Take one look at the Ferrari 456M and it’s hard not to conclude that Ferrari styling hasn’t been quite the same since the 1990s blended into the new millennium.
The 456 is, if we’re being critical, perhaps a little under-wheeled (it rolls on 17-inch rims) by modern standards, something potentially fixed with careful consideration of aftermarket alternatives. But elsewhere it has a simple beauty unmatched by any front-engined, four-seat Ferrari since.
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That includes the new GT4CLusso. Granted, on any sort of twisting or open road the latest all-wheel drive four-seater would soon leave a 456 in its wake – with 680bhp to 436bhp that would be the case even without two decades of chassis and tyre development.
Yet you’d struggle to call it beautiful. The wide grin of its grille, squinting headlights and sharp bodywork creases give it the face of a dragon in a Chinese New Year parade, while the 456 looks as if its sole purpose in life is to slink from Maranello to the Cote d’Azur in a single hit.
It’s the same deal inside. You’d struggle to call the 456’s interior a design classic, but devoid of satnavs and superfluous displays for the passenger you’re left with a true grand touring interior: expansive seats, the full roll-call of analogue gauges, and a great view out over the long bonnet.
Another factor marks out the 456 as being a classic front, V12-engined Ferrari: It’s indisputably at its aesthetic best in Tour de France blue, like this 1999 example for sale with Rardley Motors in Hampshire, via Classic & Performance Car.
It’s a 456M, for ‘Modificata’ – post-1998 cars with subtle interior and exterior tweaks that made the basic shape even more appealing – and a ‘GTA’ model, with ‘A’ referring to its automatic gearbox.
Sacrilege for some, as the alternative was a proper open-gated six-speed manual. But this was before the days of buttons to select your gears, and the GTA swapped an ‘H’ gate for an ‘I’ – with the same beautiful, elongated and ball-topped lever as the manual cars. If an old automatic car can offer gearchange tactility, this is the way to do it.
And anyway, this is a long-distance GT, built for long distances at high speed and boulevard cruising at tickover: a manual would almost be a waste.
This car – for sale at a perfectly reasonable-sounding £54,990 – is one of only 139 456M GTAs imported into the UK, and has covered just over 40,000 miles. A new GTC4Lusso is faster, and more competent on a twisting road too. It’s probably more pleasant for those in the rear seats and will almost certainly require less fastidious maintenance.
But for crossing continents in style and a price tag that probably just about covers the average Lusso buyer’s option choices, there’s little to touch its 1990s forebear.