The 550 Maranello was a Ferrari that wasn’t necessarily on everyone’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-engined and having more of a grown-up, touring car appeal, it was still one of the best cars $200K could buy you in the mid-to-late ’90s. Highly praised by journalists, 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 what makes this particular 1997 550 Maranello the absolute business.
All Business, Little Grand Touring
I like my Ferraris 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 can turn 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 pressure checked in the paddock moments before a no-limit shakedown.
When all is said and done, this could’ve been the Ferrari that put the 550 Maranello on the mapâat least among racecar fan boys like myselfâand it would’ve made an awesome hero car in Gran Turismo. It also would’ve done the front-engine Ferrari justice, more so than a short 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.
1-on-1 with Owner Charles Wong
What made you go after this particular build?
“Since I visited Garage Saurus HQ at Sayama, Japan, this car really caught my eye. I remember seeing it on the internet a while ago on other websites and blogs. 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.”
Give Us a Little History on This Build and the Builder
“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. 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.”
How Does It Feel?
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. 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.
“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. “