Savior

The F355 reinvigorated Ferrari’s V8 sports car lineup with new technology, improved performance, and stunning style.

Photo: Savior 2
May 30, 2022

When the F355 debuted at the 1994 Geneva Auto Show, enthusiasts around the world breathed a sigh of relief. The early 1990s had seen Ferrari suffering from slow sales and tepid enthusiasm for the 348. The F355 appeared set to change all that.

The new model’s story began in 1990, when former Scuderia Ferrari manager Luca Cordero di Montezemolo bought a 348. “With the exception of its good looks, I was utterly disappointed,” he said. One year later, Montezemolo became the company’s president and had the opportunity to reinvent Ferrari’s V8 sports car—and reinvent he did.

While it was built on the same basic structure as the 348, the F355 looked completely different. Its lines were sleek and clean, a gorgeous mix of classic design cues and 1,800 hours of wind-tunnel testing; Motor Trend called the F355 “the best-looking Italian body since Michelangelo’s David.” The car was initially available as a berlinetta or targa-top GTS, and a Spider version was introduced in ’96.

The F355 was also much faster than its predecessor. Where the 348’s 3.4-liter engine delivered 300 horsepower, the F355’s 3.5-liter V8 produced 375 hp in U.S. trim. Its eye-opening specific output of 107.3 hp/liter (the highest of any naturally aspirated road car at the time) came courtesy of new five-valve cylinder heads and an 11.0:1 compression ratio, while titanium connecting rods and a lighter crankshaft allowed for an equally astonishing 8,500-rpm rev limit. Also astonishing was the shrieking engine note, which sounded very much like that of a Formula 1 car.

Finally, the F355 offered better, more user-friendly handling than the 348, thanks to a 30-percent stiffer chassis, electronically adjustable shock absorbers, and 18-inch wheels. The driveline also saw improvements in the form of a slick-shifting six-speed manual transmission and, introduced in 1997, the F1 paddleshifter system. While these technologies made the F355 more complicated, the new car would prove much more reliable, and far better screwed together, than its predecessor.

Photo: Savior 3

While the F355 was lauded on the show stand, the really rave reviews arrived after car magazines got to drive it. Road & Track described the 40-valve V8 as “probably the best sports-car engine ever made” and the car itself as “the purest purebred yet from Ferrari’s scuderia.” According to Motor Trend, “the F355’s rewards for the high-level enthusiast are immense; the sound, feel, ability, and beauty of the car can’t be matched at any price.”

Ferrari wrapped up F355 production with the Serie Fiorano. Built for the U.S. market, these 100 Spiders featured F355 Competizione-derived suspension, brakes, and steering, along with a Challenge rear grille and a suede-wrapped steering wheel.

While F355s were affordable Ferraris just a few years ago, prices have recently shot skyward, especially for those cars with the famous open-gate manual shifter. In addition, running costs can be very high. But when it comes to the F355 driving experience, it’s a model we can wholeheartedly recommend.

Marketplace

When introduced in 1995, the F355 berlinetta was priced at $129,500, available only with the then-new six-speed manual transmission, and came with no other options besides paint and interior colors. By the time production ended in 1999, the optional $10,000 F1 paddleshifter was the transmission of choice, and, thanks to the Carrozzeria Scaglietti personalization program, buyers could outfit their cars with Daytona-style seats, modular wheels, fender-mounted Scuderia shields, and more, potentially adding $15,000 to a now-higher bottom line.

When FORZA last ran an F355 Buyer’s Guide, in mid-2014, prices had bottomed out and were, in a few cases, starting to creep back up. At the time, these cars were bargains. A practically perfect berlinetta with the F1 transmission would run $55,000 on a good day, and values rose no higher over the next six years.

Photo: Savior 7

That, of course, was before Covid and inflation. Today, prices for a decent F1-equipped berlinetta start at $75,000, and, now that Maranello no longer makes stick-shifts, a gated-shifter F355 has become one of the hottest and most desired Ferraris around. Because the majority of cars were ordered with F1 when it became available for model year 1998, the very few late-model “three-pedal” examples produced can command $160,000—roughly double their value of one year ago. And if you come across a Holy Grail Serie Fiorano with a stick-shift, you might be touching $200,000.

