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Ferrari’s 349 replacement arrives soon. Dig into the recesses of your imagination, consider how fast a Ferrari should be . . . Men speed up your dreams

rhis is a busy and important year for Ferrari. Most important in terms of image will inevitably be the autumn launch of the F130 Barchetta at the Paris Motor Show the successor to the F40 and the model that will show exactly where Ferrari is at now that it faces greater competition from the likes of Bugatti, Honda and even McLaren.

But even more important for the longterm future of Ferrari is the successor to the 348, the F355. Why F355? Well, it’s F for Ferrari all future models will start with the letter and the engine is a 3.5-litre, fivevalve-per-cylinder unit. Hence F355.

And why is it so important?

Simply because this is Ferrari’s volume seller, and so its success is absolutely vital for the company’s finances. But more significantly, it’s important because it represents a complete revolution in Ferrari thinking and attitudes. Chairman Luca di Montezemolo knows full well that the company needs a sales boost. Struck by the worldwide recession, sales have slumped, with just 2350 cars delivered during 1993, down from 3400 in

1992 and a record 4400 in 1991.

Last year Ferrari had to close down the lines for 40 days as stock levels and inventories built up around the Maranello factory. It’s all a far cry from the heady days at the end of the 1980s, when there were so many forward orders from all round the world that the British distributor Maranello Concessionaires had a five-year waiting list and was forced to close the order books completely.

“Today marks a turning point,” says di Montezemolo. “We have weathered a crisis but last year ended with a positive financial result so it wasn’t too bad. We have got rid of the speculators who were affecting the image of the marque and we are now seeing the true Ferrari enthusiasts coming back.

“At Maranello, we are doing our bit by reorganising the company into teams in both the design and production departments. We are bringing in new technologies and new production techniques because we have to respond to the market as we find it, not as we may like it. We have to be able to produce the products our customers want and ensure the right quality levels too.

“Our firm strategy is that we will build a maximum of 3000 cars a year and we have moulded the company to suit that volume.” What Ferrari has also done under di Montezemolo is to find out for the first time what its customers really want. It has actually gone out and researched their views, and incorporated what they heard in the F355.

Most important, according to those customers, was to ensure that the car should be usable at all times, in all road conditions. Out and out performance is still critically important to the image, but Honda’s NS-X has shown all too clearly that pure performance doesn’t preclude a modicum of comfort, safe and predictable handling, and ergonomics that haven’t derived from the Ark.

Though the basic structure has been carried over from the 348, so the wheelbase and general proportions remain the same, this is far more than a mid-term facelift in every important respect the F355 is an all-new car. Most significantly, it gets an all-new engine, an all-new transmission and totally

revised bodywork and aerodynamics.

The engine, of course, is the heart of any Ferrari. For the F355, a new 90 deg, V8, 3496cc unit with an 87x77mm bore and stroke provides the motive power all 380bhp of it at 8250rpm, with maximum torque of 268 lb ft at 6000rpm. It’s exceptional, not just because it revs to an astonishing 8500rpm, but also because it produces 109bhp per litre, and this makes it the world’s most powerful naturally aspirated production engine, with greater specific power even than the mighty

McLaren Fl. Astonishingly, there could well be more to come from this new V8 because, according to Ferrari engineers, the whole has been designed to rev at up to 10,00Orpm. Needless to say, Fl experience came to the fore in the design and manufacture of the engine. Pistons are constructed from forged aluminium alloy, while con-rods are titanium alloy, finite element designed units. Three radial intake and two exhaust valves heads also derive directly from El engineering (though, ironically, the Fl team has now reverted to four valves per cylinder), as does the design of the cylinder head which creates an extremely compact

high-swirl combustion chamber with an 11:1 compression ratio.

