words by pablo deferrari
while sitting at the dentist’s office leafing through a dog-eared car magazine, an image captured your fancy…it was a Ferrari. it didn’t matter that it was an F12 Berlinetta, their latest offering. what rekindled your long lost passion with Maranello’s pride was the chrome prancing horse placed smack-dab in the center of its grille.
you vividly remember that as a kid, you were instinctively drawn between the two Marques that to this day are loved one and the same by any red-blooded car enthusiast. in your head, you might have had a favorite which is why Porsches grace the grounds of your estate. deep down, however, you always had a soft spot for the Italian exotic that drove men into the depths of lunacy.
this becomes a problem.
I put myself in this position recently for the sake of provocation. the decision to make such a choice is made easier because the car in question won’t be a daily driver, rather, it’ll be one to drive on occasion. the fears of feeding another mouth won’t be as expensive because of this infrequent use. so the decision, really, is in choosing a Grand Tourer for sixty grand. luckily, the magic of depreciation, amongst other things, has leveled the playing field between the two marques.
what this kind of cash can get you is one of two supercars: a Porsche 928 GTS, or a Ferrari 456 GT. neither of these are cheap dates when it comes to maintenance, but you already know that. it’s a tough decision because one has become accustomed to working on Stuttgart metal and by considering the Italian, you’re setting yourself up to face the unknown. then again, the challenge is good for the grey matter between the ears and maybe such an exercise opens up new frontiers.
touted as the “supercar for four,” the 456 (Type F116) picked up where the angular, somber Pininfarina-styled 412 left off in the 80s. no longer faced with the threat of the red-brigade kidnapping high-profile punters in Ferraris that was the driving force behind the non-descript styling behind the 412, the famous styling house had carte-blanche on the 456. the sleek, wind-tunnel tested, GT made its debut in 1992. sporting an all-aluminum dress over a tubular steel chassis, it not only had speed-sensitive steering and electronically adjustable shock absorbers, it also got Ferrari’s first active aerodynamic device in the form of a small spoiler that extended from underneath its rear bumper.
"here’s where the decision may be swayed back to familiar German territory…sit down for this one."
the all-aluminum engine features twin overhead camshafts per bank driven by two toothed rubber timing belts spun by a set of pinion gears off the crank actuating 48 valves…oh, and it sports a dry-sump lubrication system, dual oil pumps, dual oil filtration, and piston squirters. so good was this 12 that it was awarded the International Engine of the Year award in the over 4 liter class for two years straight, 2000-2001.
as far as the gearbox is concerned, the 456 could only be had with Ferrari’s first 6-speed that was pressure lubricated with a pump and cooled via oil radiator coupled with a ZF differential with limited slip and differentiated calibration. one thing they did learn from Porsche a while back was to put the clutch up front with the flywheel rather than in the back with the transaxle…this eliminated the inertial problems they had asked Zuffenhausen to help with. topping things off, the gear shifter was done in classic Ferrari style with polished aluminum gate and knob.
the entire package was suspended on unequal-length wishbones coupled with gas filled coil-overs. the back also had unequal-length wishbones with self-leveling gas filled coil-overs connecting the thing to the road with 255/45 ZR 17 rubber in the front and meaty 284/40 ZR 17 at the tail.
here’s where the decision may be swayed back to familiar German territory…sit down for this one.
this GT was packed with gadgetry Ferrari has a reputation for not executing very well. things such as a poorly thought out anti-theft system, speed sensitive power steering, the speed sensitive power windows that push the glass tighter against the seal at higher speeds, overly complex power seats from a small supplier, and a self-leveling suspension from an unproven supplier…this all adds to the running cost of the thing.
we’re just getting warmed-up here.
so here are the major issues. first; door window leaks due to poor design of the window regulators and door/window seals will cost you around $1,000 to get the updated seals…per side. second; bad motor mounts that last about as long as it takes you to shave will allow the engine to find its new spot on top of the steering rack which allows the oil pressure sending switch to come close to the sway bar…as the sway bar flexes upwards, it can eventually break off the sender resulting in the complete loss of oil. Ferrari has a better design to help you avoid engine meltdown, but each’ll cost you $1,500. third; the fuel pumps live inside the gas tank sitting on rubber isolators…rubber and gas eventually have a row which cause an eventual separation resulting in numerous little pieces of decomposed rubber wreaking havoc on every fuel system component right up to the injectors. replacement parts are available, but there’s no permanent fix. I’ll spare you the expense on that one.
