F355: 25 Years of Ferrari’s Modern Classic
Like a shapely supercar behemoth, the F355 straddled two eras of Ferrari. Traditional yet technological, classic yet contemporary, as it marks its quarter century, Maranello’s mid-engined 1990s supercar celebrates a speciale blend of grace and pace
Ferrari. Creator of red-liveried and four-wheeled dream machines. Purveyor of poster car stars with a back catalogue of truly iconic low-slung luminaries. Firmly embedded into car (and supercar) culture, Ferrari has a roll-call of celestial coupés and divine drop-tops. And now as it reaches its quarter-century, the F355 is fired into the modern classic stratosphere.
Sandwiched between the 348 and 360 Modena on the Maranello machine timeline, the F355 arrived in 1994. A development of its Enzo Ferrari-directed predecessor, while the V8 engine remained, displacement rose to 3,495cc thanks to a five-valve cylinder head directly inspired from the company’s V12 F1 programme (the wilder 520bhp 641/2 F1 car-derived F50 arrived a year later). Power for the F129B unit escalated to 375bhp and allied to six-speed gearbox – shifting through a traditional visually delicious open-gate manual – the F355 scorched to 62mph in a blistering 4.7 seconds. Yep, the F355 would still be on the speed dial list under ‘S’ for supercar…
Outside, the F355 brought back the balletic beauty of past Modenese monsters. The brutal and square-edged looks of more recent Ferrari firecrackers were rounded and smoothed, but the signifiers were all there. The angular side strakes of the 348 and Testarossa may have been transformed into scoops, but the headlights still popped up and the tail lamps still looked like the afterburners it seemed the last hand-built Ferrari needed (and were as cool as those on moustachioed Magnum PI’s 308 GTS). The cabin still cocooned and wrapped around its passengers, too. And as for those ‘starfish’ alloy wheels… Bellissimo!
Aerodynamic advances helped the F355’s performance, with a small rear lip and even a flat undertray. Technological touches included the arrival of a paddle-operated, six-speed and F1-inspired electro-hydraulic manual in 1997 (a production car first and a costly £6,000 over the £78,000 base model), power steering as well as two-stage electronic suspension. The tubular rear sub-frame and independent, unequal-length wishbones stuck to tried and tested supercar science.
Also a nod to tradition, the ‘Berlinetta’ tag was applied to the majority of F355s. There may have been no ‘little saloon’ (the name’s initial meaning, perhaps think 1964 330 GTC 2+2 and 1972 to 1989 365 GT4 2+2, 400GT and 400i series), but coupé, open-top Spiders and the halfway house targa-top GTS body styles pleased Ferrari Tifosi. Like several of its revered ancestors, serial favoured Ferrari styling house Pininfarina penned the flowing soft-wedge looks. Stylistically, the F355 was the final mid-engined, rear-wheel drive Maranello motor with flying buttresses.
Perhaps coincidentally, the coupé proved the most popular of the 11,273 F355s produced. The limited edition ‘Serie Fiorano’ F355 Spider of 1999 offered, in keeping with its 100-unit run, something a little more exclusive. Racing-style steering, suspension and a wider track offered an even sharper experience than the standard F355, and a smattering of carbon fibre hinted at its enhanced performance. Almost as supersonic as the F355 Challenge, a turn-key racer based on the standard Berlinetta but with a factory-to-dealer-supplied kit of competition parts, the Fiorano offered a raft of wig-ruffling opportunities.
One of the F355’s biggest achievements was that, like the Honda NSX, it was a supercar which didn’t need superpowers to pilot. A light clutch, a quickness of responses, and that slot-home, chrome ball-topped, open-gate, manual gearbox gave the F355 an ease of driving. Whether it was taken to the 8,500rpm redline or used as a super shopping car, perhaps it was, in truth, Ferrari’s first ‘multi-purpose’ vehicle…
The F355 was the last bastion of one era, but also a vanguard at the start of a new one. (And no, we don’t mean the arrival of Toyota MR2 F355-aping body kits.) The first Ferrari to sell over 10,000 examples, the F355’s marrying of tradition and modern ensured its popularity during its five-year life. And, as modern classics entrench themselves into car enthusiasts’ hearts, that cunning coupling ensures its appeal now. Happy 25th F355.
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