The press loved the car, the people loved the car and customers had to get on a waiting list to buy it

This is truly a beauty, in iconic Ferrari red with camel leather interior and matching boot, and a black automatic convertible top. The legendary engine is a 3.5-liter V8 producing 375 horsepower, with 11:1 compression ratio, twin overhead camshafts per cylinder bank and five valves per cylinder. A CD changer is located in the trunk. A two-owner vehicle, it has been maintained as an exotic car should be. Fully serviced and documented, the 30,000-mile service was done at the cost of $7,000. Your Ferrari dream can come true today, especially as this Spyder is offered with a very low reserve.

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Vehicle:Austin-Healey 100S

This 1997 Ferrari F355 Spyder sold for $99,360, including buyer’s premium, at the Barrett-Jackson West Palm Beach auction, held April 10-13, 2003.

The collapse of the collector car hypermarket of the late ’80s brought on a nuclear winter that virtually froze Ferrari sales for the next several years. Riding the crest of the speculation wave, Ferrari had bumped production from 3,119 cars in 1985 to a record high of 4,594 cars in 1991. When the crash came, new Ferrari sales dried up and units began quickly piling up in showrooms and warehouses. Ferrari responded by slashing production: A 25% cut in 1992 still left supply exceeding demand, and another 20% cut in 1993 brought production down to a scant 2,325 units. Ferrari needed some magic, and it needed it fast.

Ferrari President Luca di Montezemolo pulled a rabbit out of his hat when he decided to update the uninspiring 348 for 1994. Normally this would mean adding a few more horses and sticking on some body trim, but di Montezemolo challenged everyone at Ferrari, from design to marketing, to create something special, something far more dramatic to bring buyers back to the showrooms.

It’s said a picture is worth a thousand words, and one photo in the 355 press kit told the story. In the midst of some glamour shots, was the image of the underside of a 355 seemingly floating on air. The bottom of the car was completely covered in sculpted panels of fiberglass. This undertray of air diffusers and venturis produced the sort of racecar aerodynamics that had never before graced a street car. The statement was made: The 355 was a serious performance car.

The engine was all new and bumped horsepower up a whopping 25 percent. Ferrari engineers redesigned the chassis to accommodate the power of the new motor and improved grip from new 18-inch wheels. Then they went to work on the body and smoothed it to be more aggressive and more distinctive. The transmission got another gear to make it a six-speed and in 1997, a Formula One-style paddle-shift transmission became available. The interior was likewise spiffed up and-ta da!-the rabbit appeared and Ferrari sales were about to get back on track.

The marketplace acceptance of the 355 was nothing short of magical in its own right. The press loved the car, the people loved the car and soon customers had to get on a waiting list to buy the car. Ferrari had a hit, and rightly so. The 355 had the looks, performance and cachet that made it worthy of the marque. In 1997, the introduction of a 355 Spyder and the new 550 Maranello model pushed Ferrari production up to 3,518, well on the way to the current 4,200-car level.

If you’re going to buy a car like this-or any car-it’s best to do a little homework first. Auction catalogs and objective information don’t always go hand-in-hand. I pulled a Carfax report ( on this 355 Spyder, which indicated it should have around 31,000 miles, as it did. Carfax also told me the car sold new to an owner in Virginia before it was transferred to a second owner in Maryland. The car made its way to Florida by way of an East Coast dealers’ auction. Yearly emission inspections showed a believable progression of mileage and no damage history was recorded.

With nothing in this F355 Spyder’s history to arouse suspicions and an expensive major service documented, a further look at the car is warranted. Ferrari 355s have a couple interior defects to watch for: Plastic in the interior can melt, dissolve or otherwise turn into a sticky mess, and the dash leather is prone to shrinkage, looking unsightly and often distorting the dash frame. On the mechanical side, headers and ECUs on early cars sometimes go bad and the power tops on Spyders are notably fragile.

Assuming this F355 passed a visual inspection with no major issues, this was a fair buy. A low-mile, top-notch ’97 Spyder can bring up to $110,000, while rough cars with checkered histories go through dealer auctions in the $70,000s. The 30,000 miles on this car is high for a Ferrari and was reflected in the price. While I might have expected a low-to-mid $90,000s price, the fact that the service was done, and the car presented itself well, accounted for the slight premium.

F355s are wonderful cars, and the new owner should get miles of enjoyment out of his new Spyder.-Steve Ahlgrim

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