Introduced in 1999, the 360 Modena revolutionized Ferrari’s road-car lineup. That lineup needed change, because the late 1980s and early ’90s had not been kind to the company, with falling sales of older models (the 412, Testarossa, and Mondial) and a poor reception for the new 348.
The man behind the revolt was Luca di Montezemolo, who arrived as president in 1991. The 360 Modena was the first V8-powered car designed from scratch under his leadership, and while Montezemolo’s demands were conflicting—the new model had to be larger and more refined yet lighter and faster than its predecessor—Ferrari’s engineers and designers proved they were up to the challenge.
The 360 was different from any Ferrari that came before it, most notably because it was Maranello’s first car to utilize an all-aluminum chassis (co-developed and built by Alcoa inside the Scaglietti works), which helped make it both 130 pounds lighter and 64-percent more torsionally rigid than its nine-inch-shorter, one-inch-narrower, steel-framed predecessor, the F355. The 360’s Pininfarina-penned body was equally radical, with 5,400 hours of wind-tunnel testing resulting in a sleek, streamlined design that produced nearly 400 pounds of downforce at 180 mph without the use of an external wing.
Thanks to its 400-hp 3.6-liter V8 engine and six-speed transmission, the 360 sprinted from 0-60 mph in 4.5 seconds and topped out at 183 mph. It was also three seconds a lap faster around the Fiorano test track than the F355, as well as more comfortable and significantly roomier inside. In addition, it was every-day usable, reliable, and much cheaper to service.
That was 1999. The following year, Ferrari unveiled a convertible version. The 360 Spider was identical to the Modena, aside from its fully automatic soft top and some additional chassis bracing. Performance was reduced only by academic levels: It was 0.1 second slower to 60 mph and 3 mph down at the top end.
Then, in 2003, the 360 received a serious performance boost with the introduction of the Challenge Stradale. Inspired by the 360 Challenge race car, the Challenge Stradale featured lower, stiffer suspension; extra-sticky tires; launch control; a faster-shifting F1 gearbox; carbon-ceramic brakes; revised bodywork; a minimalist interior; and plenty of lightweight carbon-fiber and titanium components. With 25 more horses, 240 fewer pounds, and additional downforce, the CS hit 60 mph in 4.1 seconds and lapped Fiorano 3.5 seconds faster than the Modena.
It’s hard to believe that the 360 is now two decades old, and while it’s long been outpaced by its newer relatives, these three Ferraris remain enjoyably fast, and nicely reliable, machines. Plus, you can pick up a good example for as little as $50,000.
WITH ITS ALL-ALUMINUM BODY and frame, exotic flat-crank 40-valve V8 with plenty of torque and power, and much improved braking, handling, and interior room compared to the earlier 348 and F355, the 360 Modena was a true modern supercar and an instant hit with buyers. Even better for today’s buyers, all of the 360 variants have been fully depreciated for years, meaning they offer serious bang for the buck.
There’s no lack of F1 transmission-equipped, 20,000- to 30,000-mile Modenas starting at around $50,000 and Spiders starting around $70,000. You’ll need another $20,000 for a car with the now-extremely-desireable stick-shift, and as much as another $20,000 for an ultra-low mile example. While Ferrari built roughly 8,800 Modenas and another 7,500 Spiders—a quick online search will reveal dozens, if not hundreds, of coupes and convertibles for sale on any given day—it only produced around 1,200 Challenge Stradales. Due to their rarity and comparative collector’s appeal, CS prices start near $150,000.
Production of the 360 mostly coincided with CEO Luca di Montezemolo’s plan to “option up” Ferrari’s production cars, a trend that continues to this day (and has been expanded in recent years with the even-more-exclusive-and-expensive Tailor Made program). As a result, later examples are often equipped with colored brake calipers, Scuderia Ferrari fender shields, Daytona-style seats, modular wheels, carbon-ceramic brakes, a Challenge-style rear grille, and more, which makes them more desirable and thus more expensive than earlier cars.
What should you look for when buying a 360? One significant factor is the number of previous owners. Every new owner spends some time seeing just how fast the car will go and how far it can be pushed, and after a few owners the effects can start to add up—especially if, like many exotics, the car is flipped regularly and never properly serviced. Relatedly, since the 360 is inexpensive by Ferrari standards, some owners are unwilling to spend the money for ongoing maintenance. You want a car with a full, documented service history, a clean Carfax report, and a recent cam-belt service and a clutch-life readout by a respected shop.