on the lower end of your worries are leaking rear shocks with an aftermarket rebuild running $1,500 for the pair. shitty quality coolant hoses especially under the intake manifold will cost you $1,350 for the aftermarket kit, but you can opt to do just the ones under the manifold. that kit costs roughly $800. next are the poor quality intake gaskets that the factory properly redesigned for $800 and the last headache is the notorious Ferrari-sticky interior parts that turn to chewing gum if you so much as sneeze on them. luckily, Ferrari realized they can’t get plastic and rubber formulas correct, so they gave up which now makes replacements even harder to find. before you reach for the Glock in the molten glove box to do you and your family a favor, there is a company that will refurbish the originals.
do you even want to hear about the 30k service cost?
Parts quote for all belts, hoses, gaskets, connectors, fluids, filters, (basically anything plastic or rubber before you get to the bottom-end) -- will run about $3000-ish. Add about $5k for the labor. (I sought-out and found this mechanic given he's the only one to have historically done work on this car, and as far as I care, will be the only one going forward...even with the 300+ miles between us)
So I'd say somewhere in the $7500 neighborhood for Ferrari Certified Mechanic work with better-than-OEM Spec parts.
it’s a hard pill to swallow…enough to wreck your illusions of ever owning a Ferrari. but you do have another choice.
the 928 GTS.
"...a very good place to park some money for a little while without having to refinance your house just to go for drive to the nearest Dunky Donuts."
the last, and the most technologically advanced, 928 is a very good place to park some money for a little while without having to refinance your house just to go for drive to the nearest Dunky Donuts. precision, practicality and legendary durability clothed in a timeless package is what you get.
making its debut in mid-1992 as a ’93 model, this supercar is the result of 14 years of evolution and constant refinement employing the most advanced technologies Zuffenhausen had to offer at the time. this Teutonic Grand Tourer upped the ante from its predecessor, the S4 that had been in production from 1987 up until 1991 sharing the spotlight with the GT from 1990 to 1991.
Porsche decided to split the 928 into two versions for those last two years…the GT was the more sporting of the pair offering a manual gearbox, taller final drive ratio of 2.73:1 against the S4’s 2.54, hotter cams, and of course more horsepower…326 to be exact. the GT essentially filled the void left by the S4 since it no longer offered a manual gearbox from 1990 until the end of its evolution.
to cope with the increase in strength, a stronger clutch, a crank with eight bearings instead of the previous six, the cast pistons became forged connecting both with lighter, forged connecting rods. changes were also made to the camshaft profiles to lower the idle speed a bit and giving it more grunt down below.
the manual Typ G28.57 5-speed transaxle still retains the classic dog-leg first, which almost isn’t necessary with the amount of torque available, but this time, to assert the seriousness of this machine, it has a front mounted oil-cooler fed by external oil pump at the back of the gearbox; the spring-loaded pedal assisted 250mm single-disk clutch is strengthened.
both transaxles come with Porsches most excellent electronic limited-slip differential known as PSD (or Porsche Sperrdifferential). carried over from the S4, this technological marvel was borrowed from the 959 made its debut in the ’90 S4. this system was nothing short of genius. I could go to great drool-inducing lengths to explain it in its entirety, but I’ll spare you and myself from committing Hari-kari.
The short of it? It’s a one way variable ratio limited-slip differential relying on the ABS sensors to advise the computer when there’s traction loss, cornering, or braking variations. The computer then fires off synapses in nano-seconds using a hydraulic clutch to compress a set of multi-discs and transfer torque to the slowest turning wheel. It can vary the lock-up from 0-100% to compensate and save your ass from looking like a fool.
the same double wishbone front suspension and legendary Weissach axle with semi trailing arms and upper transverse link was also carried over, but the Boge dampers are supposedly re-valved for a softer, more pliable ride than before, yet they bear the same part numbers as the S4 and GT. there are sport shocks available with the M474 option, though.
to stop this beast, 322mm (12.68 inch) slotted front discs were used; these replaced the smaller 304mm (11.97 inch) discs from the S4/GT. the rears remained the same at 299mm. both sets are clamped by massive 4-piston Brembos; ABS was standard, of course. interestingly, enthusiasts who owned earlier versions of the 928 used these very brakes as an upgrade; this led them to be called “GTS Brakes” when referenced.