Other interesting features include an intake system which feeds to individual intake ducts on each cylinder with single throttles to optimise engine performance at all temperatures, and improve response: and an exhaust system featuring two branches one main branch to a ceramic matrix catalyst and a bypass branch to a steel matrix catalyst that comes into play at high speeds to reduce back-pressure. From the V8, the drive is transmitted through a new transverse gearbox now offering six forward speeds, all with synchromesh, and with shorter engagement travel. Not only has the synchromesh been

improved, but the transmission is also fitted with a water/oil heat exchanger to bring the gearbox oil more rapidly up to the correct operating temperature and thus obviate baulking while the unit is cold. From all of this, it can safely be assumed that the F355 is going to be fast and indeed, Ferrari’s own figures show that, compared with the 348, top speed is up from 170 mph to 183. Even more impressively, acceleration from 0-62mph is down a full second, from 5.7 to 4.7s. Thanks in no small part to the aerodynamics, the F355 is as steady as a rock at high speed and this is due to the work of Sergio Pininfarina who was responsible for

the design: “We had to achieve a technical aesthetic ideal but we also had to consider the high performance potential of the car and so the aerodynamics became critical to ensure both good handling and safety,” he said. Pininfarina, together with Ferrari’s engineers, used the wind tunnel at Maranello to refine above all what he calls “the neglected sixth face of the car” the underbody. The aerodynamic effect starts at the front spoiler which is split in the middle to direct most of the airflow under the body. Once there, a completely flat underbody ensures free and rapid passage of the air which is speeded up as it flows under the car, thus producing low pressure and downforce.

“All high performance cars generate lift at high speeds and so most have to incorporate large spoilers to counteract this,” says Pininfarina. “But because the whole design of the F355 generates negative lift, we don’t have to use spoilers to make corrections. This is pure technology driving the design and the styling of the car.”

The F355’s negative lift ensures predictable stability and straightline handling. To improve cornering and stability under braking and hard acceleration, the aerodynamics are aided by new electronically controlled dampers.

Sensors pick up both lateral and vertical chassis movements and these signals, together with information on road speed, acceleration and throttle pedal position, are fed to a central ECU which in turns instantly hardens the damper settings to minimise roll, pitch and yaw. Then, of course, if the car remains on a relatively even keel, the aerodynamics can continue to do their job, the wheels can be kept on the straight and narrow by the suspension system and the result should be fine handling and reliable stability.

Help in developing the chassis of the F355 came from ex-Fl champion Niki Lauda and just what a good job he did can be seen from the performance figures achieved at Ferrari’s own test track at Fiorano. An Fl car gets round in just over a minute. The fastest V12 production cars get round in the right hands in around one minute thirty seconds and interestingly, the four-seat 456GT is actually marginally faster than the 512TR.

The F355 is not only marginally quicker than either the 456GT or the 5I2TR here, but crucially, it is a full seven seconds a lap faster than the 348 model that it replaces. On the track, the F355 is not just fast, but it sounds it with the new V8 howling behind the passenger compartment all the way up to the 8250rpm red line. But what is more

impressive than the sheer acceleration is the stability and fluidity of the car through the bends. It turns in sharply the standard power steering is no handicap and thanks no doubt to the enormous amount of positive downforce created by the underbody aerodynamics, its grip and traction are stupendous. A little power brings round the rear but it takes no more than a flick of the leather-bound steering wheel to correct the oversteer, by which time the next bend is

already approaching fast. Through the six gears, the F355 keeps accelerating, keeps pulling like a train with the high torque ensuring there’s massive grunt whatever the gear.

There are some die-hard traditionalists for whom a true Ferrari has to have a V12 under the bonnet. The F355 doesn’t, but it’s still a magnificent machine and it looks the part too.

As far as exterior appearance is concerned the front is cleaned up and the split front spoiler is a distinctive feature, but at the sides the familiar slats are replaced by double air intakes and shaped aerodynamic sills. At the rear, it’s back to familiar red Ferrari round lights in a broad body colour strip. Inside the F355, greater emphasis has been placed on ergonomics and the positioning of the minor controls, but of course the central feature remains the traditional open gear gate though with six forward slots rather than five. Also new is an aluminium alloy gear knob to replace the plastic one of old. Customers can choose standard sports seats or lightweight racing units, and can choose between 17 exterior and 12 interior trim colours. Ferrari buyers have never had it so good. Initially, two versions are offered F355 Berlinetta coupe and a GTS targa version with UK sales starting in September. Prices will start around the E80,000 mark. The current 348 Spider remains in production for the time being, but no doubt this too will be dropped once a F355 Spider has been developed. M D

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