It's probably fair to say that the Ferrari 550 Maranello's press reaction was muted upon its launch in late 1996. Despite the passenger rides around the Nurburgring with Michael Schumacher at the wheel, the press were less than effusive about the car's styling, denigrating it by repeatedly comparing it to a pumped up Toyota Supra. Whilst stylist Sergio Pininfarina's aim was to ensure that "the car must be aggressive and must give you an emotion. It must not be a cold fish.it must respect the best of the Ferrari Pininfarina tradition", his results were less than 100% successful.
Nevertheless, whilst it's unlikely to go down as a classic Ferrari shape, the 550 Maranello has gradually become accepted as possibly the best Ferrari driver's car of the last twenty years, leaving aside for a moment low-volume specials such as the 288GTO or F40. It is this level of acclaim that will appeal to Luca di Montezemolo, Ferrari's charismatic president, who dictated the layout and name for the 550 and who made no secret of his dislike for its predecessor the mid-engined 512TR. Neither was he particularly enamoured by the fact that the average Ferrari owner was covering less than 2000 miles per year.
Firmly believing that the best advertisement for Ferrari is seeing the cars on the street, di Montezemolo envisioned a more usable car, a car which could be used in the Grand Touring tradition, but which wouldn't compromise on raw ability. Packaging constraints suggested a front-engined layout, the mid-engined 512TR dismissed as "a car that was too much of a show-off". Judging the 550 Maranello by those criteria, it's a resounding success, but the jury may well be out for some time yet on whether Pininfarina's objectives were ever met.
The 550 Maranello remained largely unchanged since launch, a few small detail changes being made along the way. The big news came in October 2000 with the unveiling of the 550 Barchetta Pininfarina Limited Edition, a run of 448 'speedster' style convertibles of which 45 were earmarked for this green, pleasant, and notably wet, land. The 550 was replaced in summer 2002 by an evolutionary model, the 509bhp 575M Maranello.