Thursday, January 27, 2011

Chapter 3 - Ferrari F355, F360, and 456 in Detail

On February 16 2009, a Monday, someone Googled “ferrari interior turning to goo”. Why would anyone do that?

Ferrari F355, F360, and 456 in Detail

At this point I think it will be helpful if I describe the three models of Ferrari I was considering, the F355, F360, and 456.

Ferrari introduced the F355 in 1994 to replace the 348. Like the 348, and entry level Ferraris back to the 308, the car is powered by a mid engine V8. The 308 was not the first mid engine Ferrari road car. That honor goes to the Dino. I know there are some who will argue that the Dino was not, strictly speaking, a Ferrari but I am not one of them. Originally, Enzo was concerned about putting too powerful of a motor in mid-engine cars. He was worried they would be dangerous so the Dino got a V6.

The F355 is available as a Berlinetta (coupe), GTS (targa), Spider (convertible), and as a race car (loud and fast). In 1998 the F355 was made available with paddle shifters as the F355 F1. When production ended in 1999 the F355 was the best selling Ferrari to date with 11,373 cars sold. It is credited as one of the cars, along with the 456, which dramatically improved Ferraris financial fortunes and reestablished the company’s position in the exotic car pecking order. I know 11,373 cars, worldwide, over a period of 4 years does not sound like much, but for Ferrari, 11,373 cars represented a significant output. High production numbers are good for me as there are several cars to pick from and the price is more transparent, and lower, than many of the models with lower production numbers.

The F355 is wonderfully proportioned; the best way to describe it is svelte. I believe it is the last Ferrari to be designed by a Pinanfarina family member. It is low and wide with the cockpit positioned almost right in the middle of the car. The car is unmistakably a Ferrari with evolutionary styling clues that can be traced back over 20 years. Compared to the F360, I like the F355’s subtleness, if painted a quiet color you can easily overlook a F355.

For the F355 Ferrari developed an aluminum block engine with a short stroke. Stroke refers to the distance the piston travels through the cylinder. A shorter stroke facilitates higher RPM but reduces torque. The block utilized Nikasil-coated wet steel liners. I had no idea what Nikasil was so I looked it up. Nikasil is a coating consisting of a nickel silicon carbide matrix which, among other things, can be used to coat engine components, mostly pistons and cylinders to allow for very tight tolerances. Total engine displacement is 3496cc for you new money types, 213 cubic inches if you are in the heartland or about 3 ½ big soda bottles if you dislike exact units of measurement.

Ferrari used five valves per cylinder, two for exhaust and three for intake or according to the owner’s manual “itake”. The model number 355 denotes 3.5 liters and 5 valves per cylinder. If you look into the engine bay of a F355 you can see red head covers which say “cinqueovalvoe”. I don’t speak Italian but I am willing to bet that translates to “five valves”. Ferrari went to the trouble of putting prancing horses on the covers for the timing belts which are pressed up against the cockpit, where no one can see them. To keep weight down the engineers made use of titanium connecting rods and light aluminum alloy forged alloy pistons. Lubrication is provided by a dry sump engine oil circuit. Dry sump is a fancy way of saying oil is held in a tank and pumped through the engine at startup. Dry sumps do a better job of keeping oil in the engine when the car is cornering hard.

To move all those valves around Ferrari utilized variable rigidity valve springs and hydraulic tappets. I am not sure how you make a variable rigidity valve spring but I bet they are expensive to repair. Unlike most road going V8s the F355 has a 180-degree "flat" crankshaft, which produces equal firing impulses between each cylinder bank. The flat crankshaft allowed Ferrari to optimize both intake and exhaust tuning since each bank can be treated as if it were its own little four-cylinder engine. This results in an engine that vibrates wildly when running since it is not balanced like a traditional “V” configuration engine. The entire thing is controlled by a Bosch Motronic system, M2.7 in earlier cars or M5.2 in later cars. These advances when coupled with the engine management system and four overhead cams allow the motor to rev to 8500 rpm. Compression is 11.1:1 almost exactly the same as our 3.6 liter 911’s 11.3:1.

When they were done Ferrari had a motor capable of producing 375 horsepower at 8,250 rpm and 268 lb/ft of torque at 6,000rpm. The motor in our 911 produces 247 horsepower. Add it all up and the F355 is producing about 109bhp per liter. Imagine stuffing 109 horses into a one liter soda bottle. I like Motortrend’s analysis “To put this in perspective, if they had the same specific output of the Ferrari, the Chevrolet Corvette's 5.7-liter LT1 V-8 would produce 611 horsepower (instead of 300) and the Dodge Viper's 8.0-liter V-10 would make 858 (instead of 400).”