There are two additional conditions for reaching these top-end prices: full documentation and low mileage. But cars that hit this trifecta will command a 50-percent-or-more premium compared to F1-equipped examples with higher mileage.

Prices may be rising across the board, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need to do your due diligence, especially given the F355’s high-maintenance ways. Do your research, buy the best car you can afford, and have it inspected by a shop that knows the model inside and out. Extensive repairs can easily turn a relative bargain buy into a money pit, so look for a car with a full, documented service history, even if it costs more up front. —Michael Sheehan

ModelLowHigh
F355 (F1) $75,000 $85,000
F355 (manual) $110,000 $150,000
F355 GTS (F1) $75,000 $95,000
F355 GTS (manual) $110,000 $150,000
F355 Spider (F1) $75,000 $80,000
F355 Spider (manual) $120,000 $160,000

These prices are for cars in good-to-great condition as of May 2022.

Photo: Savior 6

The Garage

While the F355 is a wonderful car to drive, it is also very labor-intensive to service. The engine, transaxle, and rear suspension are mounted on a sub-frame assembly that must be dropped from the car in order to access the timing belts at the front of the V8. Ferrari recommends performing this major service every three years.

Once the engine has been removed from the vehicle, in addition to fitting new timing belts and tensioner bearings, it’s time to rebuild the water pump, install a new front main seal, camshaft seals, valve cover gaskets, coolant hoses, and air-conditioning, alternator, and power steering belts. Next come engine and transaxle oil changes and new air and oil filters. An independent Ferrari specialist will typically charge $8,000-10,000 for the work, while official Ferrari dealers, with labor rates often nearing $300 per hour, will usually charge much more. And while the engine’s out, now the time to repaint the cam covers in red, a $500 freshening.

A small number of first-year 1995 models had valve guide problems. This issue arose during the first few years of ownership and almost all affected cars were repaired decades ago under an extended factory warranty. While the problem often pops up in online chat groups, in reality it’s now a non-issue.

That’s not the case with the F355’s notorious exhaust headers. The high exhaust temperatures generated by the 40-valve 3.5-liter V8 will eventually burn through the header, then the heat insulation, and then the heat shields. Further exacerbating the problem is the exhaust’s bypass valve. If its diaphragm fails, the valve locks in the closed position and the resulting backed-up exhaust flow creates further issues with the headers and catalytic converters.

The best fully insulated replacement headers are either the OEM Ferrari units or aftermarket versions produced by Tubi Style. Note that the Tubi version doesn’t have pre-cats, which, to over-simplify, means it won’t pass smog inspections in many states. In addition, the F355 is the first V8 Ferrari to have the EPA-mandated OBD2 diagnostic system, and the slightest irregularity will set off the Check Engine Light. In many states, a CEL means the car will automatically fail a smog inspection, and diagnosis and repairs can be quite costly.

Photo: Savior 5

The F355 utilizes a unique, grease-filled flywheel (a requirement of it and the clutch being hung off the back of the transaxle rather than bolted to the engine). This grease is prone to breaking down due to engine and exhaust heat; it becomes a near liquid and then a potential oil leak or source of vibration. The grease, which is available from Ferrari, should be inspected or replaced whenever the flywheel is accessed or if it starts leaking through the lower clutch vent cover. Replacing the grease costs around $500 once the transaxle is out of the car.

There are more common reasons to open up the bell housing, such as replacing leaking seals on the hydraulic throw-out bearing or because the clutch pressure plate and disc are worn and need to be replaced. (Clutch life with the first-generation F1 system in particular can be short.) Replacing the clutch costs another $3,500 if done during the major service. Thanks to high engine bay temperatures, the inner axle boots often need replacement before they throw grease all over the place and destroy the CV joints; replacement runs around $1,000.

