I was out on the 2013 FOG rally with a bunch of other cars,” recounts Kevin Enderby. “I came over this crest in the road and saw a line of cars stopped right on the other side. I got hard on the brakes but never found out if I could stop in time—the car behind me hit me and pushed me into the car in front. Then the car behind him hit him and pushed him into me, again, and that pushed me into the car in front, again.”
The damage to Enderby’s F355 GTS? Smashed bodywork, buckled subframes, the engine forced into the firewall, the transmission’s bell housing shattered. No one was hurt in the pileup, but the Ferrari looked to be mortally wounded.
In most cases, the story would end there. At the time of the accident, in September 2013, the F355 had 121,000 miles, many of them racked up on the track. If anyone would buy such a well-used F355, Enderby reckons it might command $30,000 (pre-accident, of course), far less than the cost of repairs or the value of its constituent parts. But the grieving owner didn’t see things that way.
“My insurance company was willing to give me $42,000 if I kept the car,” he says, “so I started thinking about what I should do. Should I buy another F355? No, because they’re expensive to maintain. [This longtime owner recommended against purchasing an F355 in issue #134’s Buyer’s Guide.—Ed.] Should I put the money toward a new 488 GTB? Then I thought, This was my first new Ferrari, and I have a real emotional attachment to it. So I decided to see if it could be saved.”
THE FERRARI’S FIRST STOP was Springer Auto Restoration in Santa Cruz, California. “The crash was only four miles from here,” says owner Chris Springer. “When the car got here, my first thought was like the ‘Ferris Bueller’ movie: ‘You killed the car.’ Then he asked me if I thought I could fix it.
“It’s not an easy car to fix, not like the old ones with tube chassis,” Springer continues, “but we had done it before. Back in about ’99, Kevin got hit pretty hard in the left front or right front. We had to put the F355 on a frame bench and pull it straight, get all new panels from Ferrari, then we repainted the whole car, jambs and everything, in the brightest yellow we could find. This time was worse. The damage was front and rear, and because the value was down the car was totaled. Financially, it was disastrous.”
Springer looked over the Ferrari and figured it could be repaired. “The question then was the motor,” says Enderby. “If the motor had to be replaced, the job wasn’t worth doing.”
Mechanic John Heim, of San Francisco Motorsports in San Rafael, California, came to take a look at the F355, then had it hauled to his shop. “The first thing I did was get the engine back in position,” says Heim. “The motor mounts and transmission mounts were broken, and the motor was completely out of place. We took the exhaust off, got a used bell housing and flywheel, put the original clutch and those pieces back on, and made sure the engine ran and the transmission shifted. I actually drove the car around the block with the broken mounts; the motor was basically just sitting there.
“The next thing we did was take it to an alignment shop just to make sure the chassis was still square,” Heim says. “It was close enough. If the motor was broken or the car was bent, it would have been over. I called Kevin and said, ‘It’s fixable.’ He asked me, ‘What’s the estimate?’ I said, ‘I have no idea,’ and he said, ‘Fix it.’”
The fixing process began with Heim removing the Ferrari’s rear subframe, which holds the engine, transmission, and rear suspension. He pulled and set aside the 3.5-liter V8 and six-speed gearbox, then stripped the subframe of its wiring harness, clips, clamps, and studs. Next, he reinstalled the subframe and rear suspension, refit the wheels, and sent the damaged car back to Springer.
Springer’s job would be extensive. Up front, the car was damaged from bumper to A-pillars; aside from some wiring and a few light bulbs, just about everything in between—grille, headlights, brake ducts, fog lights, fenders, hood, subframe, etc.—would need to be repaired or replaced. In back, the damage was less visible but no less extensive.
“The engine didn’t stop at the same rate as the rest of the car,” says Springer. “When it came forward, the harmonic balancer hit the cross member, pushed it into the gas tank, and so on.”
