Is this a case of roofless ambition?
By Mike Duff / Saturday, 22 October 2022 / Loading comments
The high level of love among commentariat for the Maserati MC20 Cielo this week turned the thoughts of the Brave Pill selection plenary committee – meeting at an abandoned greyhound stadium – at to whether it would be possible to find something similar on a considerably lower budget.
A discussion that quickly led, though the 56k connectivity of the editor’s Nokia 9210 Communicator, to this very attractively priced Ferrari 360 Spider in the Classifieds. Okay, so the £54,945 asking price is hardly pocket change – and represents almost half of the £113,000 pre-options this 2002 example would have originally cost – but it still means this is a 21st century ragtop Ferrari for less than a quarter the price of that sleek new Maserati.
The most impressive thing about the Cielo, other than its show-stopping looks, is the minimal compromises it demands buyers make over its Coupe sister. Something which definitely didn’t used to be the case: in the eighties and early nineties roadsters and spiders were inevitably heavier, floppier and dynamically blunter than their fixed-roof siblings. People were more likely to buy them for posing than driving.
The Ferrari 360 Spider was one of the first cars that changed that. It was entirely possible to buy one exclusively for the purposes of showing off, and that was likely much of the motivation behind a substantial percentage of sales. But it was very nearly as good to drive as the Coupe, and that was very good indeed.
Rewind to the Ferrari 360’s introduction in 1999 and its specs read like science fiction. Early reviews were as fulsome as a misspelt state prison in California for what was, by general consensus, the most user-friendly mid-engined Ferrari up to that point. Equally impressive was the fact the company’s engineers had managed to extract a peak 395hp from just 3.6-litres of naturally aspirated V8. That was a road car specific output record that was only narrowly beaten when the Honda S2000 arrived a few months later. For a measure of just how otherworldly the Ferrari looked consider the fact that the 996-generation Porsche 911 Turbo that was launched slightly afterwards required two turbochargers to puff its 3.6-litre flat-six to a barely-better 414hp.
Of course, the Porsche had much more low-down torque than the Ferrari, with the 360’s peak 275lb ft arriving at a peaky 4,750rpm. But it would have been perverse to complain about this shortfall given the joy that came from working the V8 hard. The motor had been built to rev with a flat-plane crank and titanium conrods, with peak power coming at a heady 8,500rpm, just 200rpm before the red line. The 360 relished life in the top quarter of its rev range, and sounded savage when taken there – even with the factory exhaust that many owners later swapped for something fruitier. It was both a technical tour de force and a sales hit, quickly becoming the most popular Ferrari up to that point.
The open-topped Spider was launched a year after the fixed-roof Modena, with road testers impressed to discover how dynamically similar the two cars were. The Spider weighed just 60kg more than the coupe, and although its aluminium structure had lost a little strength in the decapitation process, intelligent structural reinforcement meant the perceived difference was minimal. Stowing the top also gave a far better appreciation of the 360’s rasping exhaust note – and the tiny fabric hood even allowed the Spider to keep the Modena’s glass engine cover.
A then-new 360 Spider starring in a winter-themed magazine feature I was involved in. A group of roadsters and cabrios were assembled in mid-Wales in mid-winter, with orders that the roofs had to stay down throughout despite air temperatures hovering around zero. Most of the cars there were outright miserable regardless of the number of hats and scarves being worn in the freezing slipstreams; the heater of the MGTF barely blew warm, presumably as it was busy digesting its head gasket. But although the Ferrari was far from toasty in the Arctic conditions it was more than special enough to warrant a blue nose and tingly ears, the V8 sounding even snarlier than usual in the thin, cold air. That car was a manual, and my abiding memory of the day was the almost painful chill of the solid metal shifter in its open gate. Something which didn’t discourage me from changing gear as often as possible.
Right, onto the present day. The good news is that our Pill is sitting in the most desirable part of the Ferrari 360 Venn diagram. While 348 and 355 Spiders are cheaper than the coupes, that equation is reversed for the 360, with the ragtop commanding a supplement. Similarly, the manual gearbox is now preferred over the snappy automated single-clutch ‘F1’ transmission which Ferrari’s early noughties sales execs went out of their way to persuade buyers to specify. So as a manual Spider our car has won both of those coin tosses.
So why the enticing price? Two obvious reasons present as to why this is the cheapest Spider in the classifieds. Firstly, silver paintwork in a part of the market where punters prefer the traditional Rosso or something jazzier. Secondly, having covered 69,000 miles, a figure that – ludicrous as it might seem – is twice the average of the other 360s currently listed on the site. Given the youngest 360 is now 18 years old, there have evidently been lots of owners who have made minimal use of their dream cars.
Presuming the colour and odometer tally hasn’t sent you running for the hills, there is plenty to like about our Pill. Paintwork and trim looks impressively fresh in the images, as does the fabric hood. The Porsche specialist dealer selling it has helpfully listed pretty much the entire service history, with the most cambelt change having been done by a specialist in April last year, and the one before in May 2019. That’s interesting given that a glimpse at the MOT history behind the obscured plates shows a gap between clean passes in April 2019 and February this year – suggesting that the last owner was diligently following the maintenance regime even with the car off the road.
There is nothing else scary in the recent test history but rewinding to 2014, just 1,000 miles ago, produces a prodigiously red fail list that includes the doozy “rear registration plate missing” – which has to be the most egregious MOT preparation failure in history. It also flunked for worn tyres, wonky headlight aim and a non-functioning handbrake while also earning a crop of advisories over worn suspension components. The fact it seems to have been comprehensively sorted out after this, with the vendor saying the most recent owner had the car for seven years, suggests it really has been mollycoddled since.
Keeping any Ferrari in fettle will require plenty of ongoing spend, but the 360 is widely reckoned to be about the most wallet-friendly of the clan, vastly more so than the earlier V8s which require engine removal for their timing belt swaps. Exhaust manifolds can crack expensively, clutches are unlikely to last past 20,000 miles even with the manual gearbox – and much less with an F1 – and suspension balljoints should pretty much be treated as a service item. But, barring catastrophe, running costs should be closer to painful than agonising.
Big, scary spiders are not normally something you want to encourage to live in your garage. Here’s one you might.
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