The A33, 3.35pm on a Friday afternoon, somewhere just outside Basingstoke. Not normally a time and place that sticks in your mind but today is very different. It is at this moment that the traffic in front of me clears and I jam the Ferrari’s right pedal into the carpet and hold it there.
The revs rise to 8,000rpm and the small cabin is filled with the kind of engine note that belongs to a racing car not a road car. In front of me is the slightly oversized steering wheel belonging to one of the finest cars Maranello has ever produced. Or to put it another way one of the best cars the world has ever seen.
What makes this even more of an achievement is the fact that the Ferrari F355 was born out of the 348, a massive underachiever by Prancing Horse standards. It was deeply flawed and had been given a kicking by a new breed of supremely competent supercars like the Honda NSX.
If Ferrari was going to turn this car into a hero it needed nothing short of a miracle. Luckily this came in part in the form of the highest-revving supercar engine in production, a 40-valve, 3.5-litre version of the 348’s venerable V8.
The company had squeezed 109bhp per litre out of the unit (the McLaren F1’s mighty 6.1-litre V12 had 103bhp per litre) and it now revved to an ear drum-shattering 8,800rpm. Throw in a Formula 1-style undertray and a series of revisions to the 348’s suspension and Ferrari suddenly had a car that everyone wanted to drive.
But the engine and suspension are not the most astonishing aspects of the F355, and neither is the car’s gorgeous Pininfarina styling. It is fact that just 20 minutes before I had the car at full chat down the A33 I had never driven it before - and for a car like this to give you such confidence so quickly is an incredible achievement.
I had picked the F355 from the premises of new car club Driving Spirit (
), which specialises in offering a selection of iconic cars from the sixties to the present day. Company founder Steve Marshall tells me that this particular 20,000-mile P-plate took him a long time to find and is in excellent shape.
The car is smaller than I expected inside and although the pedals are offset slightly the driving position is very good. The six-speed manual has the classic Ferrari gate which looks daunting but takes only a few minutes to master. It has a satisfying click to each change that makes you wish all gearboxes looked and worked like this.
The car pulls away easily, the clutch is light by supercar standards, and the engine is tractable enough to make stop-start driving a doddle. I negotiate through heavy traffic, trying to ignore the small children pointing and smiling through the windows of MPVs, and head out onto the A33.
You could be forgiven at this point for thinking the F355 isn’t hardcore enough to be a supercar but this is the forerunner to the usable Ferrari we see today. By the time you reach a stretch of dual-carriageway you feel like you’ve been driving the car every day for the last five years, blipping the throttle as you change gear.
It is torquey low down but nail the loud pedal and prepare for one of the best driving experiences of your life. The F355 just revs and revs and revs, with a sound not unlike a Formula 1 car, and the speed piles on at a staggering rate. Suddenly everything is put into perspective - this is no ordinary car.
Other cars are great but when you flick through a series of bends you realise this is in a different stratosphere, it is almost uncomparable. There is so much feel, so much control, that you forget you are driving a car you borrowed off someone you’ve only just met.
There is perfect balance and even when the back end starts to let go it is no fuss to get things back on track before you throw the car into the next corner. You would expect a mid-engined Ferrari to be tricky at best but the F355 is forgiving. Body control is impeccable and it never feels unsettled mid-corner, meaning you want to push harder and harder.
It stays almost completely flat through bends but has a delicacy to the ride that you don’t expect. A few times I stopped to take pictures and found myself in a village or pub car park doing three-point turns but even this wasn’t too much of a problem.
The F355 has a split personality, but in a good way. One minute you are poodling around town and the next it is a (literally) jaw-dropping driving experience. You find yourself wide-eyed and tingling when you get to the next set of traffic lights - waiting for your next fix. Simply put every mile that you do is an event; I dare say even popping down the shops for some milk would bring a smile to your face. I don’t want to give it back to Steve but in the end I do, an hour later than I had arranged.
There won't be a PH Hero in two weeks as we will be at the British Motor Show. Normal service will resume the following week...