This Multitalented Ferrari F355 Berlinetta Is Prepped For The Track And The Streets Of DTLA
Photography by Jonathan Harper
I grew up in the 1980s, which means I had more than a few friends with Ferrari F40 posters taped up in their rooms. Like the Lamborghini Countach before it and the McLaren F1 after it, the F40 was one of the de facto answers of kids answering the question, “What’s your favorite car?” The Porsche 959 was an impressive and more than worthy peer, but I would have to put myself in the F40 camp.
And the F40 wasn’t the only Modenese horse in the stable of dream cars that I and every other car enthusiast maintains in his head on a daily basis. I had been smitten with the 308 before the F40, and then by the 1990s strake-job that was Testarossa. It’s safe to say that liking Ferrari’s mid-engine cars puts me in crowded company, no doubt, but while many of them would point to one of the more powerful or more provenance-laden road cars from the brand if asked to choose a dream car, I’ve always been drawn to the F355.
I appreciate the different elements that gel together to make this car what it is, but the way it looks has always been one of the main attractions—after all, most of our dream cars will remain un-driven. In the world of cars, skin-deep beauty will get you mighty far.
The F355, the curvier, faster follow-up to the F348, was released into a world with a much lower population of mid-engine sports cars compared to today’s, and while I think the design of this car is a high point of the mid-1990s aesthetic, it has also aged gracefully enough to not become the butt of any jokes—well, there have been plenty made about the maintenance procedures, but let’s just agree that that’s a separate matter from the way the car looks.
Like anything special, taking proper care of the car will go a long way, but even though taking care of this thing isn’t as cheap as keeping a Honda Accord running, I tend to think it’s all worth it. Having 380 horsepower in 1995 was worth bragging about, and though this car’s younger relatives will walk away from it in a highway drag race, I think this is a perfect amount for a relatively lightweight and relatively analog sports car. There’s something to be said about being whisked through corners at insane G-forces in modern cars, but as we all know stats are only a part of a car’s story. You feel the personality of the chassis and the drivetrain when you take your favorite corner, and specs taken out of this kind of context don’t mean much.
Another context is being a kid who’s just been handed a newly laminated driver’s license. When I got mine, the movie The Rock was pretty popular, and while I guess it was entertaining to see Connery and co. dodge the pyrotechnics of a fictionalized Alcatraz, I was a big fan of the car chase that featured a Hummer H1, a bunch of expended police cruisers, and most importantly, a yellow F355 Spider. I pretty much had my teenaged mind made up.
It was a dream that I stuck with long enough to fulfill, and I couldn’t be happier with the car. Not much rivals a second-gear pull to 9000rpm through the 2nd Street tunnel in Los Angeles, and with the Capristo exhaust on this car, getting there is enough to make me feel like I’m in an F1 car going through the one in Monaco. That said, it’s an easy car to drive, not particularly intimidating in terms of seating position or visibility, and in stock form it has good manners and is quite comfortable—it passes the errand test.
It’s impossible not to catch a few glances in a bright yellow Ferrari, but by modern sports and supercar standards (especially in this city), the F355 doesn’t typically garner attention from anyone who isn’t already a fan of the car. You won’t impress the people who like scissor doors but don’t have a clue how to spell “Lamborghini.”
All of those reasons make it a great street car, and I think it also lives up to some of the “race car” hype that come with Ferraris. So far I’ve tracked it at Autoclub Speedway, Willow Springs, and Thermal. It’s fun in stock form, but as with any production car there are compromises made between performance and practicality. It took a few track days before I realized just how much work the car needed to be really enjoyable though. For instance, the steering ratio was a little bit too slow feeling, and the electronically adjusted active suspension, after 20 years, definitely needed to be refreshed.
Two years ago I decided to do a bit more to it to wring out some more of its potential on track, but I wanted to keep it street legal and livable, to a certain point. I replaced the Ferrari OEM-spec suspension with Nitron coilovers, installed a custom roll bar, carbon fiber bucket seats made by Sabelt for Ferrari, harnesses, StopTech competition-quality brakes, and BBS Challenge wheels. I removed the airbags, sound system, and a bunch of other little things that add unnecessary weight.
I’ve been working on car commercials for the last decade now, but I’ve only had a chance to shoot a Ferrari once, a 488 when we did a spot for Pennzoil Circuit. I wish Ferrari did more commercials as a brand, but I suppose when you’ve got that kind of recognition it’s not so necessary. Still, seeing as the cars that I own and would like to own are often direct inspirations for me to take on a new job, I have a lot of pent up ideas and energy to put towards a project with a brand that has meant so much to me in my life. And hey, for every job with more boring subjects in the front of the camera, that’s just another deposit into the F355 mod fund.