Toward the end of 1989, there was a big hiccup in the Ferrari lineup. Ferrari had been selling the same big V-12 2+2 since 1972 at that point, mildly updated and renamed every few years. And as the company looked at entering the ’90s with a design and horsepower number from 1972, Ferrari decided instead to kill off the 412, even though there was no replacement yet. It was two years before another big 2+2 would show up to replace the 412, and not counting limited production supercars, it was the only time in the company’s history that a gap like that existed.

It might seem like an extreme, but a radical change was needed, and when the 456 finally debuted in 1992, it was very clear that Ferrari had completely rethought its approach to this segment. Not only that, but in 1992, the 456 was by far the most modern car in the company lineup, as well as the a more powerful car than anything Ferrari had ever built, with the single exception of the F40. It set a new standard for Ferrari in the ’90s, and paved the way for a complete styling overhaul, things no 2+2 had done before.

Continue reading to learn more about the Ferrari 456M GTA.


1998 Ferrari 456M GTA High Resolution Exterior
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With the 456, Ferrari went back to a fastback design for big 2+2s, a styling practice it had abandoned back in 1972. It is a far more modern design than not only the car it replaced, but even compared to the rest of the Ferrari lineup at the time. The exception would be the pop-up headlights, and the 456 was the last Ferrari to have them.

The design still came from Pininfarina, but soft curves replaced the sharp angles that had dominated Ferrari design for the preceding two decades. The design eschewed the flamboyance of sports cars Ferrari had been building, with all of their enormous side strakes, but it still managed to be a sexier sort of look than the 412 it replaced. Here is necessary to explain one part of the name of the car there.

There were essentially two generations of the 456, the first one in 1992 and the 456M in 1998. The M had a few styling tweaks to both the inside and the outside, with the M introducing a new hood without the air scoops of the earlier model and a smaller grille with the fog lights moved to the outside.


1998 Ferrari 456M GTA High Resolution Interior
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From an aesthetic point of view, the move back to a fastback design was a welcome change, but just like with earlier 2+2s that used this design, the 456 was a bit lacking in space when it came to the back seat. It wasn’t a complete joke, people could actually sit back there, but it’s worth noting that the car that followed the 456 was bigger specifically to allow for more space in the back.

But the interior of the 456 is wonderfully modern in comparison to the other Ferraris at the time, and this is even more true of the 456M. For the M, Ferrari redesigned the dash and center stack, simplifying the layout a bit and giving the car a new stereo system and head unit. It still definitely has quite a ’90s look to it, but it is a supremely comfortable and sophisticated interior.


1998 Ferrari 456M GTA High Resolution Drivetrain
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The 456 was the last Ferrari to be named for its engine’s specific displacement, meaning that each cylinder in the V-12 engine displaced 456cc. That makes the total displacement 5.5 liters, and some of those intimately familiar with Ferrari history might have already figured out that when the 550 debuted in 1996, it used the same engine. Although it would be perfectly reasonable to assume that the engine was just an enlarged version of the engine from the 412, since every Ferrari V-12 up to that point had just been an enlarged version of the one before it, that actually isn’t the case here. The 456 used a V-12 based on the architecture of the old Dino V-6, just with twice as many cylinders. This is therefore not considered a new engine by Ferrari, just a new version of an existing one.

The engine produced 436 horsepower, setting a new standard for regular production Ferraris at the time. And with its top speed of 188 mph, the 456 was the fastest four-seat car in the world for a while. It is now also necessary to talk about that last part of the name in the title of this piece. Two versions of the 456M existed, the GT and the GTA, with the only difference being the transmission. The GTA had a four-speed automatic transmission, a big improvement over previous automatics, but still something Ferrari was only putting in 2+2s.


1998 Ferrari 456M GTA High Resolution Exterior
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The 456 was built in pretty large quantities, with Ferrari selling more units in fewer years than it had managed with the car’s predecessor. The GTA sold for $255,000 when new, but even though it was expensive, it isn’t old enough yet to really be thought of as a classic, especially since the 456M GTA was only replaced by the 612 in 2003. The average price today is down to around $38,000, but it’s hard to imagine it will stay that low for long. GTA versions aren’t quite as plentiful as manual versions of the 456, but not by so much that the scarcity adds anything to the value. Pininfarina did make some special versions of the car, such as the Bicolore, which served as an early example of Ferrari’s still-expanding customization program. There were also convertible, sedan and even station wagon versions of the car, all produced in extremely small numbers. Those are all clearly worth a fortune, but the rest of the 456 units aren’t, and now might be a good time to invest in one.


Maserati Shamal

1998 Ferrari 456M GTA High Resolution Exterior
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In its day, the Shamal offered a budget-minded alternative for those that didn’t have the money for a 456 but still wanted a fast Italian 2+2. The bodywork is not as elegant as the Ferrari’s, and neither is the twin-turbo V-8 as powerful, but Ferrari built nine 456s for ever Shamal that rolled off the line, and from a collector’s perspective, the Shamal will probably pick up value faster than the 456.

Bentley Continental R

1998 Ferrari 456M GTA High Resolution Exterior
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The last produced before Bentley came under Volkswagen ownership, the Continental R was produced during almost the exact same period as the 456 and cost almost exactly the same amount. The big twin-turbo V-8 also produced enough that the Continental R was the closest to the 456 in terms of performance of any of its rivals. In fact, certain later versions of the car could even hit 60 mph faster than the Ferrari. But in general with these sorts of things, the Bentley can’t quite match the Ferrari in terms of performance and the Ferrari can’t quite match the Bentley’s luxury. Which one you should buy is mainly down to your specific priorities.


1998 Ferrari 456M GTA High Resolution Exterior
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When the 456 first debuted, Autocar Magazine called it “the greatest grand tourer the world has ever seen.” And a then still very young Richard Hammond said that it instantly became his favorite Ferrari. It was a huge step in the right direction for Ferrari, not only for its 2+2 grand tourers, but for the company in general. Ferrari often says that the 456 was the first car that it built with an eye to the 21st century. And while this is essentially meaningless marketing talk, it is very clear that the 456 was built with the idea of making Ferraris a whole lot better.

  • Leave it
    • * Smallish back seat
    • * Not new but not yet a classic
    • * Pop-up headlight aren’t for everyone.
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