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The F355 celebrates 30 years

The Ferrari F355 is three decades old this month. It remains one of the all-time great rear-mid-engined V8 Ferraris – and probably the most important
Words: Gavin Green / Video: Rowan Jacobs

All new Ferraris are special. The F355 Berlinetta, launched in the spring of 1994, was more special than most. It was technically pioneering, significantly raised the performance bar and is probably the most significant V8 model to ever come out of Maranello.

Although the F355 Berlinetta replaced the 348 TB, it looked quite different. In place of the 348’s sharper and more angular design, the F355 Berlinetta saw a return to more classical elegance: it was a more curvaceous car with clear styling cues from the much-loved 308 GTB and ’80s GTO.

Watch the Ferrari F355 in action…

Engineering-wise, the F355 Berlinetta was a step-change ahead of those earlier cars. While it was mechanically based on the 348, the F355 Berlinetta’s engine was much modified. Its innovative five-valve-per-cylinder V8, which grew in capacity from 3.4 to 3.5 litres, had the highest specific horsepower per litre of any naturally aspirated engine (power leapt to 380cv over the 348’s 300cv). It featured F1-derived titanium conrods, as well as lightweight forged alloy pistons, a flat-plane crank and a dry sump. Maximum revs were an eye-watering 8500rpm and that innovative five-valves per cylinder engine design improved breathing. It was, by some margin, the finest V8 Ferrari had built up to that time. The most tuneful, too.

The 355 F1 version used the latest F1-style gearbox, which featured an electro-hydraulic system operated by paddles behind the steering wheel

To improve handling and make the driving experience sweeter, the chassis had been significantly modified as well. There were new electronic dampers, while steering feel and gearshift quality were enhanced. It was an easier car in which to dance at the limit.

Its light weight also helped. At just 1350 kg (dry), it was lighter than the 348, as well as significantly more powerful. It could reach 100km/h from rest in just 4.7 seconds (a second or so faster than the outgoing 348), and the top speed of 295 km/h was also much improved over its predecessor. Much aerodynamic honing – focused particularly on the underbody where it helped high-speed stability and driver usability – also contributed to those impressive figures. The F355 Berlinetta was the first series production rear-mid-engined V8 Ferrari to offer supercar performance. In fact, such were the technical leaps taking place at Maranello that the car’s performance could be likened to that of the limited-edition turbocharged GTO of a decade earlier. There were also big gains in ease of driving, and in comfort. The F355 Berlinetta proved that a faster and more exhilarating car could also be a more accessible one.

The F355 Berlinetta's 3.5 litre, five-valve-per-cylinder V8 engine is still regarded as an engineering marvel

And more innovation was to come. Most significantly, in 1997, the 355 F1 version was unveiled. It used the latest F1-style gearbox featuring an electro-hydraulic system operated by paddles behind the steering wheel. It was the first road car to use the technology, which was directly derived from Ferrari’s F1 programme – as with most Maranello road car innovations.

The Scuderia was the first F1 team to race with a semi-automatic gearbox. Indeed, the new technology immediately proved its worth by winning its debut race, the 1989 Brazilian GP. Soon, every F1 car would use the technology: its lightning quick gearshifts made for superior performance. Nowadays, it’s virtually de rigueur in all manner of top-end sports cars and supercars.

Supercar performance, combined with superb comfort and precise handling, made the F355 Berlinetta the perfect choice for a challenging cross-country road trip

Variants of the F355 Berlinetta included Spider, GTS Targa and the race-ready F355 Challenge. Such were the F355 Berlinetta’s charms that it would become the most popular model in Ferrari history at the time.

I’ve had many happy drives in F355s, from the original six-speed manual Berlinetta to the paddleshift 355 F1. Many of those miles were on English and Welsh B-roads, famed for their twists, camber changes and undulations. They are among the world’s best driving roads, as well as being the most challenging: perfectly suited to one of the sweetest driving and most important of all Ferraris.