The Carchive Special Edition: Ferrari 456M

While I usually mine The Carchive for the old, the unusual or the downright inexcusable, because today is my birthday I’m going for a completely self-indulgent choice, just like I did this time last year with the Maserati Quattroporte Evoluzione.
The Ferrari 456 is miles off the Hooniverse radar, really. In terms of significance to the marque the 456 is unlikely to go down in history as an outright classic, it was never a track-day superhero nor was it an in-your-face stylistic exhibitionist like the Testarossa or the Berlinetta Boxer.
Despite this, and in some ways, the 456 is my second favourite car in history. Take the jump if you’re interested in why.

In 1992 the 456GT arrived on Ferrari showroom floors and presented a silhouette the likes of which hadn’t been seen wearing a Cavallino Rampante for years. Ferrari had sold four-seater cars many times before, but those cars always seemed to live somewhat in the shadows of the slinkier two-seaters. The 412 had quietly faded away in 1989 after a seventeen year life span taking in various name-changes and engineering alterations, but retaining the sober, mature sharp-edged styling that became its hallmark. As did its front-mounted 60deg V12, growing in capacity as it evolved.
I was always a big fan of the 412. After it disappeared from the price-lists when I was at primary school, I did wonder what might replace it. I had no idea whatsoever until 2nd June 1993, when Autocar shouted out “we’re first to drive the new Ferrari V12”. I bought the magazine with my pocket-money, and then spent the majority of my summer holidays that year gawping at the multiple-page feature devoted to the 456, drinking in every detail depicted in the lavish photos, and hanging on every word of Andrew Frankel’s spellbinding narrative.
The car was astonishing. The numbers, 442hp and 186mph+ were easily big enough to satisfy this twelve-year-old’s appetite. The fact that it was a Ferrari at all was enough for some pre-pubescent hyperventilating, but this wasn’t just another bright red noisy projectile. This was somehow something deeper and more meaningful than that.
The looks didn’t hurt, either, though the 456 still attracts its share of naysayers. The simplicity of its form and its genteel elegance is sometimes mistaken for blandness and a lack of adventure. There are folk out there who say it reminds them of the ’93 Ford Probe, which must be a colossal compliment to Ford. Other people decry the 456 for being too obviously inspired by the 365GTB/4 Daytona, which isn’t really fair considering how absolutely right that car was in every detail, and surely a company as authoritative as Ferrari has the right to revisit previously charted territory on whatever whim they can justify.
There’s something about the 456 which brings your eye back to it time and time again. It is imbued with a kind of slow-burning beauty which intensifies with every lingering stare until it becomes too much to bear. Some shapes are just naturally, divinely perfect, and need little or no embellishment to attract the eye. But, just in case the simmering, supple curves aren’t enough, a perfectly judged dressing of accessories transforms the embodiment of feminine perfection into something almost heart-attackingly raunchy. Those air-extraction ducts aft of the front wheels are downright provocative.
But you know all that. “Ferrari in sexy car shocker”. Not exactly headline news.
My appreciation of this car is altogether more personally founded. The 442 published articles that I have so far amassed on this wonderful website probably would never have been written had the 456 not been launched, and Andrew Frankels feature not been printed. Reading that copy of Autocar, now one of the most thumbed volumes to grace my shelves, had a very pronounced effect on twelve-year-old me, important enough for me to recall the experience over on my dusty old website a several years ago.
Every word of that I wrote there is true. Autocar’s 456 article, the words, the humour, the detail and above all, the vivid, visceral imagery, planted a seed deep inside. Somehow I knew that, in whatever capacity possible, I wanted to be a part of the motor journalism industry. I wanted to write things that could have the same effect on people as that article had on me. Perhaps one day I will.
Writing isn’t my profession, you’ll be relieved to know. It’s pure escapism, a fantasy, if you like. Reading about the 456 back in 1993 was a fantasy, too. But through words and imagery that fantasy felt just a little more tangible.
And although owning a 456 would close the circle quite satisfactorily, I know it’ll never happen. But at least I own the brochure.
(All images are of original manufacturer’s publicity materials, photographed by me. Copyright remains property of Ferrari. And I know that this brochure is for the later 456M, not the 456GT I speak of so emotionally. Details….)

