That reminds me...

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The 456 was the first of the modern generation of Ferraris

Every time I go to Maranello part of me relives my first visit, almost 20 years ago, to drive the brand new 456. Back then there was no formal press launch, just a flurry of faxes to say that, yes, if your representative were to present himself at the factory gates at a certain time, something might be possible.

Or it might not be. Having flown to Milan and flogged an Avis Fiat Uno as fast as its little engine would carry it, I duly arrived at the famous archway, presented myself to reception and discovered I was expected by no one. But I’d heard of others having similar experiences and, after a little perseverance and a lot of waiting, suddenly I was welcomed like a returning brother and told the test programme could commence. Which meant lunch.

I had, of course, devoured tales of the Cavallino restaurant since childhood but never thought I might eat there, off plates embossed with little black cavallino rampant° emblems. And then a rather youthful Enzo Ferrari walked in quite an achievement given that he’d have been 94 and dead for some time. In fact it was his son, Piero Lardi Ferrari, but the resemblance between him and his father as a young man was truly startling.

And so to the drive. By the time we’d finished our meal (which I still suspect was hastily arranged to kill time while they found a 456 for me) I had precisely 90 minutes to drive and thoroughly assess the car as well as shoot eight pages of photography and a cover. I can’t quite remember how we did it, but I do remember being stunned by the class and capabilities of this car.

At the time Ferrari was also making the dreadful 348 and the wonderful but ancient 512TR. The 456, with its brand new V12, fabulous cabin, brilliant handling and silken ride wasn’t just an all-new Ferrari, it was the first of a new generation of Ferraris. It was followed in quick succession by the F355GTB and 550 Maranello, transforming the company’s product line-up from the weakest in its history to the strongest it had been since the days of the Dino and Daytona. With one or two dips, it’s a standard that’s been maintained ever since.

Andrew Frankel