Making matters more difficult, new F355 body parts are no longer available from Ferrari. “We ended up going to a junk yard in Sacramento,” Springer explains. “They had three different cars to choose from, all wrecked in different ways; they were used-used parts. I said, ‘I want this fender from this car, this fender from this car,’ and we ended up taking the whole front section from one car.”
Back in the shop, Springer put the Ferrari up on the frame bench. “Usually you can rent a fixture [for a specific model of car] from someone, but there wasn’t one available for the F355,” he says. “Luckily, I had made a fixture the first time the car was here, so I could re-use that. The fixture has pick-up points for all the suspension members, so I can figure out what’s bent and what’s not, and decide which replacement parts I need.”
The donor front clip came from a 1995 model, so there were a few differences between it and Enderby’s ’97 example, but Springer felt it was worth the extra effort. “We had to utilize parts from different vehicles but I insisted on original parts,” he says. “Some guys are making Challenge car parts and stuff, but they are not real high quality. I wanted everything to be authentic and [the repairs] pretty much undetectable.”
Springer describes his job as taking off parts until there’s no more damage, then putting on new and/or good parts until the car’s fixed. But repairing the F355 required more than just bolting things in place. The Ferrari had crumpled under the impacts, as designed, in order to protect the passenger compartment. While that was good news for the passengers, it meant the damage was wider spread than it first appeared.
“Because of the transference of the impact to the cross members, everything was damaged,” explains Springer. “The closest one to the impact was damaged a lot, then further away it goes bang, bang, bang down the line. Once it does that, it pulls the other rails closer together, so, for example, we had problems with the door gaps at the front and the rear of the door and on the A-pillar, so that took more work.”
Springer worked on the F355 on and off from November 2013 until the following October. Once he was satisfied the body was back in shape, he sent the Ferrari back to Heim for the mechanicals to be reinstalled.
CHRIS GOT THE BODY STRAIGHT and primed most of it,” says Heim. “At that point, I pulled the subframe back out, put everything back on it, and put it back in the car—after replacing crazy things I’d never replaced before. Things like the motor-mount pedestals just don’t get replaced because they don’t get damaged…or, if they do, no one in their right mind is going to fix them. Fortunately, I had a lot of time to put in it, which I needed.”
While the car was in Springer’s care, Heim had serviced the engine and worked on the transmission. “I replaced the bell housing because it was broken,” he says, “and I took the transmission over to Norman Racing to have a crack in the case welded. Also, the clutch shaft tube was slightly out of round, so we replaced that along with the clutch and the bearing-support flange and the seals in the release bearing.”
Replacing the flange revealed a surprise; although Enderby bought the Ferrari new, the gearbox in the car as of 2014 likely wasn’t the original one. “The number on the gearbox belongs to a ’99 car, and I don’t believe Ferrari would have built that transmission in ’97, or late ’96, when the car was built,” says Heim, who suspects the gearbox was replaced by a dealer during some kind of recall or warranty work. “It’s a better transmission. The issue is the late six-speed transmission has its own flange, and they don’t exist. So we had to buy the older style, then take it and the broken one that was in the car to Norman Racing. They measured what we needed, took the new flange, and milled a piece to fit the smaller seal for the later ’box. Little things like that came up, and I had no idea. You never know until you’re waist deep in it.”
With the rear of the F355 sorted, Heim turned his focus to the front. “I had to put all the lights back in the buckets to make sure everything worked, although they had to come back out to be painted,” he says. “I laid the wire harnesses in, the washer bottle, the horns, the battery. The battery mount wasn’t correct. They came right from the factory for the FIAMM battery the car came with, but we never have found a replacement battery that will fit. There’s a little modification I do to the back mount that makes the front hold-down work correctly. Again, little things like that were everywhere.”
Heim estimates he spent 300 hours on the car, but he didn’t charge Enderby the full amount. “I couldn’t do that without totally blowing his budget,” says Heim. “It was my decision [to spend the time] because I wanted to make the car right for me, too.
