Car News: Oversteer
Here's Why the F355 Is (Almost) My Favorite Ferrari
People who own a Ferrari F355 despise me. Soon, I will tell you why.
But first, I'm going to tell you why I love the Ferrari F355. The primary reason is obvious from the moment you first see one: It's absolutely gorgeous. Not just gorgeous. Stunningly attractive. Until the 458 came out a few years ago, I believed the F355 was the single most attractive modern Ferrari, period. Its design, in terms of sports car styling, is truly perfect.
Then there's the exhaust note. My God, the exhaust note. If you haven't heard an F355 at full roar, you're missing out on an excellent automotive experience; one that goes well beyond your typical "Oh that sounds nice!" platitude delivered when someone with a Corvette is leaving cars and coffee. The F355 doesn't sound nice. It sounds beautiful.
The performance is excellent, too. The F355's V8 put out 380 horsepower, which -- in my opinion -- is the perfect amount. Below 300 and you find yourself wanting more. Above 450 and you're just being a glutton. The F355's V8 is just right -- perfectly placed right in between those numbers -- delivering excellent enjoyment without going overboard, or leaving you wanting for more.
Of course, there are the other wonderful factors that make the F355 an excellent car. Its mid-engine design leads to near-perfect handling. It's small and svelte, so it feels like you can stick it just about anywhere on the road -- unlike some of the newer, more bulbous supercars. And with the exception of a few models, equipped with a rudimentary version of the F1 paddle shift automatic transmission, the F355 offers a glorious manual with a gated shifter and a smooth clutch.
In short, the F355 is probably the perfect Ferrari. And this is bolstered by the fact that it's surprisingly affordable: the average asking price for an F355 on Autotrader at the moment is somewhere in the high-$70,000 range, which means it's cheaper than some of its not-as-fast predecessors, like the rapidly appreciating 328. Better yet, it's largely been left out of the recent rise in Ferrari values, remaining fairly affordable even as other models have become unreachably expensive.
Which, of course, leads us to a question: If the F355 is probably the perfect Ferrari, how can it be so (relatively) cheap? And why haven't F355 values been shooting up lately, like virtually every other aging Ferrari?
And now we get back to the reason why F355 owners hate me.
The F355 is so cheap because it's wildly expensive -- almost laughably expensive -- to own. I'll start with the most common issue, which is the belt service: Ferrari recommends changing the engine's drive belts every three years, and doing so means that you have to pull the engine entirely out of the car -- at a cost of around $10,000. Every three years. Most Ferrari owners stretch it to five years or more, but the fact remains: Even the newest F355, if properly maintained, has had its engine completely removed at least three or four times by now.
Then there are the other issues. The F355 suffers from notoriously weak valve guides, which are known to fail -- sometimes more than once. Replacing them can be a $10,000 job. Then there's the exhaust headers, which are also a common failure point -- possibly triggering an entire engine rebuild if you don't catch it in time. If you do catch it, consider yourself lucky: The repair is considered cheap, costing something like $5,000. Just hope you don't have to do it twice. And this is before we get into all the other high costs associated with Ferrari, like general maintenance (brakes, tires, etc.), registration and taxes, etc.
Whenever I write about the F355, I always get a few nasty notes from die-hard Ferrari fans insisting that I'm overstating the problem. The headers don't always fail, they say. The valve guides can be fixed right the first time. The major services aren't that bad if you plan for it.
And maybe they're right -- though it's worth noting that the F355's successor, the 360 Modena, doesn't have any of these issues. I know this because I purchased a 360 three years ago after searching in vain to find a nice F355 with all its problems sorted out. The 360 doesn't require the engine to come out for the belt services, it doesn't have exploding headers, and there aren't any valve guide issues to speak of. The 360 is reliable. So is the F430 that came later. And, frankly, so are the 308 and 328 models that came before the 355 and its similarly maintenance-hungry predecessor, the 348.
So I write this knowing full well that I'll receive a series of nasty notes from F355 owners over the coming days and weeks. I also write this to say that I love the F355 so much that I'd probably have one by now -- if only it was a little more affordable. But even with all those costs in mind, the video above shows why the F355 is just so hard to resist.
Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.