Ferrari in the early 1990s was a badly listing vessel. By 1993, production had dropped 50 percent over two years, the F40 was no longer the fastest car on the planet, and the 348 was an also-ran in magazine comparison tests. As England’s CAR summed up in 1994, “When someone else makes the most coveted sports car in the world, you feel an injustice ... ”
Maranello had the will, the talent, and the means to right its ship. First, in
late 1992, came the stupendous 456 GT. The follow-up was better.
The 1995 Ferrari F355 Spider and 1997 Ferrari F355 Berlinetta.
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The Ferrari F355 was a modern classic, so beautiful, so well-engineered, so well-received, that it marked the beginning of the end of the old-guard Ferraristi philosophy that the only “real” Ferraris were ones with 12-cylinder engines.
The Ferrari F355 in closed Berlinetta and targa GTS form burst onto the scene in spring 1994. It shared most every dimension with its 348 predecessor. Yet it was virtually a new car, as its stunning coachwork indicated. More than 1800 hours of wind tunnel testing influenced the harmonious shape, which incorporated an F1-style flat bottom with an airflow channel that generated enough downforce to offset any lift.
Engine, transmission, and suspension received major upgrades. The longitudinally mounted 3496cc V-8 had five valves per cylinder and a stunning 375-380 horsepower at a spine tingling 8250 rpm. The gearbox was now a six-speed with a new type of synchromesh that made it much easier to shift. Electronically adjustable shocks varied stiffness within milliseconds to suit the road surface.
Ferrari’s 1.86-mile Fiorano test track, the Ferrari F355 was two seconds faster than
the 12-cylinder 512 TR. That level of performance -- and that sensational shape
-- landed the Ferrari F355 on countless magazine covers. Testers were smitten.
The 1988 Ferrari 355 F1 GTS helped boost Ferrari's sagging reputation.
In the hands of former Le Mans winner Paul Frere, an F355 Berlinetta took 4.9 seconds to 60 mph, 11.2 to 100, and 13.3 for the quarter-mile. Top speed was an estimated 183 mph. Frere asserted in his Road & Track report that the V-8 was “probably the best sports car engine ever made” and said the 355 was “the purest purebred yet from Ferrari’s scuderia.”
Autocar was just as direct: “At a stroke (this Ferrari) has created a new supercar class of its own, leaving 911s and NSXs for dead. The F355 is so good, in fact, that it makes the once peerless 512 TR look blunt.”
Ferrari released a trio of new Ferrari F355 models in 1995. The F355 Spider convertible broke cover on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills and was a huge sales success. Its electronically controlled power top retracted beneath a canvas cover.
Next was the Ferrari F355 Challenge. Made to compete in Ferrari’s popular Challenge Series, this berlinetta weighed approximately 200 pounds less than the street car. It had a more spartan interior; wire mesh “Challenge” rear grille; lower and stiffer suspension; and revised exhaust, brakes, and wheels.
The final ‘95 release was the one-off 355 Competizione shown in Geneva. It was approximately 500 pounds lighter than the F355 Berlinetta and featured a “paddle-shift” sequential manual transmission.
This Formula 1-derived technology made its way into
Ferrari’s road cars in 1998 with the 355 F1. Its 6-speed gearbox used hydraulic
actuators attached to the transmission’s mechanical systems so that upshifts
and downshifts were accomplished by tugging paddles situated just behind the
steering wheel. The following year, the factory’s Scaglietti customization
program became available on all 355s.
The 1999 Ferrari 355 Serie Fiorano was the final iteration of the F355 series.
This Formula 1-derived technology made its way into Ferrari’s road cars in 1998 with the 355 F1. Its 6-speed gearbox used hydraulic actuators attached to the transmission’s mechanical systems so that upshifts and downshifts were accomplished by tugging paddles situated just behind the steering wheel. The following year, the factory’s Scaglietti customization program became available on all 355s.
The final Ferrari F355 iteration was the “Serie Fiorano,” introduced at 1999’s Geneva Auto Show alongside the new 360 Modena. This unique 355 spider had special underpinnings, a Challenge rear grille, and Scuderia Ferrari shields on the front fenders. The interior used carbon-fiber inserts, a suede-covered steering wheel, and a dedication plaque stating its position in a promised 100 car run (the final number was 104).The Ferrari F355, in all its forms, was a benchmark of such renown that former Ferrari F1 champion Phil Hill named it as one of the 10 best Ferraris ever, placing it alongside such immortals as the 250 GTO and 250 SWB.
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