Thanks to well over 17 years of monthly columns for Sports Car Market, I've slowly become the Ann Landers or "Dear Abby" of the Ferrari world, and with an average of 200 emails a day, there is never a lack of questions.
This month's "reply" started with the following email, "I'm a first-time Ferrari buyer. Is there a certain year(s), series or model that you tend to suggest. I have a fondness for carburetors and a proper manual transmission. I do enjoy a bit of heel-and-toe driving. and air conditioning and those sort of things mean nothing to me; indeed their absence enhances the direct connection between car and driver that I enjoy SO much."
Keep it simple
Like many such letters, the questions are just vague enough for me to go off in multiple directions, so I've learned to answer by price- and era-group. No column can answer every question, but most first-time buyers are looking for a car in the $50k-$250k range, with an equal split for Enzo-era versus Montezemolo-era cars, with a smaller sub-group looking for Fiat-era Ferraris.
The Gold Standard
The most common questions are about the Enzo Ferrari-era "Gold Standards," the Dino, the Daytona and 330 GTC. These are the era's most recognizable, affordable, user-friendly and practical Ferraris. For those who have been living in a cave without Internet access for the last few decades, the 246 GT and GTS are wonderfully light and nimble to drive, with gorgeous flowing body lines unhindered by the DOT standards that would soon forever change automotive styling.
Every shopping trip sounds like a warm-up lap at Sebring as you zip up the rev range to peddle it along. While your neighbor kid's BMW will beat you at the lights, you won't care. Expect to spend $125k for a GT and $175k for a GTS.
When introduced in 1969, the Daytona first defined the "supercar," moving "grand touring" onto a new level. The Daytona offered massive-for-its-time linear horsepower, predicable handling, adequate brakes, a positive shifting transaxle and useable a/c for effortless high-speed touring. Phallic looks and a to-die-for exhaust only added to the experience. More than three decades ago, my first super-Ferrari was a Daytona, and I still own one today. Expect to spend $250k-$325k.
While the 330 GTC offers less performance than Daytona and lacks the svelte good looks of Dino, it offers a great compromise, with performance adequate to put the driver in jail. Its understated good looks have stood the test of time. Expect to spend $200k-$250k.
Bring along the kids
For those who want to bring the kids along on the New England 1000, the Enzo era is the golden age of V12 2+2s, all in the $100k-plus range, starting with the 250 GTE. Again, unless one has been living on Mars, all tifosi know the 250 GTE was Ferrari's first 2+2, is the most collectible of them, offers most of the 250 GT series features, with a pair of jump seats thrown in, and is without the burden of price excess. Think $125k for wonderful ones.
While the 330 GT 2+2 lacks the classic lines of the 250 GTE, it does give 4-liter performance, and the Series II cars have 5-speeds, with some of the last fitted with additional options of p/s and a/c. Expect to pay around $100k. Moving along, the 365 GT 2+2 offers Superfast-inspired good looks, 4.4-liter performance, a 5-speed, p/s, p/w, a/c and semi-usable rear-seats, all for $80k-$120k.
The Fiat era offers a wide range at bargain prices. The 308/328/GTB/GTS V8s put Ferrari on the map, offered instant "Magnum PI," user-friendly everything, adequate performance and a great engine sound. Unfortunately these early V8s are the first of the cam-belt Ferraris and a cam-belt service can cost from 10% to as much as 30% of the car's purchase price. Price of entry: $25k-$50k.
While most people dismiss the 365 GT/4 2+2, "carby" 400 GT and 5-speed 412 because of their bland styling, no one can deny their spectacular performance for a 2+2, tolerable a/c, user-friendly cockpit and more comfy rear seats, all for $25k-$40k.
The most collectable Fiat-era production cars are, of course, the BBs-365, 512 and 512 BBi. All three surpass the Daytona in performance and creature comforts, are affordable, but lack the clean lines of the Enzo-era cars. They are also plagued with Ferraris' latest fatwa on cam-belt services every three years, which is a great stupidity but something every would-be buyer now expects to be factored into the sales price. Expect to pay $175k for a 365 BB and around $125k range for a no-stories 512 BB or BBi.
The miracle of depreciation coming to your garage
Like Enzo Ferrari before him, when Luca di Montezemolo became the Ferrari main man, he introduced all new cars to herald his era. First up was the 456 GT with a quiet, user-friendly cockpit, luxurious seating and adequate power plus. In 1997, Ferrari added an automatic gearbox as an option, and in 1992 the 456 GT evolved into the 456 M. These cars do everything right, although massive performance and weight means the 456 eats a set of tires and brakes in about 10k-15k miles. In-the-car cam-belt-service starts at about $3,000, but can quickly skyrocket. I'm amazed that these have now dropped from their new-in-1995 price of $225,000 to $45k-$75k today. A lot of car for the money.
An 8-cylinder supercar
The evolution continued in 1999 with the 360, which came with a three-year warranty (a first for Ferrari), which was an indication of Ferrari's faith in their all-new car. Thanks to an alloy body and frame, and a fresh 3.6 liter engine with 400 hp, the 360 was good for 185 mph, transitioning the V8 Ferrari to supercar status. The 360 was a sales success, but with almost 18,000 built they will never be collectible. Like the 456 and 550, the 360 can be serviced with the engine in place, cutting maintenance costs. On any given day, dozens are for sale, with prices starting in the $60k range for a high-mile 1999 coupe up to $125k for a low-mile, high-option 2005 spyder.
And the winner of the best buy is. the 550 Maranello
Thanks to covered headlights, a long hood, 250 GTO-style fender vents and a Daytona-inspired Kamm tail with two large round taillights, the 550 Maranello brought Ferrari full-circle back to the legendary 275 GTB/4 and the 365 GTB/4 Daytona. Thus, it is my best buy. With a 6-speed transaxle, 50/50 weight distribution and a 199-mph top end, the 550 is truly a supercar. They have proven to be almost bulletproof and with 3,600 made, they might, someday, have a modest upside. Expect to pay $65k for a driver and up to $90k for a great-color, great-option, low-mile 2001.
The need for due diligence
This group of "best buys" spans 35 years of Ferrari production, so buyers must consider the pros and cons of old-versus-new. The newer the Ferrari, the fewer the problems, but the newer the Ferrari, the less chance for long term appreciation. Are you prepared to pony up for the necessary pre-purchase inspection? What's your intended usage? What's your "real" budget? Do you have any idea how much to expect for maintenance costs?
All of the cars above were state-of-the-art when they left the factory and some have stood the test of time much better than others. They are all still great cars, but be forewarned that buying a car with needs will try your patience, empty your bank account and make you regret you ever went down this path. Buy smart. Spend more up front. Be happy.