Ferrari 360 (1999 - 2006) review

BY ANDY ENRIGHT

Introduction

The Ferrari 360 had one of the toughest tasks in motoring history. Competing with ever more accomplished supercar rivals was one thing, but replacing the acclaimed F355 series was quite another. Could it live up to the standards of a car that many felt nuzzled close to perfection? The 360 series didn't rely on the almost delicate tactile pleasures of its predecessor, instead opting for a high-tech, high drama approach. A taut thriller with a twist in the tail and an Oscar-winning soundtrack, the 360 series wasn't so much an F355 sequel as a new production from the ground up. With used examples now beginning to appear, can a low-mileage 360 really be recommended?

Models

Models Covered: (2 dr supercar 3.5 litre petrol [Modena, Spider])

History

The first Ferrari 360 Modena coupe models arrived in the UK in April 1999. Initial press reaction was favourable if not ecstatic, many reviewers caught on the hop by the F355's premature demise and not entirely comfortable with the Modena's slightly awkward styling. What brooked no criticism, however, was the engine. With 400bhp on tap from a 3.6-litre V8, the power was 25bhp up on the F355, even if the car had put on 40kg of extra weight. Available either as a conventional manual or with the 'F1' style paddle gearchange, the 360 Modena continued the latter day tradition of entry-level Ferraris being a showcase for innovative engineering solutions, not least in its aerodynamics and integral use of aluminium structures. The Ferrari 360 Spider convertible model's launch was delayed until October 2000 due to engineering issues concerning the car's soft top. With a similar window on the mid-mounted engine as the coupe, the Spider's desirability was boosted by the closer proximity to the V8's manic aural accompaniment. Again, the Spider was offered with manual or F1 gearboxes, with only around 35% of buyers opting for the paddle change. Perform a downchange with Ferrari's F1 gearbox as you brake hard into a corner and you'll wonder why. The range was added to in Summer 2003 with the arrival of the 360 Challenge Stradale coupe. Effectively a road legal version of the Ferrari 360 Challenge race car (Stradale means road compatible in Ferrari-speak) and weighing in at a hefty £133,025, the Challenge Stradale is a lightened, toughened, lower and faster version of the 360 Modena aimed at both gentleman racers and well-heeled trackday fiends.

What You Get

Practicality has made the Ferrari 360 great. This might seem a perverse sentiment, pertaining as it does to a two seat, mid-engined 400bhp exotic, but Ferrari definitely learned lessons from the overblown eighties cars that still lingered in the range when President Luca di Montezemolo took over the reins at Maranello. Describing the Athena-poster 512 TR as "a show off" and the 348 as "one of the worst Ferrari's I've ever driven", di Montezemolo envisioned a future where Ferraris were possessed genuine utility a la Porsche 911. If the firm could engineer in such utility without diluting capability, the car's mileages would rise, the cars would act as mobile Ferrari advertisements, dealers would undertake more servicing business and both new and used sales would blossom. Walking a tightrope between exclusivity and revenue, di Montezemolo might just have pulled it off. Certainly the Ferrari 360 is the sort of car that offers more than a passing nod towards practicality. The early promotional videos showed Eddie Irvine casually tossing a bag of golf clubs into one, and Ferrari were at pains to demonstrate the wider opening doors and narrower sills. Driver and passenger airbags and a swooping, soft dash remove a little of the stark, supercar drama of years gone by, but the smell of hot oil and the impatient whine of that glazed-in V8 that permeates the cabin lets you know that the boys in the engine department have adopted the practicality drive with something less than work-to-rule willingness.

What You Pay

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What to Look For

The clutch mechanisms in the F1 models have been known to give up the ghost within 5,000 miles of hard use. If the car is left in full 'automatic' mode, where the transmission changes gear for you, clutch life is reduced significantly if exposed to city driving. Low speed manoeuvring is always slightly jerky in this mode, but if you detect clutch slip, that will require work. Service intervals should be rigidly adhered to so check the history to ensure that work has been carried out punctually. Every three years, regardless of mileage covered, the 360 will need its cam belt replaced. This is an engine out job and so watch out for cars approaching this big money milestone. The only other notable fault that the 360 suffered from is an occasionally leaky cam cover. Make sure the cover is clean before any test drive and inspect afterwards for signs of oil. The engine gets covered in grime after a thousand miles or so, your glazed-in masterpiece resembling something that's been in a loft since the seventies, so make sure everything is as clean as a whistle and amenable to inspection. Given that most of the 360s on sale at present will have covered less than 10,000 miles, place emphasis on trying to gauge how hard the car's been used. Look for evidence of scoring of the brake discs and stone chipping and inspect the bodywork carefully. Many of the exterior panels are load bearing, which may assist in the quest for reduced weight, but can also make a minor indiscretion a crushingly expensive experience.

Replacement Parts

(approx based on a 2000 360 Modena coupe) Ferrari spares aren't inexpensive, but nor are they the horrendous expense that many would believe. A pair of front brake pads for the 360 retail at just under £200, with rear pads costing a similar amount. A new clutch assembly is around £340. Expect to pay around £340 for a new alternator whilst a starter motor retails at around £260. Big figures start to appear if you need a new headlamp (£1170 - colour coded) or an exhaust system (£2900 including catalysts but excluding manifolds).

On the Road

Given that the admittedly delightful F355 was a thorough reworking of the unloved 348, the fact that the 360 was new from the ground up gave cause for optimism. Whereas the F355 was nervous as you approached the limits of it's handling, feeling as if it was about to dance on tiptoes backwards off the stage, the 360 feels resolute and planted. The hysterical renting wail of the engine encourages manic progress, tempered only by the notion that destroying a 360 Modena in a moment of misplaced machismo is somehow about as bad as it gets. With 400 prancing horses six inches from your left ear it can be taken as read that the 360's performance box is unquestioningly ticked. Reaching sixty mph in 4.5 seconds on the way to 186mph are the purely academic benchmarks which those who'll never drive the car may judge it by, but the experience of exploding a 360 through a series of tight curves, fingers flapping at the F1 paddles like a Torinese traffic policeman, the engine barking and screaming, the anti-lock brakes performing a staccato dance under your left foot is what makes the 360 such a memorable drive. Switching the ASR traction control to Sport setting firms up the dampers and allows you a devilish margin of slip and slide before order is restored, the stiffness of the chassis and implacability of the suspension setting occasionally giving a degree of buck and skip over rough surfaces. For typically scabrous British roads, the Sport setting may well remain redundant, best being employed for the times you'll treat the 360 to a track outing.

Overall

This is really quite straightforward. If you have £100,000 to spend on a sports car and you find the Porsche 911 turbo anaesthetic, the Lamborghini Diablo affected and the Aston Martin DB7 Vantage overstuffed, you know what to do. For the rest of us, it's comforting to know that only mere details of cash flow stand between us and the most charismatic sports car in the world.