The exhaust note from a F355 is one of the most beautiful and thrilling sounds to come from a car, said to rival the song of mythical sirens and able to lure car lovers to part with prodigious sums of money. The exhaust system starts out like that of a regular car with each bank of cylinders emptying into an exhaust manifold. At the end of the manifold there is a “y” pipe which splits the manifold into two pipes. The lower pipe connects to a catalytic converter while the upper pipe joins inner pipe from the opposite manifold bypassing the catalytic converters and ending in a muffler with three inlets.

The F355 lacks any driver’s aids other than power assisted steering and antilock brakes. I have always been a fan of cars which follow this ethic and feel it is the right for a Ferrari. Ferraris should be difficult and dangerous to drive fast.

Now for the problems. There is not much room in the cockpit and to say interior styling is dated is to be gracious. Further, the interior did not receive the same amount of attention as the beautiful exterior. Several of the interior bits of the 355 have the disturbing habit of turning to goo, (now we know what that search was about) as the coating that Ferrari applied to interior plastic pieces melts and turns into a sticky tar like substance.

More importantly any major engine maintenance, and even some minor ones, requires the removal of the motor. F355s have a nicely documented history of engine problems. In case you didn’t catch it that was a euphemism for they break all the time. Although the cars need the timing belts changed every 15,000 miles or three years Ferrari sandwiched the timing belt between the engine and the cockpit so out comes the motor when it is time to change the belts. The cars also appear to be rough on their exhaust manifolds, which are prone to cracking. Finally, many cars need the valves replaced as some were made of brass and wear out. In spite of its good looks, performance and relatively low purchase price, the maintenance issues alone are enough to keep the F355 near the bottom of my list.

The F360 was introduced in 1999, replacing the F355. Like the 355, the 360 is available in a number of models ranging from several versions of the coupe, sporty to track focused to race car, and for the playboy a spider. You may have noticed that I just dropped the “F” from the F355 and F360. I think you will know what I am talking about if I just call the cars the 355 and the 360. The 360 was resounding commercial success for Ferrari with 17,518 cars produced. Despite being about 10% bigger, and looking it, the newer Ferrari is stiffer and only a few pounds heavier than the 355. This is largely due to the 360 having an entirely aluminum chassis and body, a first for production Ferraris. Ferrari put the aluminum to good work as the 360 has a wonderful, curvaceous form. It is a beautiful, stunning car drawing on shapes from significant Ferraris of the 60’s. Stylistically the 360 has little in common with the 355.

Ferrari responded to people saying “pop the hood and let me see the engine” by making the engine cover clear, saving 360 owners the countless hours spent walking to the driver’s side door, opening it, and pulling the latch to open the hood. Now 360 owners can spend those same countless hours cleaning drool and fingerprints off the clear bonnet covering the engine. It sounds like a small thing but the clear engine cover is a dramatic statement.

When the 355 was released in 1994, Ferrari claimed to have spent 1,900 hours of wind tunnel testing to refine the cars design. They must have liked the results as the 360’s shape was refined during 5,400 hours of wind tunnel testing and as a result generates almost 400 pounds, 396 to be exact, of down force at full tilt.

The 360 is powered by a 3.6 liter V8 producing 400 hp at 8,500 RPM and 275 lbs/ft of torque at 4,750 RPM. Since the 360 has five valves per cylinder Ferrari could have followed the naming convention they used with the 355 and called it the 365 but no, they called it the 360. I suppose they could have called it the 36 but that would be 319 less than the 355 and I doubt the marketing folks would have approved.

Overall the 360’s engine appears to be quite similar to the 355’s, dry sump V8, five valves, and about the same size. Where they differ is in valve timing, with the 360 benefiting from variable valve timing. The newer car also sports a Bosch ME 7.3 engine management system which I suppose is better than the 2.7 or 5.2 systems available in the 355. The changes resulted in an engine which develops 112 horsepower per liter.

Like the last year of the 355, the 360 is available with a standard manual transmission or an F1 style paddle shifting manual. In the 360 Ferrari utilized the same F1 style gear box as the 355 but improved the downshifting with new software. Essentially the new software controlled an electronic throttle which can increase engine RPMs automatically on downshifts, allowing for a smoother transition to the lower gear. Shifting the F1 gearbox is initiated by pulling large paddles, mounted on either side of the steering column and behind the steering wheel, towards the driver. Pull the paddle on the right for an up shift, the paddle on the left for a downshift.

In both cars the F1 system was based on the standard 6-speed manual gearbox but with the traditional mechanical-link shifting mechanism replaced by an electronic clutch and a hydraulic shift actuator, all of which seems like a heck of a lot of moving parts to me. There are three different shift patterns, one which allows the lazy to pick “Automatic” and let the car do all the shifting. What makes the F1 gearbox special is the ability to control and integrate clutch and gearshift action. Within milliseconds the computer adjusts the throttle, disengages clutch, shifts to next gear then re-engages the clutch. The whole process takes about 0.15 second. While that is not as fast as I can shift, it is pretty quick. Internally Ferrari code named the Selespeed which sounds fast but does nothing to improve the speed or performance of the gearbox.

