Some cars have to age like fine wine to be appreciated. Others offer virtues so obvious that they deserve top ranking from the moment 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 question, it is the best Spider Maranello has ever produced in terms of looks, engineering, and performance.”
Satisfaction of modern perfection
While some of that might be recent marketing hype — after all the 360 Spider is still available for purchase at your local Ferrari dealer — you can perhaps pardon 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 strikingly attractive in the modern mold. Further, because Ferrari is presently 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 debatably the most technologically advanced coupe of all time, the 360 Berlinetta. The 360 Spider, in fact, 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 speed the powerplant supplies 400 horsepower at a heady 8,500 rpm. Its longitudinally supported 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 remarkable acceleration but also breathtaking top speed. Amazingly, the 360 Spider offers handling and performance almost identical to its coupe brother. In fact, with the top up or down, the car attains a top speed of over 181 miles per hour, while weighing barely 132 pounds more than the Berlinetta. Even more wonderfully, 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 speed, space, and utility for the advantages of top-down touring. But Ferrari inventors 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 engineers of the 360 Spider worked hard to make the convertible model 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 beneath the tail. Despite the absence of any wings or spoiler, 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 initially adopted on Formula One cars. Compared to the coupé’s drag figure of 0.33, the Spider attains a Cd of 0.36, a pretty darn good number for an open car.
Interestingly, aerodynamic analysis also stretched to the fluid dynamics inside the engine bay. In fact, the only apertures on the rear engine cover are the two grilles at the side of the George Barris-inspired glass cover. These share the same honeycomb prototype as the Berlinetta, though the size of the hexagonal openings has been increased to ensure even more heat can escape from the Spider’s slightly smaller engine bay.
To match the power provided by the exceptional V8 engine, Ferrari engineers designed a chassis/body with exceptional flexional and torsional rigidity, despite the convertible configuration. This involved stiffening the front of the floorpan, strengthening the sills, and redesigning the windshield frame. The rear bulkhead was also stiffened to restrict engine noise in the cabin, though many believe that a Ferrari engine at speed is prettier music that a Mozart concerto.
The result of the engineers’ efforts is a dynamic response and a structural efficiency that sets new standards in chassis and body shell construction in open cars. The occupants of the 360 Spider are ensconced in the bounds of an ultra-protective safety cage, backed up by the two tubular steel roll bars that form an integral part of the top system and work with the strong but delicate windscreen structure to offer maximum resistance in rollover situations.
Fusion of style and comfort
At the same time, the 360 Spider provides a better ride than a sports car of its pedigree has any right to. With all the technical trickery in the suspension and engine bay, perhaps the biggest engineering feat in the 360 is its remarkable convertible top. Despite the car’s mid-mounted V8 engine, Ferrari designers 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 opens an closes in just 20 seconds. The very compact uses a complex two-stage folding movement that seems like mechanized origami. To maintain the 360 Spider’s striking lines, the canvas hood is folded twice 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 pressed steel elements and cast aluminum, driven by electro-hydraulic actuators. The soft top comes in a choice of four colors (dark blue, beige, black, and grey) with an interchangeable PVC rear screen and a fabric lining.
With the top up, no matter which color you chose, the 360 Spider looks extremely aggressive, emphasizing the car’s rear mass with the V8 clearly visible through the clear glass engine cover. Not astonishingly, 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 fairings, the rear engine bay, the twin roll bars, and a windscreen so steeply raked that it looks like a prolongation of the hood. All this wasn’t easy to undertake. The top’s power mechanism stows away inside a special well set between the the engine and the cabin, a feature that necessitated the re-design of all the air intakes and outlets.
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The interior of the 360 Spider is similar 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 clients. The only differences between the coupe and the convertible are the practical, electrically controlled “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 lavish 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 efficiently eliminate the buffeting that normally affects convertibles. At these prices, of course, a little wind in your hair is what the Ferrari 360 Spider is all about.
Filed under: Top Classic Cars