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Ferrari 360 Spider

Ferrari 360 Spider

By Jack Nerad

Ferrari 360 Spider Some cars need to age like fine wine to be appreciated. Others offer virtues so obvious that they deserve top ranking from the time they are introduced. So it is with the Ferrari 360 Spider, which happens to be the marque's twentieth road-going convertible and a car about which Ferrari says, "without doubt it is the best Spider Maranello has ever produced in terms of engineering, looks and performance."

While some of that might be current marketing hype -- after all the 360 Spider is still available for purchase at your local Ferrari dealer -- you can perhaps excuse them for the hyperbole. We still think the Ferrari Daytona Spider is a prettier car with classic sports car proportions, but there is no doubt the 360 Spider is stunningly attractive in the modern mold. Further, because Ferrari is currently on an incredible roll in the world of Formula One racing, it is the most technologically advanced convertible of all time.

That could well be because the 360 Spider is based on what is arguably the most technologically advanced coupe of all time, the 360 Berlinetta. In fact, the 360 Spider uses exactly the same drivetrain as the berlinetta: a mid-rear mounted 3,586cc V8 that is one of the most sophisticated engines ever dropped into a road car. With five valves per cylinder pumping up and down at a dizzying rate the powerplant delivers 400 horsepower at a heady 8,500 rpm. Its longitudinally mounted gearbox incorporates a limited slip differential in just one of Ferrari engineers' efforts to get all that power to the pavement.

The Ferrari 360 Spider boasts not only awesome acceleration but also breathtaking top speed. Amazingly, the 360 Spider offers performance and handling almost identical to its coupe brother. In fact, with the top up or down, the car achieves a top speed of over 181 miles per hour, while weighing barely 132 pounds more than the Berlinetta. Even more amazingly, the car offers the same amount of room for the occupants and their luggage as its coupe counterpart. All these virtues were difficult to achieve, because most convertibles sacrifice space, speed, and utility for the advantages of top-down touring. But Ferrari designers felt that customers anteing up more than $150,000 for their ride to work didn't want to make compromises.

With this in mind, the designers of the 360 Spider worked hard to make the convertible version as aerodynamically efficient as the coupe. Part of the solution was using the twin radiators to help channel the airflow along the underbody to the extractors under the tail. Despite the absence of any spoiler or wings, wind tunnel research has produced a negative lift figure and aerodynamic downforce of 374 lbs, compared to the 396 lbs generated by the berlinetta. In order to achieve that downforce, the engineers incorporated a nolder (a protuberance on the edge of the tail), a solution first adopted on Formula One cars. Compared to the coup With all the technical trickery in the engine bay and suspension, perhaps the biggest engineering feat in the 360 is its remarkable convertible top. Despite the car's mid-mounted V8 engine, Ferrari engineers found a way to create a top that automatically folds away inside the engine bay at the touch of a button. The fully automatic top mechanism closes and opens in just 20 seconds. The very compact utilizes a complex two-stage folding action that seems like mechanized origami. To maintain the 360 Spider's striking lines the canvas hood is folded double before it can slip down inside the engine bay and be topped off by its own integrated tonneau cover. The top's frame is made of a combination of cast aluminum and pressed steel elements, driven by electro-hydraulic actuators. The soft top comes in a choice of four colors (black, dark blue, beige and grey) with a fabric lining and an interchangeable PVC rear screen.

No matter which color you chose, with the top up, the 360 Spider looks extremely aggressive, emphasizing the car's rear mass with the V8 clearly visible through the clear glass engine cover. Not surprisingly, the car is even better looking with the top folded out of the way. Seen from the side, the Pininfarina body evokes a sports racer, an impression underlined by the length of the rear engine bay, the twin roll bars, the rear fairings and a windscreen so steeply raked that it looks like a prolongation of the hood. All this wasn't easy to accomplish. The top's power mechanism stows away inside a special well set between the cabin and the engine, a feature that necessitated the re-design of all the air intakes and outlets.

The interior of the 360 Spider is identical to the coupe's, right down to the golf bag slot behind the seats, a bow to the aging Baby Boomers who will be the 360 Spider's prime customers. The only differences between the convertible and coupe are the practical, electrically operated "strongbox" set between the two seats at the center of the roll bar structure and the two storage nets on each side of the rear console. The convertible's roll bar structure is coated in a special material that progressively absorbs energy in the area around the occupants' heads, but in keeping with the luxury nature of the vehicle the utilitarian material is covered with soft Connolly leather trim. So you don't spoil your expensive coif, two small mesh screens are fitted inside the roll bars and, along with a third set between them, these effectively eliminate the buffeting that normally affects convertibles. Of course, at these prices, a little wind in your hair is what the Ferrari 360 Spider is all about.
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