When I look at the dash of the 360 the first thing I think of is Frankenstein’s forehead. The dash of the 360 is all leather and has prominent stitched seams running across it. It is not an ugly dash, it is flowing and organic but the stitched seams remind me of Frankenstein. The 360 boasts quite a bit of interior room in all dimensions. This is good for me because I am larger than most Italians in all dimensions. Where little attention seems to have been spent on the 355’s interior Ferrari did a nice job on the 360.

Better yet, possibly best yet, maintenance is less of a concern with the 360 than the 355. Partially this is because it is a modern car, but most of the reduction in maintenance risk is a result of the fewer operations requiring removal of the engine. Ferrari learned a lesson from the 355 and put a removable panel behind the seats so the 360’s timing belts can be accessed without removing the engine. Ferrari seems not to have learned or more likely just does not care about the tendency of interior parts to melt because the 360 is plagued with the same sticky interior part problem.

The 456 is quite a change from the 355 and 360. First the engine is in the wrong place, in front of the seats, like a regular car. Second it has four seats, also like a regular car and unusually practical for Ferrari, and third it has four more cylinders, maybe to make up for the engine being in the wrong place and the extra seats.

The 456 was built for a different purpose. The 355 and 360 are sports cars. The 456 is a GT. A GT car is about getting places quickly and comfortably. When compared to either the 355 or 360 the 456 looks huge and a bit bloated, like it has just eaten a very large meal. There is less variety in the 456 model line, basically you get a manual or automatic but unlike the other cars there were a small number of 456 wagons produced and two sedans. Both sedans were purchased by the Sultan of Brunei. The Royal family of Brunei must have appreciated the 456. In addition to the two sedans they received six of the seven wagons, and two convertibles. The 456 wagon is one of my favorite Ferraris. All in all somewhere around 3,289 cars were produced.

Ferrari introduced the 456 in 1992 and at the time it was the second most powerful road car produced by Ferrari, the F40 holding the top spot. The car also heralded a shift from angular, hard lines to the smoother flowing lines that define the cars today. The car weighs in at just over 3,700 pounds, a good deal more than the 355 or 360. I suppose the extra cylinders and seats are to blame for the extra pounds.

The 456 is powered by a 5.5 liter V12. The name 456 comes from the displacement of each cylinder, 456cc. If Ferrari had stuck to the naming convention they used for the 355 the 456 would have been the 554. Ferrari never bothered putting an “F” in front of the “456”. You can figure out what they would have called it if they used an approach similar to the 360. 5.5 liters is not a huge engine when looked at from the American SUV perspective but 5.5 liters of V12, stuffed into the front of a Ferrari, is an impressive sight. It has all the moving parts of a V8 with a V4 tacked on for good measure. The motor was developed and tuned to deliver a grand touring driving experience, meaning more torque and horsepower available at lower revs with less peekyness.

In what must have been a nod to the increasing size of their American clientele Ferrari fitted the 456 with a self leveling suspension which can adjust rear ride height depending on passenger load. It wouldn’t do to have the rear of a Ferrari dragging on the exit from the MacDonald’s drive through and spilling the supersize Coke. Unfortunately, this feature is totally worthless. The back seats of the car are so tiny that only a small child or short super model would be able to fit back there, neither of which should require a self leveling suspension. Fancy self leveling stuff aside the rest of the 456’s suspension was also complex, using non-parallel arms, coil springs, telescopic dampers and stabilizer bars both front and rear, making it one of the most advanced suspension systems at the time and allowing the damping to be manually selected from three programs, Intermediate, Sport, and Touring. In addition to that, the stiffness of each damper changed automatically as a function of the car’s speed.

Generally, the 456 tends to be a reliable car. Unfortunately, if a 456 ever deviates from that tendency the maintenance on the V12 is catastrophically expensive; there are 50% more moving bits in it than a Ferrari V8. Just like the 355 and 360 some interior pieces of the 456 turn to goo. The interior on the 456 is more like that of a normal car than either of the 3 series cars.

When I was searching for cars the 456 was priced about the same as a 355. Aesthetically the car is not as appealing as either of the sportier cars but it represents a far more practical choice. With its bigger interior and back seats it would make a much more comfortable and flexible daily driver.

Any Ferrari I buy will have a roof.

Enzo Ferrari is quoted as saying “Convertibles are for playboys, coupes are for serious drivers.” I am neither but my Porsche is a cabriolet and I often wish for a coupe. I planned on taking the car to the track and using it as an everyday driver so a spider, in addition to being to showy, seems impractical. Practicality aside, I think the lines of the coupe are prettier on the cars I was considering.

Aesthetically, mechanically, and emotionally the 360 was at the top of my list as I began my search for a car. That said the purchase price of a 360 is roughly twice that of the 355 or 456. 360’s had not yet met my requirement of having suffered substantial depreciation.

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