on the outside, in addition to the new rear fender flares, the tail lamps were connected by a reflective strip mimicking the 911, the rear spoiler was re-shaped offered in either black or body color, and the very popular 959-styled tear-drop door mirrors appeared. inside was the familiar layout to every 928 aficionado, save for interior trim and a few other details; why change an already good, ergonomic, no-nonsense cockpit?
this drops us neatly to the figures that everyone loves to compare…performance.
now keep in mind this is a pretty Rubenesque hot mama we’re dealing with. weighing in 3,571 lbs. (empty) means there’s a lot of mass to push, despite the aluminum fenders, hood, doors, and polyurethane front and rear bumper fascia. so when we hear that she does naught to 60 in 5,5 seconds per the factory (with the 5-speed), pulling all the way to her 171 mph top speed, and doing the quarter-mile in a tested 14.1 seconds at 100 mph, taking 336 feet to come to a full stop, it doesn’t become quickly apparent that we’re dealing with a twenty year-old car here. these figures, by today’s standards, are very impressive especially when you consider that a 2014 991 Carrera goes to 60 a touch under 1 second faster.
this doesn’t necessarily mean that they are more prone to failure. on the contrary, many of the systems such as the PSD and RDK have already been thoroughly tested at least a decade before being put into production, it’s just the way Porsche goes about things.
two examples of major issues on the GTS aren’t necessarily the norm but should be made aware of to any new owner. the first one is the notorious thrust bearing failure on 928s with the automatic.
first off, this is not a manufacturing defect or a mistake on Porsche’s behalf; here’s the short of it. in the middle of the crankshaft lives the so-called thrust bearing. its job is to provide fore and aft gap control for axial movement of the crank. essentially, it maintains a specified fore and aft location on the crankshaft so as to prevent it from walking to far forward or rearward.
in all fairness, we’re not comparing the 456 GTA with the automatic in this instance to the GTS, but the information applies in case you end up deciding you want the GTS to do the shifting for you.
"A bigger GTS problem is the 1 quart of oil used every 700-1000 miles with normal non-racing use!"
The 2/6 rod bearing issue seems only to be an issue on the race track and mostly with the manual cars where the revs are held higher and for longer. There seems to be no fix for this. Though some have suggested a crank drilling procedure and Accusumps or whatever else, we have still seen failures. Don't race your 928 or race on courses where there are few long high speed corners and you will never see this.
A bigger GTS problem is the 1 quart of oil used every 700-1000 miles with normal non-racing use! These cars ingest quite a bit of oil on a regular basis. It was a design flaw with the piston rings, they say. Instead of fixing the problem because they were going to make so few engines, they changed the owner’s manual to reflect higher oil consumption!
things such as the timing belt, water pump, timing belt tensioner, timing chain tensioner ramps, motor mounts, fuel lines, oil cooler lines, power steering rack/lines, suspension bushes and joints, flushing the PSD system, torque tube bearings, and the HVAC system for example, are the necessities and potential long term wear issues of ownership.
you’re probably wondering why I haven’t cited what a typical major service costs like I found for the Ferrari. there’s a reason for this; I was hard-pressed to find concrete costs of major/minor service work done on any GTS. some point to very vague figure of $700-$1,200 for “timing belt service” which I find to be very far off the mark. I would figure just the service alone without any “while we were in here” surprises could do better than double those figures, or at least a third to half that of the Ferrari.
below is a comparison sheet we made between the 928 and 456.
Cam gears usually don't last more than 150k miles and the originals are really hard to find and $500+ each. I believe an aftermarket solution is now available though.
A/C can be problematic for every 928. No worse or better in the GTS. When a 928 A/C is working properly it can freeze you out.
Timing belt and motor mounts, as mentioned, are also the same issues as with any 928. The GTS engine is just a hell of a lot more expensive than an S4's if the belt does fail!
Weak connecting rods. While they are unlikely to fail in normal use they were changed out for 94(later cars)/95. If Porsche took an early engine apart for any reason it got new stronger rods, so clearly they had some concern.
I’ll sum it up with other virtues of the 928 such as long wearing interiors with robust plastics and leather, high-quality paint, impeccable build quality, and superior corrosion resistance. like I said, should you own one, treat it as if an African Grey and put it in your will.
and here's a comparison list of parts prices we drew up to give you a better idea of what it takes to feed these beasts.
