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How to buy a secondhand Ferrari 355

By Chris Chilton

Motoring Issues

10 April 2009 10:00

>> How to buy a used Ferrari 308 GTB
>> How to buy a used Ferrari 456

Who’d have thought you could afford a 355 so soon? Just 10 years ago we were raving about this being the greatest sports car money could buy and it still looks relatively fresh today. In the current economic climate, they’re temptingly affordable…

So how much does a 355 cost? (And we're not talking the legion Toyota MR2 rip-off kit cars). ‘They start at £30k’ says Karl Virdi from Verdi Performance Cars (www.verdiferrari.biz), adding that £35k buys a really nice GTB. Targa-top GTS models command an extra £1000 and the full convertible’s the same amount again. Verdi was selling a 96N GTS with 51,000 miles for £29,995 at time of writing in April 2009. But as the F1-transmission cars didn’t arrive in the UK until ’98, you’re looking at nearer £40k if you must have a two-pedal car.

What goes wrong? Engine mounts can fail (budget £600 at a specialist) and failed catalytic converters can block the exhaust and melt the manifolds, which cost £1600 per side, plus fitting, to replace. Brake discs and pads are cheap but make sure you stay away from main dealers when it’s time to change the cambelt every three years. They’ll want to lift the engine out, and that’s a 23-hour job that could cost you £1500, says Virdi. Luckily, specialists like Verdi can do the job with the engine in situ for half as much.

Ferrari 355: the driving experience

A decade on, this is still an incredibly desirable bit of kit. And just as satisfying to drive. The square-sided buckets and fat ’90s airbag wheel betray the car’s age, unlike the messages coming through it.  Like all ‘90s Ferraris the 355 is easy to drive with a light clutch and pedals perfectly placed for barrp-barrp heel and toe downchanges.

The big news, as ever, is behind your head. The 348’s V8 grew to 3.5 litres and by 84bhp to 380bhp. And with a switch from two to three inlet valves per pot, it can rev to a stratospheric 8500rpm without the need for any variable valve trickery. That rpm figure is still unusual today; back in ’94 it was a faintly absurd number of revolutions for a crankshaft to endure.

Send the needle in that direction and the soundtrack gets pretty spectacular. This car’s running a standard exhaust. But aftermarket pipes available for less than £2000 will really unlock the aural potential.

And it’s not just mouth, trousers come as standard too: 60mph takes just 4.8sec and it’ll do 183mph. That’s not far off F430 performance in a package that comes with all the modern Ferrari luxuries.

It’s incredible then, to think you can pick up a Ferrari 355 today for the price of a new Nissan 370Z.

Ferrari 355: the spec

Engine: 3496cc 40v V8, 380bhp @ 8250 rpm, 267lb ft @ 6000rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual, rear wheel drive
Performance: 0-60mph 4.8secs, 183mph
Weight: 1350kg
Years made: 1995-1999
Number built: 11,273
Price new: £83,000
Price now: £35,000

Ferrari 355: the buying advice

What to look out for: The 355 is a good car if looked after well and a great advancement over the 348. They do have a habit of blowing exhaust manifolds and catalytic converters, which will be expensive to repair. Other occasional problems are premature wear of the valve guides which can cause burnt valves and need the heads taking off to fix. Also the join between the roof buttress and rear wings are prone to corrosion, so it’s worth getting a car checked out professionally before buying. The later cars had a different injection system and passenger airbags.

Service schedule: Service intervals are every 12,500 miles after the initial 6250-mile service or once a year if the mileage is not covered. Cambelts are a big job as the engine has to be removed to do them correctly. This is every 31,250 miles or three years, whichever’s first.

Cost of minor service: Route324.com would typically source the yearly service for £500.

Cost of major service: A major service will cost in the region of £800, but if combined with the cambelts (engine out – every three years), the service can be sourced for £1500. Route324.com can source a cambelt service with a franchised dealer for circa £1800.

Typical spare parts prices: A new clutch costs from £700 + VAT, including fitting. A new exhaust manifold costs from £2200, or £500 if it can be repaired. If a catalytic converter goes pop, you’re looking at about £950 per side.

Verdict: The Ferrari 355 tin-top is fantastic to drive and handles brilliantly, the Spider version is not as stiff as the pure bred Berlinetta but a great buzz with the roof down. Generally they are good trouble-free cars, but they can be expensive to maintain if you get a bad one.

>> Thanks to CLUBGT for the loan of the Ferrari 355

>> Thanks to Route324.com, the independent Ferrari servicing specialist broker

>> How to buy a used Ferrari 308 GTB
>> How to buy a used Ferrari 456