Even better, hire a qualified shop do a full pre-purchase inspection. This can easily require most of a day, and so can cost as much as $1,000, but the opportunity to factor who-pays-for-what in terms of deferred maintenance, old date-coded tires, sticky switches, and so on into the purchase price, as well as the resulting peace of mind, makes it worth the expense.
For sellers, beyond any obvious problems high miles are the biggest issue. Almost all buyers want a “low-mileage” car, which means that 2,000-mile examples cost significantly more than 10,000-mile ones, and 50,000-mile cars are a hard sell at any price. That’s unfortunate, since the 360 is a reliable, well-built Ferrari.
The standard advice I give every Ferrari buyer applies: Do your research, buy the best car you can afford, and make sure you have it inspected by a shop that knows the model inside and out. The cost of repairing a bad 360 can easily run 25 percent or more of the purchase price. —Michael Sheehan
These prices as of October 2020 are for fully serviced cars in good-to-great condition.
BY TODAY’S STANDARDS, the 360 is a simple car with a straightforward architecture. From a technician’s point of view, it’s a great car to work on, as most 360s will experience nearly
all the same issues over time. Like most Ferraris, 360s are attention-hungry and respond very well to regular maintenance, and when well-cared for are excellent cars. I’ve seen several high-mileage examples that I’d be proud to own—and coming from a mechanic, this is high praise indeed!
Like any car, especially one that’s now 20 years old, the 360 has its problem areas. The biggest concern involves the catalytic converters. The cats, specifically the pre-cats in the exhaust manifolds, tend to rattle apart and get sucked back into the engine. This can cause anything from a random, intermittent misfire to catastrophic engine damage. There’s usually little warning that the issue is developing, so regular exhaust maintenance and inspection is the best prevention.
Many cars have developed final drive whine, which is usually heard in fifth or sixth gear while lightly accelerating or maintaining a steady speed. After opening up many gearboxes, we’ve discovered two different sources for the noise. The first is that the hardening on the ring and pinion (a.k.a., the gearbox output shaft) has softened due to dirty oil or heat-exchanger leakage that dilutes the oil. The second is bearing wear that causes the ring to mate incorrectly with the pinion. Bearing replacement is easy, while replacing shafts and/or gears will be far more costly. Removing and disassembling the gearbox is the only way to discover the root cause of the whine.
Leaking shock absorbers have become more prevalent in recent years. The aftermarket has not yet caught up to offer consistent rebuilding services or direct replacements, so for now factory replacements are my recommended remedy.
Sticky buttons and surfaces continue to disappoint in the cockpit, as Ferrari’s chosen coating almost invariably becomes gooey and begins to rub off. There’s no solution besides redoing the affected surfaces (or buying replacement factory pieces, which will also degrade over time), but the problem is so pernicious that many owners decide just to live with it; I’ve even seen black duct tape applied to the lower steering column just to avoid the gooey transfer! But when those same owners sit in a car that has been repaired, they realize immediately what their 360 has been missing for years.
Engine heat will often cause sagging taillights, as the inner lamp units start to droop outwards. Other than making sure the engine is running properly and that there are no exhaust issues, the only preventative step is to install the perforated rear grille from a 360 Challenge (which is already a popular aesthetic upgrade).
On the topic of temperature, a hot idle is all too common. The usual cause is a failing fan thermo switch, which resides at the top of the right-side radiator. A bad switch can cause only one, or none, of the fans to run, and it will be most noticeable when the car’s not moving because no cooling air will be flowing through the radiators.
For those cars so equipped, the F1 shift system will need repair at some point. I most often see problems with the shift actuator (one of the two main F1 components, along with the pump) and leaks in the various hydraulic lines. While repairs can be expensive—when last available, a new actuator cost around $12,000, although today they can be rebuilt for much less—the good news is that most are essentially a one-time repair. Once fixed, it should be good to go for another decade or two.
Fluctuating engine-oil pressure is becoming a problem on higher-mileage cars. We have developed an apparatus that allows us to read oil pressure in real-time with the dash gauge, which allows us to judge actual oil-pressure degradation versus a failing sensor—the sensors fail quite often. In my experience, if there’s good pressure at a steady speed but low pressure at a stop, the oil pump is likely wearing out. Even if the hot engine at idle shows single-digit oil pressure, upon teardown the lower end of the V8 often turns out to be nearly perfect. (This is the opposite of what usually happens in American muscle cars, where low oil pressure is a result of worn bearings and so on.) Thickening oil supplements, such as the Ferrari-recommended Petronas Tutela Sport Booster Oil, can help raise low oil pressure.
