Back in 1998, when PistonHeads was in its first lines of code, the technicians down in Maranello were putting the final touches on a Ferrari F355 Spider. This one would be a right-hand-drive manual in Grigio Titanio over Bordeaux leather interior – and now it’s mine for a few days, specifically for a blast around England’s best roads.
The excuse to make this trip was a meetup with a contingent of our northern PH members, and we needed a decent ride. The plan was to meet around Wolsingham, County Durham and take in some of the great passes: mainly the Hartside Pass and Buttertubs Pass. But first was getting familiar with a personal dream car and a 200-mile drive north on a Friday night ahead of a bank holiday – in the rain.
In the 1990s, Ferrari was still very much about form over function, and that’s telling when settling into the leather seats. The front wheel arch encroaches into the footwell, leaving the pedals the only spot free, offset to the left. The steering wheel sits perpendicular to the column in that classic Ferrari fashion, the top of the wheel trying to escape away from your clutches. Despite being one of the first Ferraris designed to be more user friendly (thank you, Honda NSX), it’s clear ergonomics have come an awfully long way since the 1990s.
That said, setting aside potential chiropractic appointments, the rest of the interior is pretty pleasant. The switchgear is simple and well placed, and the instrument panel, surrounded by warning lights reminiscent of War Games or other early 90s sci-fi films, makes total sense. It is all such functional efficiency: three pedals, a gear lever, no driver aids or setup screens to work through – just apply, or not, the softer suspension if you feel inclined, and away you go.
The car we borrowed from our finance partners Charles & Dean had two additional features: a factory option ‘Challenge’ rear engine grille, and a marvelous stainless-steel Capristo exhaust system that served as an aural amplifier. Turning the key for the first time I was immediately greeted by that oh-so-recognisable flat-plane Ferrari sound. One that sits a little higher in the octave range than other manufacturers’ V8s and with the exhaust bringing even more drama, burbling like it’s ready for Le Mans rather than the A1.
Immediately we’re struggling, the car idling at unusually high revs and the expected engine braking absent. I give the right foot a blip on a downshift to see if it settles down, only to have it idling even higher; time to hook my left foot under the throttle to try and pull it back, which calms the car down. Thoughts of a sticking pedal or throttle body, trying to manage this in driving rain, or at worst an early end to a dream drive flash through my mind so I seek out the first fuel stop (of many) to diagnose the issue.
This particular car is beautifully presented, but 25 years later there are some elements that are a little tired around the edges; as I stick my head in the footwell to see what the pedal is doing, I notice the mat has slipped down from its anchors and is pushing against the throttle. I pull it back to its rightful position and start again; the idling returns to where I would expect, the problem is solved – time to start enjoying this experience.
The trundle up the A1 is pretty uneventful. The car quietly cruises along in sixth, sitting steadily at dual carriageway speeds without feeling like a slight adjustment on the throttle will cause large engine braking nor feeling like you are trying to restrain something eager to be off the leash. I reach Harrogate and fill up ready for the morning, 44 litres over the 183 miles – just shy of 19mpg.
A dream drive for me comprises three key elements that need to be just right: a perfect car, challenging roads in beautiful scenery, and great company. The latter requirement came in the form of PHer scottos (who you might remember from his BMW 2002 Tii vid) and his fellow car friends, and being local to the Pennines they knew where to go to fulfill the tri factor.
The first route takes us up the B6278, past High Force Falls, across the B6277 and onto the A686 for the first stunning view, both of landscape and road. The Hartside Pass falls down from the upper car park, smooth-ish tarmac clinging to the edge of the last Pennine as you head west, setup for spectators better than any man-made stadium track ever could. Under skies stretching to the Lake District in one direction and the borders of Scotland to the right, it is a perfect place to stretch the F355’s legs.
The route down tests the brakes, but with several hours experience I am feeling more confident. The F355 advanced suspension rewards more deliberate inputs, the weight feeling superbly balanced from the mid-engined layout. With gentler inputs the front can seem like it is trying to push forward, but roll your sleeves up, get stuck in, and it feels much more positive.
Coming back up and the engine is singing; a few horses may have bolted through the years, but with very nearly 9,000rpm to play with – and a sound to die for – this V8 remains captivating. To have a glorious open-gated manual to click-clack around really is the cherry on top. The orchestral crescendo really is one I had to experience outside, too, positioned on the mountain top; close your eyes as the F355 screams past and you could be on the Mulsanne straight with such an evocative sound. It’s a masterpiece of a powertrain.
We leave behind the A686, often dubbed the ‘Roof of England’, to start our way down the spine of the country and towards the Yorkshire Dales. The rugged hills of the Pennines start to be replaced by craggy hilltops, with sheep polka-dotted on the lush green hills (and sometimes in the middle of the road, too). I quickly conclude that if the road number begins with B627, it’s guaranteed to be a stunner. From B6277 to B6276 to B6270, we continue across to the Buttertubs Pass. As the scenery gets less rugged the roads do the opposite, with the tarmac of the Dales a little narrower and rougher; equally stunning, but a trickier environment to really enjoy the F355.
As the sun starts to drop and the remaining shadows that peak in between showers shade the valleys, we reach our last stop of the day, the Ribblehead Viaduct. This is a place I have always wanted to visit, awed and fascinated by the people, the engineering, and the determination to place a railway across such extreme rugged terrain. A fitting end to one of my dream drives, an engineering marvel that you can’t help but stop and stare longingly at – rather like that wonderful Ferrari.
Footnote: Turning a dream into a permanent reality
After spending five days with the F355, I fell in love with it. However, the practical voice in my head kept reminding me of, y’know, paying the mortgage and feeding the children – now really isn’t the time for impulsive purchases. That being said… The one we drove here is up for sale at £80k; a quick look at historical values of F355 Spiders across the last five years of PH data shows a comparable car was about £63k in 2018.
So let’s apply some man maths to this dream. Total amount payable through C&D, including interest and deposit, will be £97k if you keep the agreement for the full 36 month term (see the calculator for full spec). So take that £80k purchase price plus £17k (potential) future appreciation based on historical data so that, in theory, it could eventually be sold for £97k… Three years cost free motoring in a Ferrari – It’s certainly quite a persuasive argument. After 750 mechanically issue-free miles on this dream drive, let’s hope for a similarly fault-free few years to make the maths really work!