Classic Cars

Ferrari's V8: 348/F355

A model which got off to a somewhat rocky start, but would evolve into greatness.

The 348 was also a Ferrari. That's really about all there is to say about it. It was a car which made big improvements to how Ferrari's sports cars were built, but still came up seriously short on power. But the 348 would give birth to the F355, considered one of the greatest sports cars built by marque. The transition from 328 to 348 to F355 shows how hard Ferrari had to work to bring itself up after the success of the mid-eighties gave way to the slump of the early Nineties. As the car's name implies, the 348 used a 3.4-liter V8.

Designated the Tipo F119, this engine was the latest evolution of Ferrari's first V8. This produced 300 horsepower when the 348 debuted in 1989 and would get a bump up to 320 horsepower for a short time after some changes were made in 1993. The 348, like the Mondial t, used an F1-inspired setup for the engine and transmission. The engine was longitudinally mounted while the transmission remained transverse mounted as it had been in earlier models. The engine had a dry-sump lubrication system, and the brakes were bigger than on the previous V8 and used ABS for the first time.

Styling was very obviously meant to mimic the bigger Testarossa, a car which had served Ferrari well for the preceding few years. The problem with this was, again, timing. The Testarossa had been a really excellent Eighties car. It was terrific car in its own right as well, but it had been just thing for its decade, and would end up looking fairly dated by the early Nineties. This was fine in the case of the Testarossa, it had a good long life of strong sales. But the 348 debuted in 1989, and with the Eighties drawing to a close, the styling looked dated almost immediately. The other, perhaps more subtle problem with the styling was how hard it was clearly trying.

Rather than build a distinct model for its smaller sports car line, Ferrari served mainly to remind buyers that they couldn't afford a Testarossa. The car received some improvements to its electrical system in 1993 which improved reliability, and the engine got a bit more power. The 348 now produced as much power as a stock Toyota Supra Turbo, not really something for Maranello to brag about, even if the 348 was somewhat lighter. But things were about to change. Ferrari had been taken over in 1991 by Luca di Montezemolo, a known critic of the 348 as well as an avid fan of speed.

His hatred for the car, as he tells it, comes from an incident where he lost an impromptu drag race away from a stop light while driving one...to a young man in a Golf GTI. Clearly something needed to be done to revive the V8 line to the glory it once enjoyed in the days of the 308 and 328. This brings us to 1995 and the debut of the F355. Keen-eyed students of Ferrari's naming schemes will notice that something is amiss with the F355. Ferrari had started out naming its cars after the engines' unitary displacement, but this was later replaced, in the case of all of the cars previously covered in this series, with a new three-digit code.

The first two numbers expressed the engine's displacement, like the 348's 3.4-liter engine, while the last number denoted the number of cylinders. The F355 obviously did not have a 3.5-liter five-cylinder engine, but rather a 3.5-liter V8 with 5 valves per cylinder. This was actually a technology used primarily by Audi, but the 5-valve head helped to push power output to 375 horsepower with only a moderate bump in displacement. A more traditional design was picked for the F355, and all traces of Testarossa styling were now gone. The F355 went from 0 to 60 in 4.9 seconds and hit a top speed of 183mph.

It was actually faster around the Ferrari test track than the 12-cylinder 512 TR, by a full two seconds. Performance was back up where it needed to be, and the F355 was greeted with high praise all around. Still, the F355 lasted only from 1996 to 1999. It was a really excellent car, but was essentially just a stepping stone to get Ferrari away from the ho-hum 348 and back into building exciting V8 cars again. The F355 remains a highly sought-after collector's car. That said, despite its short production run, it sold extremely well, and more than 11,000 units were produced. In its role as the car which saved the Ferrari V8, the F355 will go down in history as one of Ferrari's greats.

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