I stop the 456 and slip the gear lever into third. Keeping the revs in the neighborhood of 1,500 rpm and feathering the clutch ever so carefully, I ease her off and she gets up and goes without complaining at all, gathering a considerable head of steam as she clears 100 mph in the same gear! Such a test provides proof of the astounding flexibility of what is likely the most refined engine ever to emanate from Maranello.
While traveling at triple-digit speeds, the composure of the chassis, suspension and powerplant is awe-inspiring. The car doesn’t even break a sweat.
“The Seduction” FORZA magazine #3
The 65° V12 responds crisply to the accelerator’s urge over 4,000 rpm, like a grissini snapping between your teeth. But, unlike the sportier and lighter 550 Maranello, there’s a smooth velvety edge to the power delivery. The 456M might not have the hearty aggression of its younger sibling, but its performance envelope is so far inside true supercar territory that it makes no difference.
This big Ferrari has huge grip and generates addictive levels of sideways g. But when you feel the little black box working its magic during serious high-speed sweepers…you instinctively feel grateful for that margin of safety the ASR gives.
In Sport [mode], body (and there’s plenty of it, at 3,726 lbs) control is exemplary through undulating switchbacks, the chassis exquisitely damped and settling fluidly into corners. Fierce braking into bends still shows a marked tendency for the nose to dive, but the front end now feels altogether more of a cohesive whole, stubbornly tracking the steering wheel’s chosen line.
“With the 456M to Portofino” FORZA #13
1999 456M GT
Purchased in 2001 at 15,000 miles for $160,000; sold in 2013 at 31,000 miles
What did you use your 456 for?
Ride and drives, mostly. I eventually sold the car because I wasn’t using it; all the events I wanted to attend were in San Francisco, which meant a two-hour drive before I even got there.
What did you like most about the car?
The torque was great, and it was very comfortable, very smooth and rode well. I also liked the color, Le Mans Blue; most of the 456s you see are black or silver.
The maintenance. I encountered the usual stuff: leaking shocks, bad motor mounts, leaky gas tank, the occasional short here and there, that kind of thing. It was expensive to maintain. It cost $5,000 for the belts every five years or so, and about $1,700 a year for the fluids and inspections to make sure nothing was falling off.
It’s funny, Ferrari is one of the most highly regarded manufacturers in the world, but when it comes to simple things, like switches or controls, they were not where they should have been, like Porsche. But then there’s a lot more exclusivity than with a Porsche. At many of the meets I went to, I was the only 456 there, or maybe one of two. I was certainly the only one with three dogs in the car.
How reliable was your 456?
It never stranded me or anything like that, although the leaking gas tank was a real concern.
Did you take it to a dealer or independent shop?
I started with a dealer then went independent. It wasn’t anything to do with a warranty--it didn’t have one--I switched when I found a mechanic I really liked.
How about wear and tear?
It was great. I put Lexol on the leather a few times and the seats held up really well. When I went to sell it, of course, the headliner collapsed.
Would you recommend this car to a friend?
Yes, but with some caveats. The maintenance is going to hit you hard, and you really need to find the right mechanic. A lot of people say they can work on these cars, but not a lot really can.
2004 456M GTA
Purchased in 2012 with 50,000 miles for $50,000; currently has 61,000 miles
Did you have any concerns about buying a high-mileage 456?
Not in this case. This car, unlike several others I looked at, showed very well. It had only two previous owners and had been maintained by the same mechanic since new. All the service records were there, and the original engine had been replaced under warranty, so while the car had 50,000 miles, the engine had less.
What do you use your Ferrari for?
My wife and I have taken several trips in it. I have three boats in a marina near San Francisco, and at least once a week drive down [about 100 miles] to see them.
What do you like most about it?
I love the classic design, but the biggest single thing is that it has enough luggage space for long trips, at least if you use the rear seats for stuff. It’s very quiet, too. I’m 70 years old, so I want some comfort and to be able to get in and out easily. To me, paddle shifters and the newer stuff wasn’t as interesting.
There’s some wind noise from the side windows, and the seats don’t quite go back far enough for me; I’m six-foot-two. My wife doesn’t like that it doesn’t have a cup holder, but I didn’t buy a Ferrari to be concerned about that!
