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The Ferrari F355: History, Models, Differences

All things Ferrari F355 on Automobile.

Rory JurneckaWriterRM Sotheby'sPhotographer

Ferrari F355 Essential History

The Ferrari F355 was launched at the 1994 Geneva auto show as a 1995 model year replacement for the much-maligned 1990-1994 Ferrari 348, continuing a line of mid-engine Ferrari sports cars with fewer than twelve cylinders which began with the 1968 Dino 206 GT. The 348 launched around the same time as Acura's mid-engine NSX sports car, which immediately showed Ferrari's latest to be a temperamental, ill-handling, and very old-fashioned machine—or so said many of the contemporary automotive journalists who tested the 348 when it was new.

Ferrari F355 vs. 348: Differences

The F355 didn't look dissimilar to the 348, but was given an updated design that lost the Testarossa-inspired side strakes for large open ducts, and generally updated the mid-engine Ferrari look for the 1990s. The new F129B engine was essentially a bored-out version of the 348's engine, with capacity increased from 3.4 liters to 3.5 liters along with a host of other improvements. Five-valve cylinder heads and titanium connecting rods made an 8,500-rpm redline possible and endowed the F355 with 375 hp. Incidentally, the F355 had the highest horsepower-per-liter rating of any production car at the time.

Ferrari F355 Improvements

The F355 also presented fixes for issues that had plagued Ferraris for years. For example, Ferrari's metal-gated gearboxes have traditionally been balky when cold, but the F355 introduced a coolant heat-exchanger that warmed the gearbox oil more quickly. Motronic engine management also helped the F355 run more smoothly from cold and along with a progressive clutch take-up, precise rod-driven shifter actuation instead of the 348's cable-operated system, and new hydraulic power steering, made around-town driving easier as well. The NSX showed that mid-engine exotic cars didn't need to be difficult to drive and the F355 was designed with that principle in mind, making it perhaps the most livable Ferrari yet for daily driving.

Ferrari F355 Berlinetta, Spider, Targa

The F355 launched in two body styles, the GTB berlinetta (closed coupe) and GTS with a removable "targa" style roof panel. For the 1996 model year, Ferrari debuted the F355 Spider with a full convertible roof. A year later in 1997, Ferrari would launch its first F1-style transmission in the F355, an automated single-clutch manual that was at least partially developed in Ferrari's Formula 1 labs.

Ferrari F355 Series Fiorano

The F355 Serie Fiorano was a limited-edition variant for the final 1999 model year of production with cross-drilled brake rotors, a handling pack including stiffer springs and larger anti-roll bars, a suede covered steering wheel, quick steering rack and Ferrari Challenge-style rear grille. Just 100 Serie Fioranos were produced for the U.S. market, the vast majority with the F1-style gearbox.

Ferrari Challenge

Ferrari also continued its Ferrari Challenge Series, a spec-racing league that had begun with the 348, with F355 Challenge race cars. Derived from the road cars, the F355 Challenge variants were not street legal and were fully-kitted with safety gear including a roll cage, race-style fixed bucket seats, a Momo steering wheel without airbag, ignition emergency shut-off switch, 18-inch Speedline mag wheels, race-tuned suspension, various lightweight components and a fire suppression system. Some 108 F355 Challenge cars were produced globally.

Ferrari F355 Highlights

The Ferrari F355 was the last of a certain Pininfarina-led design era at Ferrari, with trademark styling features continued from various 1980s and prior models, including the rear flying buttress design, the oval-shaped central grille in the front bumper, a relatively unadorned interior design and prominent horizontal side-mounted cooling ducts.

What F355 Stands For

The F355 also temporarily did away with a mid-engine production Ferrari naming hallmark in which the first two numbers of the vehicle's name signified engine displacement, while the last digit signified engine cylinder count ("348" designates 3.4 liters of displacement, eight cylinders). For the F355, "355" meant 3.5 liters, five valves per cylinder.

Ferrari F355 Buying Tips

If you're in the market for a Ferrari F355, there are several things to be aware of. The first is that this model is the last mid-engine, V-8-powered Ferrari road car with the majority produced with a conventional manual transmission. Some 76 percent of F355s were sold with a manual gearbox, the remainder came equipped with the F1-style automated single-clutch transmission. The manual-equipped cars are worth perhaps 30 percent more today than their F1 contemporaries. It is said that 43 percent of F355s were GTB models, nearly 34 percent were Spiders, and the remainder were GTS models, making GTS variants the most rare.

First-year F355s got Motronic 2.7 engine management which some sources claim gives sharper throttle response and slightly more power than the 1996-on Motronic 5.2 system, which lowered emissions. Exhaust manifolds and valve guides are known trouble spots, though most have been replaced by now. F355s are more costly to service than later V-8 Ferraris due to the need to remove the engine for major services including routine, every-five-year timing belt changes. F1 transmissions will be more costly to service than the six-speed manual version. We highly recommend having an independent Ferrari specialist or dealership service department inspect any potential F355 prior to purchase.

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Ferrari F355 Quick Facts

  • First year of production: 1995
  • Last year of production: 1999
  • Total sold: 11,273
  • Original price (base): $120,080
  • Highest horsepower per liter at introduction (107 hp per liter).
  • Characteristic feature: Contemporary and classic at the same time, the Ferrari F355 is known best for its classic Pininfarina styling and high-pitched shriek of an exhaust note.

Ferrari F355 FAQ

How much is a Ferrari F355?

When new, the base MSRP of a Ferrari F355 was about $120,000. Today, a neglected example can be had for under $50,000, while a top-spec, low-miles car will bring well over $100,000. The average price paid for a well-kept F355 today is between $70,000 and $90,000.

Will the Ferrari F355 be a classic?

As the last Ferrari with a certain design language, wide availability of a six-speed manual transmission, and a high-revving, naturally aspirated V-8 engine, the Ferrari F355 has already become a collectible modern classic.

What is the cheapest used Ferrari?

Not an F355, sorry. The cheapest used Ferrari model today is likely a 1980-1981 Ferrari Mondial 8, which is also among the worst-performing Ferrari models of the past 40 years.