Currently reading: Used car buying guide: Ferrari F355
If you want a Ferrari, the F355 could be an ideal partner: thrilling V8, elegant looks and true Prancing Horse precision (and bills)
Autocar
News
5 mins read
4 May 2018

Engage brain and put your heart away is a good tip when considering a Ferrari F355.

After all, there’s lots to make a grown punter throw good sense to the wind. Good things like the sound from that mid-mounted 3.5-litre 40-valve V8 producing 370bhp, and those looks – prettier than its predecessor, the 348, and certainly the 360 that followed it.

See Ferrari F355 for sale on PistonHeads

The trouble is, the bad things are just around the corner, and if you buy an F355 on a whim, there, ready to surprise you. Five years ago, when prices started at around £35,000, you could perhaps afford to drop a clanger. Not any more. Today, unless it’s a left-hooker, starting prices are at least double that.

The model was launched in Berlinetta coupé and GTS Targa-style forms (the roof can be stored behind the seats) in 1995. The Spider convertible followed a year later. The F355 was an evolution of the 348, with a larger, more powerful V8 engine, power steering, switchable suspension (Sport and Comfort modes) and, in those post-Honda NSX days, decent drivability in most conditions. Little wonder, then, that it became the first Ferrari to break the 10,000 sales barrier.

A six-speed manual gearbox was standard but in 1997 Ferrari revealed an optional Formula 1-style automated manual that allowed the driver to change gear via paddle shifts, a first for a production car. Compared with today’s quick- shifting dual-clutch ’boxes, it feels a little sluggish, but back then it was the bee’s knees. Naturally, with a £6000 premium over manual models, this F1 version is relatively rare.

The same year, the Motronic 2.7 engine management system was upgraded to the 5.2. Experts reckon the 2.7-equipped cars feel faster and the 5.2s smoother. Whatever the truth, there’s no premium on a 5.2 over a 2.7. More important, these later 5.2 cars got steel valve guides in place of the earlier bronze type that wore easily, allowing oil to leak past and burn off. Early cars may have since been retrofitted with steel guides.

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The three-year belt change interval is the world’s favourite hair-raising fact about the F355. That, a sticky dashboard and the possibility of cracked exhaust manifolds. However, with the youngest cars nearing their 20th birthday, rust is the thing to fear most, especially where it affects the engine cradle (see ‘Also worth knowing'). Broken suspension springs come a close second.

The F355 eats clutches too. You can prolong their life by double-clutching when the engine is cold and never leaving the car in gear at the lights but changing to neutral. The clutch cable follows such a tortuous path that putting it under tension for any length of time causes it to stretch and, ultimately, break.

Having shot up from £35,000, prices of good F355s have recently softened a touch, so with memories of winter still fresh, now may be a good time to strike before the summer sun pushes them up once more.

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How to get one in your garage: 

An expert’s view, James Boxburgh, F355 owner:

“I bought my 1997-reg F355 Berlinetta five years ago for £34,000. I’d considered a 360 but didn’t like the looks and the 348, I was told, would be hell to live with. Not that the 355 has been a bed of roses. I’ve justspent £6500 on it. That bought a service but I also had new suspension bushes fitted, some rust treated, the magnesium alloys refurbished and new rear P Zeros (£328 each).

I also had the sticky facia trim peeled off and the dashboard cleaned up and sprayed black. It looks like new. I consider the outlay to have been a good investment. Now I’m bracing myself for the three-yearly belt change (around £1500).”

Buyer beware:

ENGINE - Check for oil smoke on early cars caused by soft valve guides. Listen for a rattly exhaust bypass valve. Check for worn catalytic converters and cracked exhaust manifolds. Examine the condition of the engine hoses, the two radiators and the vacuum canister for the exhaust bypass.

GEARBOX - The clutch is prone to premature failure so check its operation. If the manual shift rattles, it may need a new bush. Examine the condition of the pump for the F1-style auto ’box and the condition of the clutch slave housing on manual cars. Ensure the grease for dual-mass flywheel isn’t leaking from the bell housing.

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SUSPENSION AND BRAKES - Check for two-stage damper warning lights on the dashboard. Inspect the road springs, which are prone to breaking. Test the handbrake because cables seize frequently.

CHASSIS AND BODY - The rear engine cradle is a rust trap. Battery earth points can corrode, leading to earthing problems around the car, which causes electrolysis and then rampant corrosion. A bad earth can lead to problems with the 5.2 ECU, which issues a faulty ‘slow down’ warning in response. Check for cracking and rust at the base of the rear buttress on the Berlinetta and rusty sill plates. On the GTS, look for water leaks between the roof panel and the top of the windscreen.

INTERIOR - The dashboard goes sticky with time. Check the heater and air-con work.

Also worth knowing:

The timing belts have to be replaced every three years. It’s generally an engine-out job but, by removing the fuel tank, it can be done in situ. Some specialists recommend this method since the rear cradle supporting the engine rusts and disturbing it can be catastrophic. On the other hand, removal provides a chance to clean, repair and rustproof it.

How much to spend:

£60,000-£74,995 - Range of Berlinetta manuals, with pre-1997 cars at the lower end, rising to lowish-mileage 1997-1998 cars.

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£75,000-£84,499 - Mix of 1997-1999 manual Spiders and low-mileage Berlinettas.

£85,500-£99,949 - More low-mileage, late-plate Berlinetta manuals. Also F1 autos for about £89k.

£99,950-£120,000 - Late ’n’ low Spider manuals, GTS and GTS F1s, plus, at the top end, still some mint early GTS and Spider cars.

One we found:

FERRARI F355 BERLINETTA, 1998 R, 47K MILES, £74,950 This dealer-sale F355 has full Ferrari service history (just serviced and belts only recently changed). It’s in Rosso Corsa with matching carpets and hasa cream leather interior. Mileage is on the high side, though, making it one for high days and holidays only.

John Evans

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