Updated: Jan 17, 2020
I'll start by admitting that the Ferrari F355 GTS is one of my hero cars. Even before I started down this path of automotive journalism, before I had a license in my pocket and before Youtube existed, the 355 had a special place in my heart. In 1994, we were enthralled with Clinton's saxophone skills and Tanya Harding had a thing for knees. I was also in 2nd grade at the time, so none of the aforementioned really mattered. What mattered was the poster of a Ferrari hanging in my bedroom and the 1/18 scale Maisto diecast on one of my shelves. Goldeneye's classic three minute mountain chase sequence with a DB5 and a F355 was a real obsession. I can't confirm, or deny, wanting to use the music from this scene during the first dance at my wedding.
My only real experience with a 355, outside of the occasional sighting here in Dallas, was down in Austin a little more than a decade ago. I have a good
friend who goes through cars like I go through cameras that had a brief stint with a gorgeous and ultra rare Blu Swaters Spider. Upon him acquiring it, I promptly loaded up my future wife and made a visit to his ranch. We drove it around the hills of Wimberley for an afternoon, and I can't honestly say whether driving it or following it was more of a treat. The sound that bellowed from the exhaust is something that really needs to be soaked up from the exterior of the car. As the sun set on this glorious day, I soon realized an afternoon wasn't enough.
Being associated with several car groups, dealerships and organizations of all types of transportation, it was only a matter of time before the opportunity to get my hands on a 355 presented itself. I was hired to shoot a private track day for one of my good friends who had rented Motorsports Ranch in Cresson, a local road course. There was no real agenda other than have fun, don't work too hard and take the cars out when you want. One of these being a F355 and me not one to be tempted with a good time, I dipped my toes precariously into the waters of automotive bliss.
Let me give you a little back story on this particular 355 and it's owner. The car was bought Rosso Corsa over tan. Yes, as generic as you can be with a color spec on a Ferrari. I'm not saying I'd kick it out of bed, but as someone
who used to daily drive a Renown liveried NC Miata, owning a red Ferrari is about as original as anything you might see in the cinema over the past two decades. It's what you do when you buy your first Ferrari. Again, nothing wrong with that, I just think that the sexy shape of most Ferraris is best shown off in something other than a flat orangish-red. There is no doubt in my mind that the previous owner of this car babied it. There was likely nothing really wrong with it at the time my client purchased it aside from maintenance, but A) being an avid enthusiast with impeccable taste and B) being a car lover/collector will make you do silly, but completely justifiable things. The car was meticulously taken down to the metal by Bradan Coachworks in New York. Bradan should need no introduction if you are familiar with any sort of Ferrari tear down process. They are simply one of the best independent Ferrari repair shops in the US.
The car was repainted in Grigio Ferro Metallizzato and the entirety of the coach work was restored using a rich cognac leather. A stunning combo found on a Dino that was seen in passing at some point, and I can't find fault in that. Again, there is something about a non-red Ferrari that really does something for me, and this is the right shade of cool. The wheels were restored to spec, and painted, and the engine was dropped. All the gremlins that plague the 355 we're also addressed in the restoration so it's, dare I say, reliable as well. The problematic stock exhaust manifold was replaced by a new unit from Tubi and the center console was stripped of the sacred tar like substance Pininfarina equipped all of its cars with as a no cost option. All buttoned up, the car is what I like to call factory plus. An outward appearing stock F355, but better in almost every way.
What does one do with a car that has been refined in such a way? Drive the piss out of it everywhere you can. This particular client is not buying cars to let them sit, in fact I'm sure he's looked into cloning himself so he can rack up mileage on his collection like some sort of game. He smiles when he spins them into the grass at the track, he takes them to the grocery store, and has complete disregard for the little numbers that keep climbing on the odometer. If this is a hero car, he is a legend. People like him take a rock chip and experience over a selfie in a parking lot any day of the week, which is a frame of mind I can get behind. This car has been places, with over 60k miles on it, but you wouldn't know it. Today though, we've got an empty
track at our disposal.
When you finally get to shake hands with your hero, after idolizing them for 20 years, its hard to put into words what your experience meeting them is like. I had an "experience" with a DeLorean once on this very track that left me with more questions than answers, one of which being "is my life a lie?" This is in the back of my mind as I step in to any car at the track like some sort of war flashback. The only words of wisdom I get from the owner of the car is, "keep an eye on the temp gauge, come in when it hits 'x'." I think to myself, "ok, mid-nineties Ferrari, this is par for the course." Being a GTS, the targa panel is removed and I have no trouble fitting my larger than average frame inside this fine Italian glove. Being open topped, I'm greeted with the smell of Italian leather simmering in the sun and it is one of the best smells in recent memory. I fire up the 3.5 liter V8 and am pleasantly rewarded with a similar mechanical sewing machine soundtrack you get from something German. I click the gated 6-speed into 1st and make my way through the paddock and on to the empty 1.7 mile road course. I wish I had a picture of my face during this whole episode, I would imagine it looked a lot like Cousin Eddies face when he met Wayne Newton in Vegas Vacation.
