Ferrari F355 Spider – A rather tempting local find

There’s a large, hardcover book that’s been sitting on the floor beside my desk at h0me for many years now. It features a smug-ish Jeremy Clarkson on the cover touting his trademark bouffant of puffy locks and over-collared leather amidst the dull-yet-catchy ‘Jeremy Clarkson’s Hot 100’ title emblazoned across the face of it. I picked it up at a local Book Wharehouse store about 8 years ago, in the Blow-Out bin, for $5. I felt sorry for it, really. A quick thumb-thru at the time revealed a photo-strewn, simplistic yet entertaining read… ‘Perfect for the loo!’ – I thought. But what really caught my attention was the red, Italian sportscar that Clarkson was sat in: A Ferrari F355.

Now, aesthetically speaking, I’ve always been a sucker for pop-up headlamps and Ferrari was one of the last manufacturers to maintain this styling trait within it’s gorgeously sculpted mid-engined V8 wailer right on through until the 355’s end in ’99 (no awkward, mid-life facelift here). But obviously that’s not the only reason why the 355 has aged so well.

Aside from its beautifully-penned lines and aggressively squat stance, therein beats the heart of a 5-valves-per-cylinder, 109bhp/litre (the most for a naturally aspirated engine at the time) 375bhp engine that revs to 8800rpm… All within a (by modern standards) lightweight 1350kg mass. A rather monumental step-up on all fronts from the rather lacklustre 348 (300bhp) predecessor, this was Ferrari entering into a new age with it’s mid-engined V8 leviathan that hasn’t let up on the tech ever since.

With the notion of fascilitating any mere thoughts of owning a mid-engined Italian supercar heading into the 15+ year-old arena comes the inevitable horror-stories and online folklore of the ‘Are You F’ing Crazy?’ sort… But you’d be foolishly wrong to simply attach that train of thought to anything adorned with the Prancing Horse badge from the mid-90’s and call it a (safe/boring) day… well, mostly. Let’s be honest: With any older exotica of this sort, you’d have to be a monumental twit to dive-in without doing your homework and applying a modicum of good ol’ common sense (a good site for help – www.the355.com). And with the Ferrari 355 more-recently attaining a waiting-in-the-wings ‘future classic’ tag, your odds of finding a tidy, truly mint, low-mileaged, properly well-kept/serviced example isn’t quite as easy as it once was.

Yet here we have this rather lovely ’96 Spider from Mile’s End Motors [http://bit.ly/r6Pnr5] that most-definitely warrants attention from those within the $60K-$70K budget area looking for a uniquely raw and invigorating 2nd-car experience.

If you’re a Ferrari (or driving) enthusiast, nothing comes more alluring to your visual take-in than the sight of 3 pedals on the floor and an open-gated 6-speed manual rising up from the centre console to greet that iconic, polished gear-knob. Granted, in ’96 only the manual was available but it just seems so… right. The F1 paddleshift option was introduced the following year in ’97 and it came with the usual first-gen troubles and potentially expensive worries… and by todays’ standards its performance is almost comically slow/dimwitted. So then, proper gearbox for this one.

The owner (Cletus Severyn, Sales Division at Mile’s End Motors) tells me that his has also received the proper care and maintenance throughout its (local) Vancouver life. Mileage is low with a scant 24,500 km’s on the clock and the entire car shows as if it’s only a few years old… It’s an absolute peach.

The paint and body are astonishingly immaculate – I saw only a few noticeable stone-chips on the front bumper. The interior leather is soft, uncracked and supple. Zero bolster wear. Zero scuff-plate wear as well. Wheels are unmarked. Has a new-ish convertible top too. The carpets are spotless and still attached in the corners where they should be. The notoriously flimsy plastics of the 90’s that the Italians used have retained themselves in this example over the years, yet Cletus informs me that the well-known delapitation of the centre-console plastics have received the proper upgrades.

Mechanically, all appears to be in rather rude shape as well. A new clutch was fitted back @ 14K km’s, but a recent full-service and subsequent diagnosis (not to mention my quick behind-the-wheel drive around the local neighborhood’s streets) assures that it hasn’t been abused and there’s still loads of life left in it. One noteworthy area of concern with the 355 is the catalytic convertors, yet they’ve recently been replaced at a cost of $9K (!*~#!)… so that’s a plus. A big one.

Also, it should be noted that this example hasn’t experienced the well-known valve-guide failures that earlier models (and owners) felt the sting of. They used bronze items back then that wore out rather easily and allowed oil to leak in, eventually indicated by a noticeably smoky plume emanating from the exhaust tips upon start-up. Later models were updated with a steel variant to cure this. Basically, this stunning F355 has had the known niggles and mega-worries properly dealt with.

F355’s stateside in seemingly tidy condition come in at approx. $10K cheaper than the $64,900 asking price afforded to this exquisite, local example. But those cars show twice the mileage, not forgetting to mention the rather inflating 19% add-on at the border for taxes and assorted fees tacked back on. In this price-point area, another $10K+ or so… A tempting proposition to shop locally for a showroom-beautiful F355 with a full, local service-history then. 

Depreciation needn’t be a worry either, especially for owners of exquisitely-kept examples like this one. Be in no doubt – this Ferrari will only increase in value as the years pass on by. Budget aside, let’s say, $3-4K a year for regular servicing costs and the possibility of replacement (understand that I say ‘possibility’ in the highest form of a hope-filled question) for the usual bits that naturally wear out over time and you’ll probably come out relatively ok come resale in 3-5 years’ time. Something to think about…

One aspect I like to point-out is that the F355 was adorned with something that the F360 and F430 cars will, in my opinion, struggle to adequately match over time – A cohesively compact and complementary stance amidst that curvaceously bold and wedgy design. I’ve always seen it as an Italian take on something from Lotus. It’s from an era of Ferrari’s raw simplicity colliding with newly-adapted (and advanced) technologies. An enticingly rare mixture of old-school values shaking hands with the next-generation of advancement thus creating a mechanically evocative driver/machine interaction that has, sadly, become somewhat lost within newer cars of today.

So then, Jeremy Clarkson was actually right about something.

author: Blake J.

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