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A V12 Ferrari for the price of a Corsa | Thank Frankel it's Friday

17th August 2023
andrew_frankel_headshot.jpg Andrew Frankel

Did you know the cheapest new electric Vauxhall Corsa will now set you back over £33,000? Seems a lot doesn’t it? So if you want to spend a little less, how about a beautiful front-engined V12 Ferrari instead?

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You’ll think I’m playing a game here and there was a time when I would have been. Many years ago you could buy a second hand V12 Ferrari for less than £10,000 and the only problem was it would be a 400i – not one of Maranello’s greatest hits at the best of times – ruined by a terrible three speed GM automatic gearbox, probably with the steering wheel on the wrong side of car and almost guaranteed to come with repair bills to bleed you white. As we used to say, ‘any old fool can buy a Ferrari’, the interference being that, when it came to money, the purchase price might end up as quite a small component of the overall cost.

But last night bids closed on a particular lot offered for sale on the website of a well-known online auction house. It too was a V12 Ferrari, but that was all it had in common with the aforementioned 400i. For this wasn’t one of the worst Ferraris ever made, but one of the best, a 456, the car that did more than any other to turn around Maranello’s somewhat devalued reputation in the early 1990s. You’d have found its steering wheel to be on the right hand side of the cockpit and, to the left of it, a steel shaft rising from an exposed gate topped by a metal ball with a diagram etched into its surface. And while Ferrari made over 3,300 456s and facelift 456Ms, my understanding is that fewer than 150 were built with both manual gearboxes and right hand drive; of which how many exist today, 30 years after production started? I’d be amazed if the number was out of double figures.

I watched the bidding transfixed until, with five minutes to go, it seemed stuck on £31,500. A ridiculous price for such a car. But I know how these things go: everyone tries to be the last bidder and with each new bid another minute or so is added to the remaining auction time to give others a chance. There’d already been 50 bids on it, clearly more were coming. Except they didn’t. Stuck on £31,500 it stayed until it timed out.

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Now, it turns out the vendor had put a reserve on the car which it didn’t meet, so the lot remained unsold, but it still provided an interesting indication of what the market was prepared to pay for such a car, even if that were a price at which the owner was not prepared to sell.

And here’s why it was so cheap: it had done 98,000 miles and didn’t have an MOT, though it only expired a few weeks ago without a long list of advisories. It was on the wrong wheels which might not have helped, but the dark blue paint and tan interior is, to me at least, a highly desirable combination. There was no suggestion it had ever been in a meaningful accident, had no known faults and, from what I could tell from the photographs, looked clean and tidy inside and out.

I have a friend who is desperate for a manual, right hand drive 456 so I told him about it and, having had a long hard look at the details, followed by a long, detailed search of his soul, rang me up and said, ‘I just haven’t got the guts.’ And I understood exactly why.

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Would you take on a V12 Ferrari at any price with almost 100,000 miles on the clock, especially as you’d probably not get the chance to drive or even see it first? It would be a mighty punt, that’s for sure. But actually, given this car’s extensive service history and the fact it comes with over £50,000-worth of bills, I’d say it’s likely been quite well looked after over time. Nor would I worry about the engine exploding or any other major mechanical defect. Sure, I’d want to know when the belts were last changed, but Ferrari has always engineered the oily bits brilliantly.

It’s all the other stuff. A window-lift motor, replacing a bit of trim, the central locking packing up… that sort of thing. And I know that every time I turned the key, I’d do so terrified that just one of those warning lights on the dash would fail to extinguish when the engine fired up. In short, though it might be fine, I’d never know it would be fine and I’d lie awake at night fearing it might not be fine. And nothing, not even a gorgeous, fast, rare, manual, right hand drive Ferrari is worth your peace of mind. Whatever the price.

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