Once on the track, I take my time getting a feel for the car. Since I'm alone, there is no reason to see how well the suspension articulates over the infield terrain quite yet. Each lap a wring it out a little more. I must admit, the most unexpected thing about this Ferrari, is just how soft and pliable it is. Back to my comment on meeting your heros, I expected this to be a sharper and more nimble car like its successors. I've driven my fair share of 360s, 430s and 458s and all are a fair bit more direct in the way they drive and handle the pavement. I wouldn't describe the cornering movements of this car to be flat or overly composed. It's a sports car, 100%, but one that lets you feel what's happening around you all the time. If anything, driving a Miata for so long has taught me suspension travel is a good thing, and that's the case here. Despite the massive hard brake dives, it always felt predictable. The way it handles imperfections is damn near witchcraft.
...and then there's the sound...OH that sound! The exhuast note emitted from its quad-pipes, on the other hand, is nothing short of spiritual. Nothing will prepare your ears for the symphony that is a Ferrari flat-plane V8. Low in the rev range its got a subtle eight cylinder rumble and at high RPMs it just screams. How does it rev this high?! This is the kind of wail that you might encounter in the glory days of V10s screaming around Eau Rouge. It simply sounds like no other V8 on the planet, and to my ear nothing from Italy has measured up to it ever since. The entire rev range is a symphony that makes you wonder what an Elon Musk even is.
At the end of the final cool down lap, I was offered the car for about a month to shoot and experience it. During this month, I drove close to a thousand miles and can describe what it is like to live with one of the, if not the, best example of a 355 in the country is like.
For starters, making the 40 mile commute back to my house in suburbia hell, during rush hour, with the temp approaching 90° was a great test of the A/C in this car. I'm not sure what the dials do in the place of where normal HVAC controls do, but the car was making a sound like there was wind blowing from somewhere. I couldn't feel air moving, but it sounded like it was so I'll give this a pass. With a car like this, you should have the windows down and be listening to the exhaust note anyway. One should also not be in a hurry whilst filling up the car after a driving session. The solid aluminum gas cap reaches approximately 355° and when pressurized doesn't budge, so you'll need to allow time for it to cool off if you forgot your Ferrari oven mitts. In the slightest of a drizzle, rain will leak in from the window seals, the targa seals, the door handles, from underneath the window switches, and probably other places so keep a towel on you. The key is about the same size as the the keys provided for a ride on lawn mower, and will snap off in the ignition without hesitation should the steering be locked unknowingly in the middle of a late night photo shoot.
These are minor things really. All of this is the experience. Has anyone made license plate frames that say, "Its a Ferrari thing, you wouldn't understand?" I think they'd sell very well. In all seriousness, whats to be expected of a classic Italian car such as this? It's like complaining about the weather in LA. This car was a dream to hop in and take for a drive. It lacks infotainment and 6 settings for steering feel, but it's from an era where the average attention span was four years longer than it is today. You don't need that garbage, as it just works. For Ferrari standards, its easy to see out of, not quite a 911 greenhouse, but plenty of visibility. Its got more than usable storage up front and plenty of room in the cabin to get sorted and comfy.
The steering and clutch is nice and light, and the gated 6 speed makes all the right clinks. It's easy to get in and out of and doesn't yell (too loudly), "Look at me!" It's got the perfect amount of power for the chassis so you never feel out of control or terrified. You can really drive the snot out of it and not be breaking too many laws, unlike a basically everything that comes out of Italy today. This is a car you could point in "that" direction and go 1000 miles without thinking about it. On the track, the car felt soft. Some of that carries over on to the road going dynamics of the car, but it's welcomed. Your normal bumps and uneven surfaces are all soaked up in a very civilized fashion. There are no jarring movements or back breaking rebounds, the road feels smoother in one of these than it should. It handles rougher sections of asphalt at 100mph like most cars would at 15. This car was meant for high speed touring on the open road and the occasional tunnel run.
The 355 was a surprise. Although not exactly what I was expecting, it still ranks at the top of my list as far as Ferrari experiences go. Its simplicity really works for me. This one is set up the right way, has the right options, and I have yet to see a better visually executed targa. It's easy to live with, if you have extra keys and a pancho, and a pleasure to drive in most situations. It makes the perfect sounds and rewards you with a predictable road manners. You will get the obligatory "how much money do you make" question fairly frequently, which is inherent with driving something with a yellow badge on the fender, but far less due to the subdued color palette. This car really is a work of art. It's got soul and enough just enough quirks for it not to be sterile and robotic. I do love all of the new tech and seeing innovation spread throughout the automotive segment, but I also feel like it takes away from the raw experiences that can be provided from something like this. A good engine, manual transmission and an open top will get you pretty far down the road of life.
As far as photographing the car, it wasn't difficult. A car this gorgeous looks perfect from every single angle. The curves you get from lighting the flawless metallic paint would all be overlooked had this been a red car. Every location just worked. The combination of the exterior and interior color palette extrude class. The visual representation of this F355 is mated beautifully with its driving prowess. This is what happens when a delicate balance of many things is perfected over decades of practice. Clean and simple lines are borderline elegant. There aren't any spoilers or diffusers to contend with, its just mid nineties simplicity at its best.
This car proves that the best entertainers are the ones without party tricks.