Ferrari 456 Venice Spider, Sedan, and Wagon
The Ferrari 456 is arguably the most elegant car to come from Maranello in recent years. That being said — why stop with mere elegance when you're a Sultan. No, a Sultan demands indulgence. Which we're assuming is why he built himself a four-door sedan and wagon version of the Italian stallion. With a wave of his hand, he commissioned design-shop Pininfarina to build some super-sized versions. We're even told the Sultan reportedly had them set up shop on the royal grounds, just for this sort of special project. Must have been why they tossed in that sexy drop-top 456 Spider at no extra cost.
Back when the Sultan of Brunei stopped spending royal money on custom built supercars, the size and breath of the miniature industry he supported was only slightly revealed. At the time, many cars were still in production and lucky for us, a Ferrari FX, one of the real jewels of the collection, was still being prepared at Williams when its shipping order was cancelled.
The FX was like many of the Sultan specials in that it used then current production car underpinnings to support newer and sometimes better bodies, interiors and drive trains. In the case of our feature car, it was modified so extensively, a new name was needed to distinguish it from the 512M it started life as.
Not only is this an interesting vehicle in detail, but it is the fourth in a series of seven nearly identical cars. The Sultan had a habit of buying his cars in bulk, and stretched the design costs of his personal models over several examples. For instance, he bought two Ferrari F90s, six Bentley Grand Prixs and three Aston Martin AM4s.
To keep his 28 billion dollar spending spree under wraps from the population of the Brunei, the Sultan always had his cars and other vices like yachts and 747s prepared in secret which meant the FX didn't officially exist according to Ferrari and Pininfarina. As images leaked from many frustrated mechanics, car geeks the world over discovered that the best modern collection of supercars was in Brunei and that the Sultan had very, very good taste.
Most likely, the FX was developed from a clean sheet of paper and the seemingly endless funds available only limited the car by creativity and technology. The general idea was to take the 512M and rebody it with a more curvaceous body by Pininfarina. But that's just the start, as the Sultan and his brother Price Jefri agreed to take their redesigned car to Williams where it would be outfitted with a sequential gearbox not too different from their Formula One unit.
Each car started life at Pininfarina where the new body was fitted to the 512 superstructure. It was fabricated out of aluminum and, where possible, carbon fibre was used for panels such as the hood, doors and wheel wells. To accommodate the revised rear end, a new exhaust was manufactured which now leads us to believe the engine itself may have been upgraded. Even if the engine is stock, the lighter body and transmission have to offer much better performance.
Over ten years old, Pininfarina's styling isn't the most photogenic from the front, but good proportions and a particularly pleasing rear end save the design. Specifically, converging lines at the back are untypical, but look more flowing and balanced compared to the chunky 512. A distinct rear hood with Plexglas rear window is unlike any thing from Pininfarina, having small port holes that reveal the familiar Flat-12 below. Curiously, there is a unique engine crown that has the only FX script found anywhere on the car.
Inside, the FX is lushly appointed with a sweeping two-tone interior and focuses on the red and green paddles that sit behind the Momo steering wheel. Other interesting details include an emergency shutoff button, aluminum door handles, a transmision control panel between the two seats and a plaque which calls out the 'unique pininfarina design for the Royal Family of Brunei'. Our feature FX is left untouched, and still includes its classic Sony tape player, one fit for a billionaire.
For reasons we don't know, number four of seven was still being finished at Williams when the Sultan stopped his influx of cars and anything else expensive. The single dark blue example, chassis 103396, was then purchased by supercar aficionado Dick Marconi for his Southern California museum which benefits many children's foundations.
It was then the subject of an excellent article by Winston Goodfellow who became the only journalist to drive an FX outside of Brunei. In ''one of the world's truly great cars'', he had gone to heaven ''without first having to die''. Convinced by how the gearbox seamlessly meshed with the Flat-12 on downshifts, he said ''if upcoming F60 can do this, that aural and tactile sensation alone will be worth the price of admission''. Of course he was referring to the Enzo supercar which was just a year down the road.
Since its stay in California, the FX has remained in the great care of Dick Marconi who last displayed the car at the Art Center College of Design show in 2003. Anyone wanting to see the FX and a superb collection of post-war exotic cars in person can visit the Museum in Tustin California by appointment.
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