Speaking of leaks, the Bilstein shocks can lose fluid from the coaxial shaft attached to the adjusting valve. Delta Vee Motorsports offers a reasonably priced rebuild, which includes a new-owner transferable warranty. Both the mechanical and electronic portions of the shock actuator can fail; new actuators are available for about $1,000 each. If the gear on top of the shock’s coaxial shaft breaks, setting off a warning light on the dash, a new gear from England’s Hill Engineering costs only $40.

The F355 Spider’s power top was the first of its kind in the modern Ferrari world. The oil level in its hydraulic rams must be checked and topped off during routine serving to avoid malfunctions. Since most cars sit for months at a time, the top should also be cycled numerous times. The elastic band that folds the bows as the top goes down sometimes needs replacement; new bands are available at most upholstery shops. Last but no means least, both seats automatically move forward when the top raises or lowers, then move back into place. If the seat-position sensors fail, the automatic top ceases to function, and things can get exciting if the top is stuck somewhere between open and closed. New seat actuators run about $1,000 each and need to be programmed.

Like every other Ferrari of the era, the F355 suffers from the dreaded sticky interior parts. The black “soft touch” coating (which Ferrari still uses today) on many interior parts can become gooey and start to rub off on hands, clothing, etc. Sticky No More’s website lists the cost to refinish each part, which of course does not include the labor to remove them. —Michael Sheehan

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On The Road

From canyon carving to road trips, the F355 can happy handle anything you throw at it. Here’s some of what we’ve said over the years about this exciting and versatile machine.

 

The five-valve V8 is without doubt one of the most evocative and symphonic of Ferrari’s many great engines, but it’s immensely physical, too. Its incredible range of rumblings, frantic yelps, and screams delve deep into your soul and become as intimate with your skin as the embrace of the leather seats.

The road buckles and twists, but with the electronically-governed damper setting on Sport, the F355 mops up the undulations and transforms them into simple linear suspension movements. The most wondrous thing about punting Ferrari’s baby Formula 1 car down this stretch of road is the way it devours a serving of corners that are every bit as curly as fusilli pasta. The F355 expresses no sign of impending disaster—it balances four-square and poised…the front end steering crisp and responsive, the tail staying steady in a controlled lean.
—“Topless in Tuscany,” FORZA #9

Before we’ve reached the first corner, we know the F355 has the advantage in terms of flat-out speed [over the 348]. In addition to its extra horsepower, the F355 utilizes the quick-shifting F1 transmission to best effect, minimizing the amount of time that power isn’t being put to the ground.

Slowing for a turn, we pull back on the left-side paddle, prompting a flurry of revs as the computer-controlled transmission shuffles down a gear. Downshifts are perfectly rev-matched every time, and there’s no denying the cool factor that comes from using this Formula 1-inspired technology.

On the other hand (no pun), the F1 ’box makes the F355 feel a bit video game-like compared to the direct, mechanical experience of the 348. It’s the same with the steering and brakes: The F355’s power-assisted rack feels too light at first, and its brake pedal too soft. However, after we recalibrate our expectations, we discover that the newer car is superior in both areas.
—“The V8 Debate,” FORZA #78

The V8 perks up around 4,000 rpm, but doesn’t fully come alive until 6,000—at which point it unleashes a steadily rising wave of power and the instantly recognizable, high-pitched wail of a 1990s’ Formula 1 car. Kept zinging between 6,000 and its power peak of 8,250 rpm, the F355’s engine is a masterpiece. The free-revving engine is the highlight of the driving experience, its five-valve song seemingly hard-wired into my brain; like an addict, I’m constantly looking for opportunities to enjoy the rush.

There’s a noticeable gap between the engine’s fury and the chassis’ ability to manage it, but the Ferrari balances this mismatch with its affinity for being tossed around. It takes confidence, familiarity, and focus, but keeping an F355 on the boil, mile after mile, rewards with a serious old-school thrill. After a fast run, it’s almost impossible to climb out of an F355 without a smile on your face.
—“Open Season,” FORZA #153

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