A 3.5-liter V8 with titanium rods, five-valve cylinder heads, and a
180-degree crankshaft gave 380 hp at 8,500 rpm

In the 1970s, Ferrari changed the Berlinetta formula from two-passenger front-engine V12s to a mid-engine V8, with the introduction of the 308 GT. This basic formula evolved over the years as technology advanced, but it took a major step forward with the F355 introduced in 1994. The successor to the poorly received 348, the F355 is based on the same layout, but the two models are definitely generations apart.

It is the dual personality of the F355 that made it a success. It could be driven every day comfortably with all the “soft” settings in place, but at the touch of a button could be instantly transformed into a magnificent performance instrument. Precise and powerful, yet balanced and tractable, with enough driving aids to keep novice drivers in check and brilliant drivers challenged, the F355 reinvented what customers would come to expect of a purebred sports car.

A pristine example of the revolutionary F355 F1 Spider from the last year of production, this car offers its next owner the chance to preserve or to drive a truly awesome Ferrari.

SCM Analysis

Detailing

Vehicle:1999 Ferrari 355 F1
Number Produced:2,663 (Spider)
Original List Price:$165,000 approx.
Tune Up Cost:$3,500
Distributor Caps:None, individual coil ignition
Chassis Number Location:Stamped on frame above passenger side rear shock absorber
Engine Number Location:Top of engine on passenger side at rear
Club Info:Ferrari Club of America, PO Box 720597 Atlanta, GA 30358
Website:http://www.ferrariclubofamerica.org
Investment Grade:B

This 1999 Ferrari 355 F1 Spider sold for $85,536, including buyer’s premium, at RM’s Classic Car Auction of Toronto sale on April 4, 2009.

It’s not much of an overstatement to say that the Ferrari F355 was the most important car in Ferrari’s economic history. Certainly Ferraris like the GTO or Testa Rossa hold a more significant place in the company’s racing history, and the 250 series put Ferrari on the map when it came to sales to the public, but the F355 quite probably was the economic savior of the company.

The 1980s were very good to Ferrari; the 308 and 328 series were big sellers, and the Testarossa couldn’t have been more popular. Interest in vintage Ferraris exploded and anything with a Prancing Horse emblem seemed to be more valuable the day after you bought it-and even more valuable the day after that. As the 1980s gave way to the 1990s, the superheated market was no longer able to sustain itself. Buyers evaporated as prices went into a freefall, and for the first part of the ’90s, buyers avoided Ferraris like the plague.

Putting their fortunes into R&D

Fortunately, Ferrari reinvested their 1980s fortunes into research and development. They also used their cash to update manufacturing facilities and processes. The 348, the first fruit of this labor, was a conflicting mix of new technology and cost-cutting manufacturing techniques. It was difficult to tell if the car was intentionally flimsy to be lighter or if it was built that way because it was cheaper. Whatever the reason, the car didn’t sell well. New 348s sat on showroom floors and filled Ferrari’s storage facilities. Over a two-year period, Ferrari’s sales took a 50% dive, and the company was in trouble.

Luca di Montezemolo had recently become CEO of Ferrari and as a car guy immediately recognized Ferrari’s problem-it was their cars. The Testarossa was way past its prime, the Mondial was over, and the 348 just didn’t cut it. Montezemolo challenged Ferrari’s engineers and designers to come up with a line of cars that didn’t chase the competition but left them wondering what hit them. The F355 was the first result of that thinking.

Adding horsepower is always a good way to draw attention to a new model, but the 355 moved performance to a new level. The F355’s new 3.5-liter V8 featured titanium rods, five-valve cylinder heads, and a 180-degree crankshaft. Engine management was performed by a Bosch 2.7 Motronic system. The result was 380 horsepower at 8,500 rpm, with a smooth idle, linear power, and the sweetest exhaust you’ve ever heard. Performance was 0-60 mph in 4.9 seconds, the quarter mile in the low 13-second range, and top speed was an impressive 183 mph.

Along with tweaking the engine, the F355 received a 6-speed gearbox, plus an upgraded, electronically adjustable suspension, new brakes, and power steering. Inside, power seats were now available, vinyl trim was replaced with leather, and the general level of switch gear and fittings was upgraded. Outside, the F355 retained the shape of the 348, but the body was restyled to a more masculine look. The wheels were now 18-inchers with massive tires. The coup de grace was a smooth black aerodynamic panel that directed air flow under the car and diffusers that directed air exiting the rear of the car. These aerodynamic aids were predominately featured in F355 promotional material and were so alluring that scores of lifts must have been sold just so owners could display this feature.

Anyone who drove an F355 loved it. The power, the sound, and the feel were intoxicating. The looks were exotic enough to always be interesting, without being over the top. Longtime customers bored by Ferrari’s recent offerings were drawn back to the showrooms by the F355, along with first-time buyers seduced by the publicity. The F355 was a runaway hit and would replace the Testarossa as the best-selling Ferrari of all time… until the 360 came along.

Paddle shift was ultra-exotic technology

Following the very successful launch of the F355 Berlinetta, Ferrari introduced the soft top F355 Spider and the Targa-roof F355 GTS. In another first for a Ferrari, the F355 Spider had a power top. A push of a button orchestrated a complex system of sensors and servos, which lowered the windows, moved the seats, and lowered the top. It was an especially appealing feature, and the Spider nearly outsold the coupe.

Today we take F1-style transmissions for granted, but in 1997, when Ferrari announced they were going to offer an F1 paddle shift option on the F355, you could almost hear enthusiasts gasp. This was ultra-exotic technology seen only at the highest end of racing. It was unproven technology on street cars; many enthusiasts lusted for it and others, generally three-pedal traditionalists, scorned. As a $10,000 upgrade, you would think F1-optioned cars would be rare, but it turns out the 355 F1 (no longer an F355) was quite popular, and it’s the 6-speed manual version that’s more difficult to find.

RM’s F355 featured both the Spider top and the F1 transmission options. It was Fly Yellow, an excellent color for the car but not one for the timid. The sale price hit mid value in SCM’s 2009 Price Guide, but I’d call it well sold. The economy has hit the new Ferrari market hard. New cars are still selling, but the multi-year waiting lists for most new Ferraris are gone, as are the huge premiums for nearly-new cars. The lower prices on nearly-new Ferraris drive down prices on all late-model used Ferraris, and I suspect we’ll be seeing well-used 360 Spiders under $100,000 soon enough.

The F355 was a benchmark car. It didn’t just push the envelope, it punctured it. Today’s exotics are expected to have huge horsepower, paddle shift transmissions, aerodynamic bodywork, and get you to 60 mph in under five seconds There’s no doubt we still would have gotten here without the F355 to show us the way, but certainly not as quickly.

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