“We did a lot of work on that car,” he continues. “We did the suspension bushings—we had rebuilt the shocks a while ago—put new brakes on it, did the clutch. You could tell he smashed the throttle pedal against the floor because the stop was pushed over, so we adjusted that and got the relationship between the pedal “and the throttle working right.
“And all these little things, like the thermocouple ECU mount, which has had only one stud for as long as I’ve known the car. I took the time to remove the mount and put in the second stud. It’s a bolt from underneath but it’s captive, so no one will ever know it’s not original. I’d spend five hours or six hours on something that should have taken an hour and a half just so if someone were to lift the hood and look down in that area, they’d say it’s never been apart.”
Once the Ferrari was mostly reassembled, it went back to Springer for paint. “The color isn’t the same as last time,” says Springer. “Kevin thought there was a green tint to that yellow, which wasn’t available anyway due to changing [environmental] regulations, so I had to pick a different yellow. It’s still from Glasurit, but I’d call it more of a banana cream than the brightest yellow.”
The new paint was shipped over from Germany in half-pint cans. “It was a lot of paint,” says Springer. “Thirty-three cans, since it takes six coats over a yellow base coat, not counting the four coats of clear. Each can cost $100-something, but Kevin never restricted us, never told us to do it cheap.
“The whole thing was a big job, and I’m proud he did it,” Springer concludes. “It’s almost always about the money, but I was so happy he was following his heart instead of his wallet. It was an emotional thing for him. He loves those cars; they’re his kids.”
AS IS OFTEN THE CASE, the two-year part-time restoration came down to a flurry of last-minute activity. Enderby wanted to enter the car in the concours at the 2015 Ferrari Club of America National Meet, held in mid-August in Monterey, California the week after Pebble Beach.
“My goal was to have all three of my cars there and to win Platinum with each,” says Enderby, who also owns a 308 GTS and an F430, both with six-figure mileage. [We featured all three Ferraris in issue #79’s “Primary Colors.”—Ed.] “But it was a rush. When I got the F355 back about two weeks before Monterey, I remembered I wanted to do the edges of the carpet. The pieces had been sitting in my garage for two years, so I went to an upholsterer friend of mine—we were Boy Scouts together—to get it done. One thing I wish I had remembered was to get a new VIN sticker because they peel it off to paint the car. But Chris just taped it off and no one noticed.”
One item that didn’t pass post-paint muster was the catalytic-converter sticker. “It was very faded,” says Enderby. “You open the engine compartment, and the judge will say it looks like shit. There’s a guy who makes these stickers, they cost $350, and he sent it to me when I was already in Monterey. So I called my brother, had him go to my house, pick up the delivery slip, and go to the Post Office to get the sticker. But they won’t give it to him, so he FaceTimes me; I’m standing on a concours field in Monterey talking to this Post Office guy while holding up my driver’s license so he can see it. That was Friday, so I drove back to my house [in the San Francisco Bay Area] that night, put the sticker on, and drove back down. The FCA meet was that Monday.”
It’s hard to say what, if any, role the new sticker played, but Enderby’s F355 won a Platinum award at the FCA concours. “Actually, all three cars won Platinum, and I got a Coppa Bella Macchina and a Coppa GT with the F430,” Enderby says proudly. “And the F355’s great. I think the whole restoration was worth it, even if it cost double what I had expected. I swear to God, it’s better than new. I honestly don’t remember it driving this well when it was new.”
Heim laughs when he hears this. “Well, you know that’s not true—it can’t be!—but it’s as good as it’s going to get,” he says. “But that’s nice, that makes me feel good.”
The best part of story may be that, despite the time and expense spent returning the F355 to pristine condition, Enderby plans to keep driving it just as he always has. “I won’t take it back to the track, since the car’s a little old for that, but there are some tours and car shows in its future,” he says. “Then it’s back to being a daily driver.”