Gearbox heat exchangers continue to fail regularly. These oil-to-water units regulate the temperature of the gearbox, and the problem comes from the “water” side of the equation, the engine’s cooling system. Over time, electrolysis in the cooling system will degrade most metals, and if that degradation gets too bad coolant can leak into the gearbox. This failure is usually avoidable if the cooling system is serviced at least every three years, regardless of mileage. —Jesse Westlake
On The Road
While much slower than Ferrari’s current models, the 360 remains an excellent driver’s car—with great handling, more than enough power to entertain, and the option of a gated shift lever.
PRESSING THE SPORT BUTTON button in the center console instantly resolves this slightly lazy feeling, changing the 360 Modena from a sharpish GT to a much more aggressive sports car. Shifts are much quicker, though they’re still abrupt, with nothing like the smoothness of newer F1 transmissions. The suspension is noticeably stiffer, eliminating almost all traces of body roll. As I ramp up the speed, the Modena now responds in kind. Through a fast series of esses, the Ferrari feels perfectly neutral and composed as I flick the wheel back and forth. The pin-sharp steering is light but communicative, and the chassis is very pointy. Despite its mid-engine layout, the 360 feels forgiving as I continue to push it harder.
Given the V8’s generous power, I can short shift and still make very quick progress. But with a motor that revs this willingly, short shifting is the last thing on my mind. As is the case with almost all Ferraris, the engine is definitely the high point of the Modena. The V8 picks up steam quickly, its snarl transforming into a heady, high-pitched shriek as it spins effortlessly toward redline.
Switching cars, the Challenge Stradale immediately feels more responsive and keyed into the tarmac than the base 360 in its Sport mode. But, like the Modena, the CS’s default setting—in this case, Sport—leaves the car feeling a little disjointed. It moves around a bit more than it should, and shifts from the F1 ’box feel clunky. Selecting Race mode puts the Stradale fully in its element, quicker-shifting and better planted. The car is certainly stiff, bobbing and dipping over undulations like a bantamweight boxer, but thanks to the sophisticated damping, the ride doesn’t beat me up.
Turn-in is razor sharp, and the car rotates more quickly than the Modena, changing direction instantly with zero body roll. But I do have to stay on my game. Where the Modena has a very neutral cornering stance, with the back end faithfully following the front, the edgy CS always feels as if it’s a millisecond away from serious oversteer.
The difference in sound is equally dramatic: The 360’s aftermarket Tubi pales in comparison to the stock CS exhaust. The shriek is raw and loud enough at higher revs to make me wonder why I didn’t bring earplugs.
The last couple thousand revs shove me back in my seat, hard, as the CS devours straights with an almost frightening intensity, the F1 gearbox upshifting in as little as 150 milliseconds with every tug of the right paddle. While the engine doesn’t necessarily rev any quicker than the Modena’s, throttle response is better. In general, the CS’s V8 feels like a very precisely built race motor, which is pretty much what it is. Its mid-range acceleration is similar to the 360’s, but the top end is something else altogether.
After sampling the 360 and CS back to back, I’m astonished at how Ferrari turned the former into the latter. I was exhilarated after my time in the Modena; it’s truly a fantastic sports car. But then the CS completely blew me away. If you’re looking for maximum fun, this is the car to have—as long as you can fully embrace its always frantic personality. —“Best Sellers,” FORZA #86
Freed of traffic and restrained throttle inputs, the 360 simply comes to life. What had seemed pretty unremarkable cruising between Points A and B now feels engaging, exciting, and, occasionally, as the back end hunkers down and scrabbles for traction out of the turns, electrifying.
There’s not enough front tire to turn in with impunity (there’s a good reason the Challenge Stradale received 10-mm wider rubber than the base 360s), but once it takes a set the Spider grips more tenaciously than expected. Approach the limit and the front end kicks back gently, the rear end ready to swing out if provoked. The driver has to do more work at the wheel than in a newer Ferrari to maintain the proper line, but that’s the name of the involvement game, and it’s for the best.
Instead of fixing your mistakes, this Ferrari simply informs you where you’ve made them. It’s up to you, not the car, to do better next time. And you’ll want to, because the real pleasure of the 360 comes from precisely clipping apexes, getting on the accelerator earlier and earlier in the corners (throttle response is sharp without being twitchy), fighting the wheel, and letting the swell of power push you back in the seat as the road opens up ahead. The Spider isn’t particularly powerful by current Maranello standards (it’s 160 horsepower down to the California T, and a whopping 270 ponies less mighty than the 488), but still feels properly fast when kept in the upper third of its rev range. There’s not a lot of mid-range grunt, but keep the revs up and you won’t care. —“Resurgence,” FORZA #159