THE FERRARI F355 is arguably the best Ferrari you can buy for sensible money. Prices can start from as low as $115,000 and that nets a 20-year-old mid-engined V8 that remains scintillating to drive. But the F355 also represents a crossroads in Maranello’s history, and it’s this contextual significance that means its appeal is likely to endure. Enzo Ferrari had died in 1988, and Luca di Montezemolo – who’d run the Ferrari F1 team in the ’70s – was appointed CEO in 1991. The front-engined 456 GT debuted shortly after di Montezemolo arrived, but really the F355 was his first road car. It was unveiled in 1994, and stuck around until 1999. Prompted by the arrival of Japanese sports cars that were as reliable and easy to live with as they were fun to drive, the F355 marks Ferrari’s step into the modern era, the gateway to the brilliant, but accessible 488s and 812s of today. The F355 might have been an evolution of 1989’s 348, with a steel monocoque and a tubular steel subframe to support the powertrain and suspension assembly, but the technology was more of a revolution. It included a five-valve cylinder head, as was the vogue in F1, adaptive dampers with a choice of Comfort or Sport settings, and, from 1997, the option of an automated manual gearbox. When the F1 F355 turned up, a sports car without a clutch pedal or gearlever looked conspicuously radical. A robotised manual as opposed to an auto (the gearbox is identical to the manual’s), the F355 F1 meant that for the first time you could lose the clutch without losing credibility as a performance car. And again came the link with F1 – the Scuderia under John Barnard were quick to see the competitive advantage of a semi-auto gearbox in racing and quick too to make it reality. The naturally aspirated V8 grew from the 348’s 3.4 litres to 3.5 to produce 280kW, up by 60kW. A Berlinetta coupe (the GTB), Spider and GTS with removable roof panels were all produced. That headline $115,000 slipped in earlier was a sneaky ruse to grab your attention, as in reality that figure only really gets you a very high-mileage 355. Aim for something in the vicinity of $300,000 plus and you’ll start getting into the good stuff. Of course, that all depends on availability, too.
'94 TO '99
choice of good ones from $300K
If you can stretch your budget, a manual right-hand-drive 355 GTS with the Fiorano Handling Pack would probably be the most desirable car on the market. You’ll just have to search far and wide for one. One with few kays on the clock, with a good spec and also painted in a desirable colour combination would be as rare as it is expensive. However, track one down and you’re buying the best of the best. Desirable colours extend far beyond red to include blacks, blues, dark greys and greens. Desirable upgrades include the Handling Pack, plus carbon sports seats, a manual gearbox – for some, the old way is the best – a Challenge-spec rear grille, and tailored luggage sets. There aren’t any undesirable options so to speak, but a car with a low spec in the first place can be off-putting. Things like the Scuderia wingshields are highly sought after. Check out the panel (left) on running costs, but Ferrari’s greater focus on useability seems to have paid off – the F355 is a pretty robust, easy-to-use car if looked after properly. Having said that, the likelihood of having to purchase a car with higher mileage because of this is also likely. So if you find one with low kays, snap it up.
03 FINANCIAL THINGS TO CONSIDER
SERVICING Around $1000 should cover an annual service, while a major service could extend to $2700 with a cambelt replacement, which is best done at the same time GOOD ORDER An annual service generally keeps the cars in order, with major services when necessary and cambelts every three years, according to the experts FAULTS Common faults include hairline cracks that cause exhaust manifolds to leak. It can cost up to $4200 per side for replacements, so owners often fit aftermarket systems
THE SOPHISTICATED TRANSMISSION IS THE PRODUCT OF COUNTLESS LAPS OF FIORANO
03 OTHER MODERN CLASSIC TEMPTERS
HONDA NSX Mid-engined Japanese hero gets 3.0-litre V6 and sweet handling as standard. Avoid autos; Type R variants are rare and and weren’t officially sold Down Under. Prices range from about $100K-$150K, but good examples are now quite hard to find in Oz. ASTON V8 VANTAGE Still looks fresh – because it’s only just left production, after debuting in ’05. V8 grew from 4.3 to 4.7 with other worthwhile tweaks in ’08. Cabrio feels heavy and wobbly. Coupes start from about $90K, but prices rise sharply the newer you go. PORSCHE GT3 The 911 racer for the road, powered by the sublime naturally aspirated flat six (from 3.6 to 4.0 litres), no rear seats and rear-drive. Prices span from about $150K for a 996 ('99-'05), $220K for a 997 ('06-'11) or from $300K for well-kept 991s.
