When it was new, the Ferrari F355 was heralded as one of the greatest sports cars of the era. Reviews at the time raved about the new mid-engined V-8 from the Prancing Horse, calling it “the perfect sports car,” “one of the best cars to ever come out of Maranello,” and “a quantum leap” over of its predecessor, the 348.
How, then, do you improve on the pinnacle of ‘90s sports car performance without losing the spirit of the original? Well, racing driver Jeff Segal — a class winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the 24 Hours of Daytona — reckons he’s built the answer. Meet the F355 Modificata.
The descriptor “Modificata”comes from the official designation Ferrari stamps on the cars it tweaks in-house. To Segal, it seemed like a fitting name for his passion project-turned-restomod-outfit. But why enter into the expensive, difficult world of restoring and upgrading vintage cars in the first place?
“For me, the idea was born out of frustration,” Segal said. He admitted he was inspired by cars like Singer Vehicle Design’s customized Porsches and the new Lancia Stratos: “I look at what these boutique firms are doing and I think it’s amazing, they’re focusing on driving dynamics and the experience instead of outright speed. It’s incredible, but it’s also an incredible amount of money.”
Segal wanted to follow suit with his car, to improve it without losing the identity that made it special in the first place. But he didn’t just want to rip off the idea of what Singer does; he’s adamant he’s not trying to compete with outfits like that.
“That level of attention is doable, it’s just a question of time and money,” he said. “If you look at a Singer, they are spectacular. I have the highest level of respect for what they do. I have spent hours looking at one and every nut and bolt on that car is art. There’s not a single part on that car which hasn’t been thought about, talked about, done and done again to try and make it better [and] cooler, but there’s a reason those cars are north of a million dollars. I think it puts that car out of reach for the average wealthy car enthusiast…we’re trying to find a sweet spot.”
The ethos behind the F355 Modificata is to be a better driver’s car in every regard. “From the handling to the sound, to the shifting, to even the aesthetics, all of it,” Segal said. “It’s not rocket science, but trying to put together the best package that leaves the driver smiling is really the goal.”
But how do you make the “perfect sports car” better? Well, as good as the F355 was brand-new, there’s no ignoring the hefty maintenance costs as a) almost any work under the hood requires an engine-out service and b) it’s a Ferrari. (For example, the exhaust manifold can cost north of $20,000 to fix…and mechanics reportedly say it has a 100-percent failure rate.)
But according to Segal, that’s what made the F355 an easy canvas to go to work on, in a way. “[The F355] was a great car in its day, but it’s obsolete in a lot of ways, so there are a lot of ways this car can be made better,” he said. “And we’ve done most of them.”
As a way to hedge against catastrophic failures, Segal bolted in modern, more robust replacements for items like the headers, gaskets and radiators, then reset the cam timing and balanced the throttle bodies in the name of reliability and long-term durability.
To make sure this Ferrari would be his ideal sports car, Segal made plenty of tweaks like adding European marker lights and replacing the bodywork between the taillights with metal mesh to aid cooling like the F40–to swapping new suspension and modern, high-performance brakes. And to be sure there’s no mistaking the Modificata for a stock F355, he swapped in a new exhaust: a powder-coated, free-breathing set of straight pipes that make his car louder than the ‘90s Challenge race car Ferrari built.
Once you open the door and slide into the renovated cockpit, any doubts that Segal isn’t taking this seriously fade away. The dash cloth isn’t just the same stuff found in the F40; it comes from the same shop Ferrari uses when they restore the legendary supercar. He also used the exact same steering wheel as the fabled ’80s supercar, and even and upholstered the carbon fiber race seats in the same material the F40 uses.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating, though. Taking the car out on track at Monticello Motor Club, I was able to see just how well all the work came together. Mid-engined Ferraris are known for their balance and poise, but they’re still intimidating. Yet the first car that came to mind after throwing the Modificata around Monticello was, believe it or not, the Mazda MX-5. Segal has the car so well-balanced, the suspension so well-tuned, a relative novice like myself felt just as comfortable throwing it into turns and throttling out of them as I would have in a Miata.
Yet If you’re looking for lower lap times or quicker sprints, you’re in the wrong place. As good as it is around a track, Segal said that’s not meant to be the 355 Modificata’s natural habitat.
“It’s not a race car, it’s not even a track car,” he said. “But I think there are ways we can make the car better and more competent in terms of its handling without taking away the ride quality. Right now, you can drive it on the highway and it’s fine.”
Above all else, he said he wants to make cars like the F355 more visceral. “Faster is fine, but it’s more about delivering a better experience start to finish.”
And the process of creating a better experience isn’t about to wrap up just because Segal’s ready to let journalists drive his baby. “Somebody asked me how I knew when the car was ‘done.’ The car isn’t done. The car is never done,” he said. “We’re always looking for more.”
If you’re interested in restomodding your own ’90s Ferrari, Jeff Segal can be reached with inquiries through the official Modificata Instagram: @_modificata_
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