Thursday, April 14, 2011

Chapter 6 - 355 Test Drive

“where is the door handle on a Ferrari 355?” This question was posed by someone on May 3, 2009. Don’t scoff. It is a pretty good question.


Ferrari 355 Test Drive

Nine days after driving the silver 360 I dropped by Gran Prix, and parked next to a slightly dirty 355. After I walked in Joe told me the red 360 was not there but suggested I take a look at the silver 355. As I said earlier, the 355 is a good looking car, old school when compared to the 360 but still an elegant and compact Ferrari. The car parked in front of Gran Prix is the older, smaller brother to the 360 I drove; even the color combo was the same, silver with a red and black interior. I didn’t loiter around the car for too long, I didn’t want to make the owner nervous.

There was a yellow 355 spider on the floor. I had yet to sit in a 355 and this seemed as good a time as any to see if I would fit. The door of a 355 has two large air intakes which take up most of the bottom half of the door. On the top half of the door there is only the key hole. No door handle is visible. Hmmm. I discreetly pushed on the key hole but that didn’t do anything. I don’t want to demonstrate my Ferrari rookiness by asking how to open the door but I could not figure out how to get in the car. The top was down, but I could not figure out what on the interior of the door constituted the latch either.

Joe saved me. He walked up and asked if I fit in the silver car.

“Don’t know I thought it was owned by someone wandering around the dealership.”

I didn’t add that I could not figure out how to open the door. Best to keep that bit to myself. When we walked back out I purposefully followed a few steps behind Joe so he would reach the car first. It worked. The door handle is tucked inside the top of the two air intakes. I had run my hand along the intake but the door handle is recessed and I missed it.

Gran Prix had just taken the car on trade. While I did not drive the red 360, I did get to drive a 355. From the second the motor started the different character of the car was apparent. 355s are less refined than 360s. It is a loud, rowdy little car. Joe reinforced the rowdy ethic by getting the car sideways in the dealership driveway. You could do the same thing in a 360 but it would seem out of character. The 355 is less refined in a good way.

Joe drove a few blocks then pulled over so we could switch places. I was more comfortable in the 355. Not physically, physically I was less comfortable but mentally, the 355 was not as intimidating as the 360. I suppose there are two reasons I am more comfortable. This was the second Ferrari I had driven and I knew I was not going to do anything foolish. When driving the 360 I was keenly aware of the price of the car. I did not want to shunt $140,000 worth of Ferrari into a ditch or have a piece of wayward piece of gravel put a divot in the windshield. The 355 is significantly less expensive and already had a small divot in the windshield.

At first, the sensations delivered driving the car reinforced the differences I felt from the passenger seat. The 360 is a bigger, broader, stiffer car. Where the 360 felt refined and elegant the 355 felt nimble and playful. The 360 felt as if it would bail me out if I got in over my head, the 355 felt as if it would joyfully get in over my head with little help once I got there.

With the exception of the gated shifter, everything about the car felt lighter than the corresponding component on the 360. Shifting the 360 was effortless. Shifting the 355 requires a firmer hand. In many ways the 355 is similar to my 911. It is analog where the 360 is digital.

After just a few moments the similarities between the cars began to shine through, there was the same feeling that all systems in the car were built to work together. That nothing was out of place. I take that back. There is one piece of the 355 which did seem out of place. The steering wheel. I liked the size and feel of the 360s steering wheel better. The 360’s steering wheel is a slightly smaller diameter than the 355s, making it easier to fit my legs under the wheel, and the air bag housing on the 360s wheel is much smaller. The 355’s steering wheel looks like the giant steering wheels found in early 90’s Mercedes.

Even though my test drive methodology prohibits fast driving my seat of the pants analysis suggests the 355 was not quite as quick as the 360. I bet it had to do with the 355’s slightly lower amount of torque. As Joe and I wound out through the country, on the same roads we used when test driving the 360, I was struck with the feeling that this car was more delicate than the 360. It did not seem delicate in the sense that it was fragile or going to fall apart but delicate in the sense that it had only the lightest touch on the road. I think the best way to describe the way the 355 feels on the road is that it is dancing. The car danced down the road.

In the 360 there was more of everything. More room, more dash, and more power. Well, maybe not everything. The 355’s massive steering wheel dwarfs the wheel in the 360. When driving the 360 the view out the front and through the rear view mirror constantly reinforced the sense that you are someplace special. The view from the 355 is more pedestrian. With the exception of the fantastic engine note coming from just behind my ear the car is less of an event to drive than the 360.

During the test drive I did have one bit of trouble. My feet are big and the foot box in the 355 is small. The one time I found myself with an open stretch of road in front of me and decided to give the car some gas I over revved the engine on the shift from 2nd to 3rd by about 3000 RPM. I couldn’t let off the throttle. My foot was stuck under a heater vent above the throttle. The RPMs immediately jumped to about 8000 and the bypass valve for the exhaust snapped opened. The car was shrieking, but coasting since I pushed the clutch back in the instant I realized there was a problem. It only took a second or two to free my foot but that is something to remember if I drive another 355. It would be inconvenient if that happened in traffic.

