s no something that gets your juices flowing in the way that a GTO or even the Enzo or some of the crazier modern cars do. It is very, very docile. It is very, very understated and it is largely forgotten, which is what I love about it.
It’s a car that has always been attractive to me ever since I was in high school. A friend’s father owned one. I was just like, “Wow, this is such a cool car because it’s completely practical and yet it’s a V-12 Ferrari.” The appeal of owning a V-12 Ferrari is very real for all of us, obviously.
TG: None of the performance, all of the maintenance, is what you’re telling me?
BC: It’s a lot of that. It has a lot of the performance at the high end. At the lower gears, 0 to 60, it’s not a rocket ship. It’s 0 to 60 in like 5.2 seconds. It’s got 450 horsepower, which for the early ’90s is a beast, but you really feel the power from like 70 to 120. It is one of the most exciting cars you can possibly imagine at that speed. 0 to 60, it’s not about that. It’s about touring and being able to travel long distances at speed and in comfort. I’ve put four people in this car and we’ve traveled for two hours.
TG: You’re still friends with them?
BC: [Laughs] It’s one of those things where, again, it is so understated. The muffler on this car is amazing in the sense that you can’t even hear it. Unless you’re really grinding it you can’t even really hear the car, which I might change down the road because it’s kind of a shame to have that much kind of beauty and not be able to hear it.
TG: What’s the community like around the 456? Have you met other owners?
BC: They’re out there. I took it to Lime Rock this year and put it out on the infield and I had two people offer to buy the car on the spot. What’s amazing about this car is you often see 550 Maranellos with six-speeds. That’s how most of them came. With the 456 it was kind of like an old man’s car even back then. The vast majority, I think it’s something like 90% of them, are automatic. I mean pure automatic. There’s no F1 transmission or anything, so to find one with a six-speed is actually quite rare.
This one is in Tour de France blue over a natural tan interior. It is, I think, the most desirable version of the car. It’s the 456 that I would’ve designed had I been buying it new. There is a small, small cult following around there, but, again, it doesn’t get people going like a 550 Maranello but I like that. It’s a true “genleman’s Ferrari”. At the same time, it’s a little “old man”, but then again I’m kind of an old man at heart, so it works with me.
TG: Do you see the market maturing around these cars? If not, do you care?
BC: I definitely care. I’ve been watching 550s and 456s for about three years and actively had been looking to buy one. The market for the 550s over the past three years has almost doubled for a really good one. For a low mileage, one or two owner car it was going from, I would say three years ago, $75,000-$80,000. Now a really good one’s $150,000 every day of the week. The 456 has not really increased. I would say they were $60,000 three years ago and now for a good one I think $90,000. Something like that. They’re still well below even what a 550 is. I think they will mature because in my opinion, this is the last great analog V-12.
There’s no navigation, which I think is wonderful. I wouldn’t want just a dead screen in my car. I plan to keep this for decades. No navigation, real V-12, and it really is a beautiful GT. It’s a car that you can drive and have so much fun in without causing a stir and a commotion everywhere you go.
TG: I like the idea of not having a dead screen because so many of these cars from the period now are just driving around with this really awkward black screen that nobody uses.
BC: It’s terrible. That’s one of those things when I look at cars that I want to buy for myself, I never buy a car just to keep for a few years. I look for something that I would love to pass down to my children someday. Having that dead screen, it’s a nonstarter. I just couldn’t do it.
TG: There is a certain planned obsolescence that they had built into those that was very un-Ferrari. Car manufacturers found themselves putting GPS devices in their cars in the late ’90s, early ‘00s. They were and are making this very conscious decision to implement technology that would be visually obsolete in a few short years. I feel like they hadn’t made that type of decision before.
BC: Exactly. I think you really see the transition from thinking about selling a car right now to creating something that is really multi-generational and really lasting, which Ferrari and Porsche, all the great manufacturers had always been doing kind of unbeknownst to them. Then all the sudden, they started to want to sell things quickly. I think one of the most interesting applications of playing it both ways was the BMW Z8 because it has a tiny, tiny navigation screen. Probably two inches by two inches, and it’s hidden under a panel. So you can open it up and use it, but you can also put it away and nobody can see it, which I think is kind of a cute way of doing things.
TG: That’s Fisker for you.