You never knew you wanted to see a 2020 review made to look like it was 23 years older... until now

The Ferrari 355 is widely considered to be one of the prettiest Ferraris ever and the car that effectively put the company back on track after the near-miss that was the 348. With the 355, Maranello ticked all the boxes producing a car that was fast, gorgeous to look at, and moderately affordable for a Ferrari.

In 1997, the Italians upped the ante and introduced the 355 F1 which, as the name suggests, features technology that’s trickled down from the world of Grand Prix racing. The innovation remains one of a select few to be brought onto the market by Ferrari and JayEmm On Cars gives us a glimpse of how it must’ve felt to experience this car when it was new with this vintage-looking review.

Pull out the VHS tapes, everybody!

Ferrari stunned the world in the late '80s with the F40, a car that became the benchmark by which all future supercars would be measured against but, despite its success, the Italian automaker was swimming in troubled waters come the early '90s.

Following a whole decade bankrolled by the wedge-shaped Testarossa and the 308/328 models, Ferrari seemed to be out of touch. Its products were lackluster in basically every area and this was best exemplified by the Mondial, a car few wanted to buy.

The influx of Fiat people into the company surely helped Ferrari build more cars than ever before but they weren’t better. In fact, back in the late ’80s, a BMW M3 E30 could more than keep up with a mid-engined Ferrari which was three times more expensive than Munich’s coupe. The 348 came in to make amends in the entry-level sector and fix the wrongs of the Mondial but was far from a knight in shining armor. Truth be told, it took until 1995 and the introduction of the 355 for Ferrari to come up with something that was truly deserving of that famous crest with the prancing horse on it.

Party Like It's 1997 With This Review Of A Ferrari 355 F1 Spider
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The 355 became the new ’Baby Ferrari’ at a time when the company was, otherwise, moving away from the rear-mid-engine layout because Luca Di Montezemolo wanted the new range-topping V-12 model to be front-engined again as it was the case back in the early ’70s when the 365 GTB/4 was the world’s fastest car. Thus, the 456M and, then, the 550 Maranello both made their way onto the production line and both proved to be fine cars in their own right. However, it was the 355 that most customers were going after and this wasn’t only due to the fact that it was the cheapest of the lot.

After spending over 1,300 hours in the wind tunnel, Ferrari created a shape that was both soothing to the eye and efficient.
Party Like It's 1997 With This Review Of A Ferrari 355 F1 Spider
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The gearbox issues of yesteryear were cured by way of a coolant heat-exchanger that got the oil in the gearbox up to temperature quicker upon start-up. A rod-actuated system improved shift times for the six-speed manual and many hours were poured into both chassis and suspension development. A steel monocoque with a tubular steel rear sub-frame underpinned the car and in the middle of it all, there was the V-8 engine.

Known internally as the F129 B/C, it was both bigger than the unit fitted to the 348 (with a capacity of 3.5-liters) and better as Ferrari devised a five-valve head for it which increased power by quite a lofty margin. To put it into perspective, while the quicker 348 GTS’ V-8 put out 316 horsepower, a 355 had 375 horsepower to play with and 268 pound-feet of torque, 30 more than in the 348. With weight basically staying put (in the region of 3,300 pounds), the 355 was fast and it handled beautifully, especially next to the Mondial and the 348.

Party Like It's 1997 With This Review Of A Ferrari 355 F1 Spider
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But, as you’d expect, the competition wasn’t exactly napping and, for instance, stuff like the Porsche 911 Turbo were quicker in a straight line. To stay in the loop, Ferrari debuted inside the 355 something that they called the ’F1 transmission’. Previewed during the launch event of the 550 Maranello in 1996 and eventually also made available inside the 456M, the ’F1 transmission’ was the first electrohydraulic-operated semi-automatic, paddle-operated gearbox to be offered in a production car.

Launched in 1997, the F1 gearbox was available in all three of the 355 body styles (Berlinetta, GTS/Targa, and Spider) and Jay got a taste of it inside the topless Spider whose main fault is, of course, the ugly soft-top (especially when you consider that the Berlinetta version is the last mid-engine Ferrari with the Flying Buttress rear window). What that means, then, is that the new transmission wasn’t the car’s Achille’s heel as you may expect given the novel technology at work.

Party Like It's 1997 With This Review Of A Ferrari 355 F1 Spider
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We all know how a flappy-paddle-operated transmission works but Jay took the time to explain it all to us once more in this video review and there’s good reason for it. You see, Jay had planned to film a review on 16mm film but the plans got hijacked by the COVID-19 pandemic and, as a result, he resorted to filming this, a review done in the style of late ’90s car shows.

Reeking of nostalgia, the video features all the trademark attributes of a '90s car segment: awkward zooms and pans, bid mixing of the music volume at times, and the poor image quality.
Party Like It's 1997 With This Review Of A Ferrari 355 F1 Spider
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While Jay tries his best to emulate the likes of Quentin Wilson or a long-haired version of The Grand Tour’s Jeremy Clarkson - whom he even quotes as to have said that the 355 is the ’best car ever made’ - he does allow himself to go on a limb and be a bit prophetic about the growth in popularity that such gearboxes will enjoy over the years. Back in ’97, however, the manual was still king and that’s maybe the biggest thing we’re nostalgic about!

Source: JayEmm On Cars

Michael Fira
Associate Editor and Motorsport Expert - fira@topspeed.com
Mihai Fira started out writing about long-distance racing like the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans. As the years went by, his area of interest grew wider and wider and he ever branched beyond the usual confines of an automotive writer. However, his heart is still close to anything car-related and he's most at home retelling the story of some long-since-forgotten moment from the history of auto racing. He'll also take time to explain why the cars of the '60s and '70s are more fascinating than anything on the road today.  Read More
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