Back at the dealership I inspected the car more closely. It was clearly used, with some pitting of the paint on the air dam and a scratch here and there, but in nice shape. During the test drive I noticed an odd rattle coming from the motor that seemed to vary with RPM. I cannot afford to buy a Ferrari with any hidden problems and I am predisposed to fear the maintenance liability that I think 355s have, but Gran Prix’s mechanics have yet to give this car a once over so it is still on the list.

355s had been at the bottom of my list due to their history of maintenance problems but the car I drove started fine and with the exception of the rattle, ran like a champ. It did not seem like an unreliable car. Plus, 355s had depreciated to about ½ of their original sale price and should not depreciate much more over the course of the year.

The 355 seemed like a good deal.

This car might just satisfy my goals for “one year with a Ferrari” better than the 360. Why? It is less stuffy, less serious, costs a bunch less but is still obviously a Ferrari.

That said, I am one of those people who are attracted by bargains. Sometimes I feel compelled to buy stuff I don’t need just because it is a good deal. Away from the car I was not sure if I was attracted to the 355 because of the price or because it is a fantastic car. To compound matters after becoming so spun up about the 360 I am unsure if the 355 will satisfy my Ferrari desire. I needed a sounding board. Someone who would not call me a dork for wondering if a 355 is Ferrari enough. A call to cycling buddy and fellow car nut Brain Abers was in order.

Let me paraphrase our conversation.

“Brian got a question for you. Do you think my one year with a Ferrari idea has less value if I go with a 355 rather than a 360?”

“Well Box what are we talking about here? Are there any bad Ferraris?” Brian responds.

“No it’s not like it’s a Magnum PI car.” I say.

“And even a 308 is a Ferrari and is faster than most cars on the road”

At this point Brian’s cell phone lost its signal and our conversation ended. Brian answered my question. A 308, Testarossa, Mondial, or even 400 would be a fine car for the book. Any of the Ferraris I was considering were more than adequate and there were more pressing problems to deal with. I still had not found a home for our 911. I was pretty sure I could talk Barb into parking the minivan in the driveway for a few weeks but winter is well on its way and it would be unfair to ask her to load our kids and Max’s wheelchair, into the minivan in the rain. Thoughts of winter, rain, and snow lead to another question, is the beginning of winter the right time to buy a Ferrari? The car might be less expensive but there will be many days ahead when it will be impractical to drive. Plus, I will be selling it in the winter and need to remember that I should expect a slightly lower price as well.

I don’t want my book to be titled “One year with a Ferrari – How I turned a Supercar into a Messy Divorce in 365 Days” so attention to detail where both money and reducing the impact of this decision on Barb’s quality of life is concerned is important.

Back to storing the 911, if you live in Portland and want to store a boat, RV, or the pile of junk from your attic you are in luck. If you want to store a sports car you are out of luck. Some creativity was required. My Mom has extra space in her garage. Tempting but my sister’s Honda Del Sol had been abandoned there for months and ended up looking like a washboard after losing countless battles with door of Mom’s car.

It remains a mystery why Maryann abandoned the Del Sol. Originally, she left it at Mom’s house in California. After Mom moved to Portland the Del Sol followed like a lost pet you would read about in a gossip magazine in the check out isle at the grocery store. Miraculous little Del Sol reunited with owner in different state. “I don’t know how the little guy found us.” Overjoyed owner exclaims. Unfortunately, the little guy followed the wrong person. Maryann did not want Mom to sell the Del Sol but did not want it back either. I suggested we dissemble it one small piece at a time and send parts to Maryann. A shift knob one month, a hubcap the next. No one appreciated my plan.

This was all noise. Picking a good car, finding the space for it, buying it at the right time, at the right price and finding a way to pay for it were obstacles to overcome on my way to Ferrari ownership.

They were not big obstacles.

In hindsight all the obstacles I faced seem trivial but when faced with the prospect of doing something outside my comfort zone it was easy to slip from considering where to park the car to being consumed with the thought that buying a Ferrari was a bad decision, horrible waste of money, and would spell financial doom for our family. It was easy to become overwhelmed by the noise.

I decided not to buy a Ferrari several times during my searching for a car phase. It would be so much easier not to buy one, to give in to doubt, fear, and laziness and go back to doing what I had always done. I could always look at cars on line and I had now driven two Ferraris. These thoughts were my response to trying to do something new.

Do people come with a built in system of checks and balances or do we learn them as we grow? Sure, a cautious analysis risk is good for survival but why do I allow this analysis to spiral out of control and produce unwanted outcomes?

My perception of risk is not appropriate for my situation. My gauge for assessing risk is similar to that used by my parents when they were my age. Their situation was different than mine. They were divorced and struggling financially. Their parents lived through the depression and the stories of hardship they heard when growing up greatly colored their acceptance of risk.

When assessing a situation I tend to focus on the things that may go wrong. You know the old adage “Hope for the best, plan for the worst”? That sums up my approach. What a horrible way to approach life. Typically you get what you plan for not what you hope for.

Planning involves the creation a series of actionable steps which will bring about a desired result. There is nothing wrong with hoping for the best but hoping is not actionable. I think a better approach is hope for the best, plan for the best, and hedge against the worst. Not as catchy but a better way to manifest desired results.

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