The 550 Maranello was a Ferrari that wasn't on everybody's wish list. Successor to the Testarossa/512, many felt its shark-mouthed styling was too reserved. Others didn't think a Ferrari V12 engine belonged ahead of the cabin (myself included). Despite not being mid-engine and having more of a grown up, touring car appeal, it was still one of the best cars $200K could afford in the mid-to-late '90s. Highly praised by journalists that included the folks at Top Gear, it was more of an elegant coupe you'd spot on a swanky road trip up to Monterey, not something you'd encounter at a testing day at Fuji Speedway, which is why this particular 1997 550 Maranello is the business.
I like my Ferraris to be aggressive, loud, even a tad obnoxious. My flavor of Ferrari isn't the type to go shopping with the girlfriend on Rodeo Drive, but more of a stripped-down and straight-piped animal that should be barely street legal and turns up the heat in the name of function, form and faster lap times. This ungodly race-prepped 550 Maranello is one such specimen that you won't find posted up in front of Louis Vuitton, but more so getting its tire pressures checked in the paddock before going out on a no limit shakedown.
Carefully engineered by Garage Saurus, a shop more known for competing in time attack and drag racing with 1,000hp GT-Rs, this 550M's 5.5-liter makes more than 170 horsepower over stock by way of race-spec internals (its details shall remain confidential), a custom ITB setup and MoTeC standalone. The suspension and chassis have also been improved upon in every way possible to save weight and make room for aftermarket gear, for example the two-way coilovers, AP Racing brakes, Advan GT wheels, 16-point rollcage, custom aero, carbon dash, a single Ferrari Challenge seat, and the list goes on and on...
When all is said and done, this could've been the Ferrari that put the 550 Maranello on the map - at least among racecar fan boys like me—and it would've made an awesome hero car in Gran Turismo. It also would've done the front-end Ferrari justice, more so than a short little cameo in Bad Boys II. This masterful project by Garage Saurus is breathtaking from head to toe, and it's only beginning to start its new life under the media spotlight, thanks to its new owner, Charles Wong of Vancouver, Canada.
If the name Charles Wong sounds familiar, it's because it should! His trio of R34 Nissan GT-Rs were featured on the cover of our Nissan Issue in 2018. After our story, he shipped his Bayside Blue GT-R V-Spec to Japan, where it would be stored and serviced in the care of Garage Saurus. Charles would then travel to Tokyo to drive his personal project car at a handful of track days at Fuji Speedway. It was here where Charles fell in love with the 550 Maranello, and it wasn't long before both the R34 and Ferrari were shipped to British Columbia.
Dreams do come true and in Charles case, he's the proud parent of not just some of the finest Nissan GT-Rs known to man, but also a JDM-tuned and -inspired Ferrari that's going to see plenty of track days and car meets across the West Coast, as well as make you a fan of the front-engine 550 Maranello.
Special thank you to Drive Marketing Group for helping us snag these photos, even catching Charles picking up McDonalds!
1-ON-1 INTERVIEW WITH CHARLES WONG
So, you've left the GT-R world for Ferrari (I don't blame you!). But what drew you to importing this particular car?
Since I visited Garage Saurus HQ at Sayama, Japan, this car really caught my eyes. I remember seeing it on the internet a while ago on other websites and blogs like Speedhunters. Last year, my good friend Mark Wang came to Japan with me and I told him about this car. We were super excited after Hayashi-san, the owner of Garage Saurus, pulled the car out from storage and started it for us. We were super impressed by this one-of-a-kind Ferrari in person. Fast forward to six months ago, Hayashi-san messaged us if we would be interested in getting the car as he was looking to sell it, but only within the group of people he knew. I asked Mark and he said, "let's do it", and it would work well with both of our brands, @carmeets and @cwcollective.inc, so the trigger was pulled.
Damn I need to be better friends with you guys... Anyway, besides being badass, is there a special history behind the 550?
This was one of the Ferrari demo cars built by Garage Saurus. The project started over ten years ago. A customer from Kyoto who had his GT-R built by Saurus was very happy with the result and decided to take his Ferrari there. It started out as a stock 550M and the customer was a track fanatic, so he slowly upgraded the car to full circuit spec. Since then, Saurus built multiple 550s and 575s back in the day, including a twin turbo one in Indonesia.
What should people know about Garage Saurus?
Garage Saurus is a very famous GT-R shop in Japan that started in 1990. They hold numerous 0-400km/h records, Tsukuba Circuit records, also a lot of 0-300km/h races. They've built a lot of historic GT-Rs including the full carbon R32 and the yellow R32 GT-R which is in Option video a lot. I met them a couple of years ago and they are the guys who made my Japan tour with my R34 GT-R possible.
Back to the Ferrari, the bodywork is quite the spectacle. Is it all one-off?
The body kit is a Garage Saurus special. They actually produce them, and it was on a couple of customer cars; however, the fender flares are one-off and the side skirts were modified to accommodate the wider fenders. It was needed to run the 18x12-inch Advan GT with slicks before.
The F133A engine in your 550 Maranello came with 478hp stock; now it summons 650hp with a custom ITB setup and MoTeC standalone. The million-dollar question is... what is it like to drive?!
We've only taken the car to the track once after it landed in North America. Since it's all gutted, it drives like a super light Honda S2000. You don't feel the V12 up front. Throttle response is super sensitive from the ITBs with a super linear powerband. This car is the first time I've driven a 100% track-oriented build. It makes my GT-R feel like a family sedan.
How about its handling capabilities and is it possible to drive it on the street?
People might think a track car to be stiff, but the suspension actually works very well on the street. It absorbs all the bumps and you can feel the car has zero play. Any direction you point the steering wheel at, the car will follow.
Yes, a few.
- It is loud! I have to wear earmuffs. It disturbs all my neighbors when I start it up as it does 99db at 4,000rpm.
- The clutch and shifter are both heavy.
- The turn signal is a button and it doesn't turn off automatically after the turn.
- Car will overheat if I'm stuck in traffic; even with the custom ARC radiator, you need constant airflow.
- It gets super hot inside the car and the sliding window doesn't do anything.
Overall, it's just very overwhelming driving it on the street.
Which is why it belongs on the racetrack but I'm sure this gets looks like no other! Are you going to make any modifications to it now that it's made a new home in BC?
Car will most likely need a quieter exhaust with a valve, but other than that, we wanted to keep most of the parts original from Japan since it was built that way by Garage Saurus.
We certainly look forward to seeing and hearing that V12 sing at future track days on the West Coast. Congrats on the new whip, Charles!