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Richard in the Ferrari 550 Maranello

  1. I’m not going to mess about here: I love the Ferrari 550.
    Always have. There are those who will forever associate Ferrari with
    mid-engined supercars, and yes, there is something spectacularly purposeful
    about a car in which you effectively strap yourself to the front of the engine.
    But let’s not allow the appeal of the mid-engined Fezzers distract us from
    those in which the driver sits behind the donkey. For one thing, you get to
    admire the engine. Five-and-a-half litres of Italian V12 churning away up front
    makes its presence felt.

    Words: Richard Hammond
    Photos: Justin Leighton

    This feature was originally published in the April issue of Top Gear magazine

  2. And let me just get this clear; it feels bloody good. To sit
    in a well-padded leather seat almost over the rear wheels and see that
    gargantuan bonnet launching away ahead towards the horizon like a… yes, I know,
    there are probably a number of reasons why a bloke might be only too happy to
    thrust about the place with a large protrusion looming from his trouser area,
    only let’s not go there, shall we?

  3. Let’s just agree that it feels good, and there’s no law against doing it in public. Besides, anyone who thinks you’re parading about wearing a giant strap-on is soon left behind in a whirlwind of howling exhausts. Left to chunter about compensatory devices and trouser-snake extensions and whatever bitter little charges such people claim apply. The point is you, the driver, are lounging in a sea of power, leathery luxury and Italian magnificence. Cars like the 550 belong on the drives of Italian castles, pulling up outside casinos to disgorge immaculately dressed, hard-drinking, harder-shagging counts and contessas into warm evenings and cool foyers.

  4. This particular 550 though, has a guilty secret. I doubt
    that any driver of it has ever removed his or her shades to turn to their
    passenger and explain that WSR stands for the World Average Speed Record car on
    which this special edition 550 is based. That on a banked oval in Ohio in
    December 1998, it covered 100 miles at an average of 190.2mph, and drove for
    one hour at an average of 184mph. You might as well tell your once-breathless
    belle that it also holds the world caravan-towing speed record. Which it

  5. The important details are that they only sold 33 WSR-spec
    550s worldwide, and that they all came in this gorgeous Grigio Titanio with red
    leather. On the downside, the handling is made rather firm by the Fiorano
    handling pack, and a million stylish moments will have been cluttered by the
    race harnesses. But these are small prices to pay for the unalloyed joy of
    listening to that V12 spool up and deploy 485bhp to the rear wheels via that
    six-speed manual. 

  6. The aluminium body keeps weight down and the transaxle ‘box
    keeps things balanced, but, driving one today, it doesn’t shrink around you.
    Instead, you’re always conscious of its size: the 550 feels like a Very Grand
    Tourer. Which is exactly what it was supposed to be. On a damp road, it can
    spin its wheels in sixth. Get it wrong, and there will be a very expensive bill
    waiting. If one of those 12 cylinders decides to come over all Italian and make
    a fuss, then brace for that same enormous bill. But that only adds to the
    glamour, the risqué heroism of it. And, in fact, these things are tough and
    capable of racking up some real miles without ruining their owner. The 550 is
    not a car for the pub bore. I couldn’t give a stuff if it’s slower round the
    Nurburgring than a rusty Saxo. Which it isn’t. What it is, is a great big
    magnificent statement.


    Produced: 1996–2001
    Engine: 5474cc, V12
    Power: 485bhp
    Torque: 420lb ft
    0–60mph: 4.3secs
    Top speed: 199mph
    Weight: 1,690kg

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