IN SPECS: F355
BODY DRIVETRAIN ENGINE POWER TORQUE TRANSMISSION WEIGHT 2 door, 2 seat coupe mid-engine, rear-drive 3496cc V8, DOHC, 40v 280kW @ 8250rpm 363Nm @ 6000rpm 6-speed automated manual 1350kg (dry)
WHICH BRINGS us to the car on these pages. Like me, owner Alex Curasco fell hopelessly in love with the F355 the moment he first saw one as a teenager, and decided one day he’d own one. Unlike me, Alex put a deadline on the ownership thing (the ripe old age of 30) and actually got there aged 26 when he went to buy a V8 Vantage and drove out in a Ferrari. Me? It’s not going so well. Like a thirst-ravaged madman chasing a cool mirage across desiccated desert, the rate at which my means are climbing can’t cling to the meteoric speed with which F355 prices are soaring skyward. (Alex’s car has doubled in value since he bought it in 2011.) For me it may never happen. But Alex is a generous chap, and he’s letting me go for a drive. Finished in Rosso Corsa with a Bordeaux Red interior, this car’s fitted with the automated manual gearbox. He’s owned it six years, has covered 6500km in that time, and has it looked after meticulously. As I walk up to the car I realise with a flutter of relief that the F355 is still beautiful; of its time undoubtedly, but beautiful. Approach from the back of the car and you can’t help but glance into the engine bay for a glimpse of that 40-valve V8. With a smile you note that it sits so low in the car it looks like the sump might be resting on the floor. Fumble for the hidden door handle, find it and drop into a cabin that smells divine. Glancing over the controls – microscopic lever for selecting reverse, jarringly ugly steering wheel, a rev counter gleefully redlined at 8500rpm – my eyes fall on Sport button, distant relative of today’s myriad drive mode options. It’s on, for firmer damping and quicker shifts. Alex’s face when I ask him what the car’s like with Sport mode off is a baffled one: “Er, I’ve never tried it.” Why would you? Smooth upshifts are mastered quickly. The transmission may have been a trailblazer, but it still feels sophisticated and beautifully calibrated. Foot to the floor, you need lift only momentarily at the point the clutch disengages to bring about a perfect shift. On the way down you’ve a choice; leftfoot brake and indulgently rev-match with a right foot set free of braking duties or let the computer do the work. The lazy option gives you more time to think about the engine. And with the F355 you need time to think about the engine. About its insane reach – forget where you are and you’ll instinctively shift at 5000rpm, and miss out on literally half the fun. About how fast it still feels. About the shattering noise it makes at full stretch. About how it dominates the driving experience, making the F355’s prodigious grip, gorgeous eight-tenths balance and unfailing front end feel somehow incidental. (The steering feels ponderous after the 458 and 488, but then what car’s doesn’t?) Alex, at first relieved and then frustrated by my pussyfooting, shouts at me to go for it on our last lap. With warmth now in the brakes and tyres the F355 is little short of sensational; weightless in the ease with which it changes direction and, with enough revs to clear the sluggishness that sits at the bottom of the tacho, shocking in the eagerness with which its hysterical, ballistic engine responds. Significant, technically ambitious, beautiful and sensational to drive, the F355 is a great Ferrari by any measure. And by the one that really matters – its ability to set in amber euphoric moments immune to the dulling tides of time – it is one of the very best. Alex is about to trade up to another F355... lucky bugger. After all, I’m unlikely to get there in the first place. However, you can’t blame me for dreaming.