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Haunted Highways: A Series Exploring The Ghosts of Cars Gone By (Quickly)

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On: Fri, Aug 17, 2012 at 10:09AM | By: Lou Ruggieri

Haunted Highways: A Series Exploring The Ghosts of Cars Gone By (Quickly)

So rarely does a car come along that actually makes a significant change in its parent company. Sure, if you believe the commercials, every single new car is some big, grandiose example of how the company is transforming and evolving into something bigger and better. But the truth is, a lot of those cars are just "filler" cars, and really don't do much except affect the bottom line. But the ones that truly make a difference are the ones we remember, especially when that company is one that doesn't create cars, it creates dreams. The F355 was not only a dream come true for teenagers and millionaires everywhere, it was also helped revitalize the Prancing Horse back to international automotive supremacy.

In the mid-1990's, Ferrari was in the midst of a bit of a slump. The emotional high the F40 left in its wake had faded and the few cars Ferrari had like the 348 and the 512 TR began to seem almost a bit antiquated compared to some of their German, Italian, and even Japanese rivals. Ferrari needed ... something, and in May of 1994 they got just what they were looking for and then some. The F355 Berlinetta  and the targa-topped GTS were the first introduction of what would go on to be one of the most popular Ferrari models ever built. The Pininfarina design was a direct descendant of the 348-308 lineage, and although you can see the resemblance if you look hard enough, the F355 didn't just replace those cars, it leapt a light year ahead of them.

The gorgeous lines of the F355 were more than just for show, as the 1,800 hours of wind tunnel testing could well… attest to. The bottom of the car was also flattened F1-style, along with the help of an airflow channel that helped the car stay as aerodynamically friendly as possible -- a feat few other cars before it had ever attempted. Along with its steel monocoque structure keeping things as rigid as possible, new electronically adjustable shocks altered their absorption rates many times every second to help keep its P225/40ZR18 front and P265/40ZR18 rear tires planted firmly on the tarmac. The F355 was powered by a naturally aspirated 3.5-liter 40-valve V8 that sported an 11:1 compression ratio and made a monstrous 375-horsepower and 268 pound-feet of torque. Oh, and those 375 ponies come in at a staggering 8,250 rpm which is just the blink of an eye before the car hits its stupefying 8,500 rpm redline.

In 1995, Ferrari decided to offer a Spider (read: convertible) model that somehow made an incredibly desirable car just a bit more desirable. And for the first time, Ferrari offered an electronically powered semi-automatic soft top. In that same year, Ferrari also offered the race-ready F355 Challenge model that took an already agile car and made it into a full-blown racer. For quite a bit more money (a little over 30 grand), Ferrari would take your garden-variety F355 and add a laundry list of items like upgraded brakes, a carbon fiber rear wing, racing slicks, solid suspension bushings, engine cutoff switch, lightweight exhaust, and a competition clutch among other things to help you race in the Ferrari Challenge series.

1997 brought about another first in Ferrari history -- the introduction of its F1 transmission for production use. The Formula 1 tech used hydraulic actuators to help execute up and downshifts by the driver, whose only job was to pull on paddles behind the steering wheel, ideally making it easier for the driver to keep both hands on the wheel at all times. This technology would eventually find its way onto countless cars to this very day. Thoughtfully enough Ferrari changed the name of cars equipped with this transmission to the 355 F1, presumably because calling it the F355 F1 just sounded a little effy.

Power climbed an extra five ponies over the course of the 355's lifetime to an even 380 hp giving it a horsepower per liter of 109, which is a fantastic number for most blown production cars, never mind one sporting a naturally aspirated V8. As with most Ferraris, the 355 was more than just a looker -- it had the bite to back up its bark. The F355 was able to sprint to 60 mph in just 4.6 seconds, 100 mph in 11.3 seconds on its way to a quarter mile time trap of 12.8 seconds at 110.2 mph, and posting a top speed of 183 mph flat out. No slouch in the twisties either, the F355 was capable of posting a mark of 0.93 g around the skidpad and a 600-ft slalom speed of 70.8 mph.

But all things (even good ones) must come to an end, and in 1999, Ferrari produced its last 104 F355 models this world would see called the Serie Fiorano. This model was an F355 Spider that was modded up from the factory with an improved suspension package, competition steering rack, carbon fiber inserts, as well as cross-drilled and vented rotors with higher grade brake pads. Each of the final cars was given a dashboard plaque indicating which of the last 104 it was.

The F355 was more than just a fast car that looked good -- it was a car that embodied the truest form of the Ferrari experience. If there ever was any doubt about just how visceral the 355, just take a listen to the video clip below. It isn't much to look at, but just keep your ears open, turn the volume up, and you might begin to get an idea of what a Ferrari engine is supposed to sound like.

The F355 went on to be replaced by the venerable 360 Modena, a world class all-star in its own right. But for as good as the 360 Modena was, it did nothing to impair the lore and reputation the F355 created as one of the greatest and most impactful Ferraris to ever come out of Maranello, Italy.

Photo Gallery (click a thumbnail to enlarge)



dwalter | 11:27AM (Fri, Aug 17, 2012)

That downshift at 0:37 of that video... what a glorious sound!

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