The cars we loved.
Ferrari is seldom ever caught with its guard down, but shortly after the F345 was released in 1993 it came close. The replacement for the 308/328 would retain some of the classic ‘Ferrari shape” made famous by the by the 328, but would go further with controversial styling touches from the Testorossa. Design aside, the car was lambasted by the press because the then new Honda/Acura NSX bested it in all performance tests while costing half the price. Ferrari it seems was caught by surprise by the rapid advancement of the Japanese supercar. After al,l a Ferrari was expected to be at the top of its class in any segment it competed in. The fact that it was bested by Honda bruised its ego far more than any punch from its traditional rival Lamborghini.
It would be years before Ferrari could match the challenge brought about by a new breed of supercar coming out of Asia. The NSX could be driven every day without the typical exotic car hassles. The temporary fix would come with the improved 348 Speciale in 1993, but the damage had been done.
Ferrari attempted to set things right with a completely new car, well almost completely new. The front fenders, and roof were said to have come from the F348, but the new F355 would be a round about rethinking of Ferrari’s latest mid-engined, rear drive two passenger sports car. Like the outgoing F348, the F355 would come in hardtop, targa and convertible (Spyder) versions.
The first change was under the hood. A new V8 with five valves per cylinder and lighter connecting rods would be the reasoning behind the new name: 355. This engine was larger than the one in the 348 at 3.5 litres. It also had more power at 375 horses while managing to be easier to control. Ferrari made a big point of making the F355 more driver friendly in the same way that Apple strives to make complicated devices easier to use. After having been stunned by Hondas super reliable NSX, Ferrari had no choice. The supercar was no longer the domain of the ultra-rich motorhead, now everyday dot com millionaires were demanding less fussy exotics.
The changes would continue most dramatically with the body. The harder edge lines of the 348 gave way to softer more rounded front and rear clips inspired by the Testarossa 512M with its fish mouth front grile. Where the 348 tried mimicking the Testarossa’s infamous cheese grater side gills, the 355 managed to be a closer looking tribute by looking like a smaller scale version of its big brother. Needless to say, the design was a hit with buyers, who all but stopped buying the big Testarossa in favor of its smaller more driver friendly stablemate.
Where the F348 Spider was Ferrari’s first true two seat convertible since the Daytona, the F355 Spyder would be its first with a powered top in 1995. All F355s would benefit from a race inspired chassis with a smooth, flat bottom for increased high speed stability. While the F355 was a knockout when standing still, it was most likely seen as a blur. From a stoplight the F355 could reach 60 in a scant 4.7 seconds. If needed a coupe driver could reach a top speed of 183 mph. Much of that speed and performance was made possible by keeping the weight down and increasing rigidity. Ferrari would go so far as to use special 17′ magnesium wheels to keep weight down to under 3,000 lb.
All of this performance was tempered of course with an interior that was more owner friendly than any before it. A new fast shifting automatic was nearly as responsive as the standard 6 speed manual. A special version of the F355 called the F1, featured F1 style paddle shifters for drivers who fancied themselves in a race car. In addition to air and deluxe stereo, driver and passenger were treated to a more comfortable ride, thanks to electronically controlled Blistien shocks.
Today the F355 still looks current, thanks to its use of styling cues from the 512M that would carry over to the F50 and F550 Maranello as late as 2002. Since the F355 introduction, Ferrari has outlived most of the Japanese challengers like the NSX. The lessons learned from the F348 has taught the Italians to no longer take its customer base for granted, as the definition of what the exotic car customer wants is a moving target that changes with the times. Fortunately for whoever can afford a used F355 the benefactor of the lesson will be the owner.