How reliable has your 456 been?
I had one turn-signal bulb go out, which turned out to be a bad connection. Recently, I had the suspension flag light up on the dashboard. I just had that checked out, and two of the sensors on top of the front shocks are bad. The shocks themselves are okay, and the sensors are on order.
Do you take it to a dealer or independent shop?
Independent. I’m still taking it to the same mechanic who’s serviced it all along.
How about wear and tear?
It has perfectly flawless paint, which I suppose could be a repaint but I don’t think so. Wear and tear in the interior is limited to the edge of the seatback where you slide into the driver’s seat. The perfect leather on the rear ledge had probably been replaced, but I had my upholsterer fashion a protective cover for it; I leave the car at the harbor all day and it just bakes.
Would you recommend this car to a friend?
Oh, yeah. It’s very practical, a great balance of usability and classic design. Plus, they are undervalued. If you can find a good one, it’s a bargain.
I covered 25,000 miles in an 87 S4 and a 95 GTS in 2007/ 8 and loved both. Running costs are not too bad if you have a local expert (Paul Anderson, Sroud lives a few miles from me and is the authority on 928s and operates from what looks like a scrap yard!). Don't even think of letting an OPC near a 928.
The electrics can be a pain on a little used cars but, as above, are easy to fix and normally due to earthing problems. The mechanicals are hewn from rock and will go on forever. Only dark cloud is thrust bearing failure on autos - can kill an engine if car is not serviced by someone who knows what to look for and adjust accordingly. Not an issue with manuals as far as I know. Safest money is in manual S4 GT and GTS - but these are also the priciest.
I was bequeathed my GTS by my Dad, who used it as his London commute workhorse. It was his 3rd 928 over a 30 year period. He serviced it properly but used it hard, and neglected any problems that weren't cheap to fix and didn't affect him too much... although I'm not quite sure how he managed to go with the heating stuck on full, with no A/C for 5 years!
He gave it to me as it was so cosmetically unappealing (dents, kerbed wheels, shabby interior, knackered suspension) that it wasn't worth selling, and I wanted it because of the sentimental aspect of growing up with 928's.
I've ploughed thousands into it putting it right, new suspension, rebuilt HVAC, complete respray, various ancillaries replaced, and there's still more yet to do. In the absence of any emotional attachment I would have started off with a good one, but I justify it on the basis that it's worth saving because it's such a late model, and because it was so worthless that at least some of what I'm putting into it will be reflected by an increase in value.
Really though, it's completely irrelevant as I love it and I'll never sell it.
Oh and the old man still hasn't settled on a car that fully replaces the 928's blend of character, performance, comfort, practicality, and robustness! In fact he's being eyeing up his old car as it's started to become pretty again! Not a chance!
Join the Porsche Club of America, and more specifically, the 928 Owner’s Club where President and 928 collector, James Morrison, will welcome you with open arms into a brotherhood of the finest and kindest examples of Porsche owners wo love to set up all sorts of gigs around the country to get everyone together.
should you go with the Ferrari, the same applies. forums like Ferrari Chat, and Ferrari Life, both of which I’m a member of, offer loads of comfort to ease your mind and help you take the plunge. there’s also a very good network of cottage industries setting up shop offering an alternative to the expensive dealer network as wells places like Ricambi America and Tom Vail’s All Ferrari Parts Inc. to name a few. on the social end, joining the Ferrari Club of America and Ferrari Owner’s Club will open up a whole new world you never knew about.
James Morrison underscores such a comparison with this thought:
I would say the extra 4 cylinders and possible parts availability issues really make the GTS a far more logical option than the 456. That said two couples (if the wives are small) could have a night out in a 456 and that just isn't going to happen in a 928. If I could get my hands on one of the few 456 cabrio's that have been made I'd buy one in a heartbeat! I think the car is quite beautiful! Coupe or cabrio!
so as you leave the dentist’s office, you’ve quite a difficult decision to make. you can stick with what you know with the Porsche or you can challenge your intellect a bit and dive into the world of Ferrari’s Tifosi and experience something totally new.
I’d hate to be in your shoes…
the 1995 Ferrari 456 GT on ebay
the 1993 Porsche 928 GTS was also on ebay with a Buy it Now price exactly the same as the Ferrari, UsDS$59,900, but has since been sold as of this writing.