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  1. peugeotdude505 Avatar

    Lovely car

  2. nanoop Avatar

    Congratulations and only the best wishes!
    Being a professional only means that somebody is delivering a certain quality at a price point low enough for someone else to consider that a deal. That quality is not necessarily high…
    I enjoyed all Carchives I read since I joined here, learned, felt well entertained – and got to see most surfaces of your house. Thank you for sharing these fascinating documents of marketing and engineering efforts!

  3. longrooffan Avatar

    Excellent as always, Rusty and here is to a similar Linda Vaughn inspired number of posts.

    1. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

      Is 442 enough? You can be The Judge.

      1. Tanshanomi Avatar

        Heck, 340 Cuda sufficed.

  4. Tanshanomi Avatar

    I understand that moment when cars become something other than background noise among cartoons, comic books, bicycles, and kickball. For me it was the fall of ’74, when a recently married 30-something guy moved in down the street and an immaculate ’67 Austin-Healey 3000 Mk III appeared in the drive on a golden autumn Saturday afternoon. It was so arresting, it practically sucked my eyeballs out. I sneeked up into the yard as if I was approaching a stack of gold bars. “Wanna take a ride?” the owner asked when he noticed me. Oh boy, did I! The trip was short, but still vivid in my memory. The next summer he cleaned out his office and gave me a stack of Road & Track and Car & Driver magazines. I was hooked.
    To this day, there are few other cars that can tug on my heartstrings so at the first casual glance.

    1. Alff Avatar

      I can’t point to just one car that hooked me but there was an incident that captured my imagination. When I was about two we lived in a small house with a single carport. My father sold Chevrolets. One fine Spring day my grandmother came to visit in her new Malibu SS convertible, parking it behind my mother’s RS/SS Camaro. In turn, the Camaro sat behind the split window ‘Vette that Dad had taken in trade. All three were a similar shade of blue (on the ‘vette it was called Nassau Blue). Even at that age, I knew it was an impressive sight. It’s stuck with me for nearly 50 years.

  5. Rover 1 Avatar
    Rover 1

    Happy Birthday!
    My favourite 456s are the rather limited production versions that Pininfarina made for The Sultan of Brunei.The Venice four door sedans and estates, and the convertible. At least one estate and a sedan were in London for quite a while, (and may still be there?). It used to be that you could hardly walk down the street in Knightsbridge without one going past, usually 1XO the silver wagon. I understand that seven of each,( sedan wagon, convertible), were made at a cost of about $5 million each, in1994/5.

    1. wunno sev Avatar
      wunno sev

      you know, i’ve never liked the wagon. it’s very well-done, but it looks kinda plain to me.
      the sedan, on the other hand. that i could get behind.
      and of course, the coupe is perfect. it held my #1 spot for many years of my childhood. a fast ferrari that could carry four! i think a young person’s reaction to the 456GT is probably a very good indicator of whether he will, later in his life, read hooniverse. if he scoffs at it in favor of a bright-red F50, he’s not really a hooniversalist.
      perhaps also a good predictor of if he will write for hooniverse! happy birthday mr haining!

      1. Rover 1 Avatar
        Rover 1

        The other thing with the 456 is that it doesn’t look as good in the normal Ferrari favoured reds, they look best in jewel metallics. Rowan Atkinson ordered his in a nice dark metallic green-but with a strawberry red leather interior.

  6. jim Avatar

    Enjoy this utterly awesome video showing the standard 456 being built

  7. Dean Bigglesworth Avatar
    Dean Bigglesworth

    I saw a red 456 in traffic last week, driven by a young brunette. Probably the only Ferrari I’ll see in traffic this year