Every circuit has its battles over noise limits, but just how loud do you have to be to get thrown off the Nordschleife? 137db will do it, this enough to have F355 Modificata creator Jeff Segal sent packing after just his second ever lap of the place. Any regrets?
“I was told it was a record, but a Lamborghini owner got done for the same and he kept the print-out to share online. So he kind of took the credit,” he shrugs.
Not many then, rules back home in Florida meaning he can get away with a street car running unsilenced race exhausts and Michelins with ‘for competition purpose only’ stamped on the sidewalls explaining a lot. How he’s managed to get away with an extended European road trip in this configuration remains a mystery, though a Montana licence plate and cheeky grin seemingly go a long way. All the same, reaction from residents at the ‘ring (and our Surrey photo location) suggest he may want to consider quitting while he’s ahead and shipping it back to Miami before anyone asks too many questions.
Reasonable though it is, the assumption that this Modificata is little more than a roadgoing F355 Challenge is actually a little way off the mark, though. The fact Jeff has spent the last few weeks criss-crossing the continent with it proof it’s more liveable than you might imagine.
The idea behind this car, like that informing the Sharkwerks 964 and others like it, is to tap into the growing appreciation of the 90s and early noughties as a high-point for fast cars of all types. But also acceptance that a little respectful tweak here and there can work wonders for driveability. Speculators, mileage obsessives and originality fetishists best leave the room now. Those more interested in how a car goes and the feelings it inspires can stay behind.
Crucially, Jeff had no intentions of making his F355 quicker on a lap or more drilled down to the road for a ‘because racecar’ vibe. The lovely five-spoke magnesium Speedlines are a visual nod to the Challenge one-make racers from which he has taken many of the mechanical upgrades. But the dampers are stock, the ride height is actually a tad higher and he chose racing wets for the fact they get a bit squirmy on dry tarmac and let the car move around.
You might consider this a 90s take on the Speciales and Pistas of more recent times, and certainly there’s a sense of that with the F40-spec felt trim, red-cloth on the carbon-backed seats (an option when new) and the harnesses they carry. But where more recent Ferraris cater to driving god delusions with electronic fluffery like Side Slip Control there are no driving modes or assistance functions on this car. What you get out is as good as what you put in.
Now, while the F355 is undeniably beautiful it has – to put it tactfully – some known issues. Jeff knows Ferraris and is well aware of the pitfalls. But he also races them, and understands how to make them stay the course. Like many, his had low miles but plenty of former keepers when he bought it, this pattern of ownership and maintenance the root of many of the common issues.
Tearing down the engine, replacing known weak bits with new and/or upgraded items and using a race team’s approach to replacing components according to ‘life’ is the secret, or so he reckons. The return on this investment meaning, if you’re replacing stuff to schedule rather than mileage, you may as well get your money’s worth and use the damned thing.
So upgrades are minimal and sympathetic. There’s the faster rack and new power steering pump from the Challenge car, springs geo perfected by Jeff’s obsessive tinkering, a funky looking GruppeM carbon induction kit and a snappier racing clutch, this also F355 Challenge spec. The ceramic coated, nest of vipers exhaust system and quad megaphone tips are a nod to classic Ferrari racers of old, the deletion of any silencing and cats explaining the noise that erupts from them. From nose to tail it’s been executed with the quality, eye for detail and respect for the car’s heritage to count as a ‘reimagination’ of sorts, albeit with a rawness not found in Singer’s heavily stylised Porsche restorations.
And it goes better than you could ever have hoped. The racing clutch and lack of inertia in the engine mean snappiness akin to a pre-991 era GT3 RS and a similar need to be absolutely on your game when it comes to working the gearbox. But with that ball-topped shifter slicing through an open gate and the unsilenced howl from behind your shoulder that’s hardly a criticism, likewise a reaction to the throttle so sharp that tensing your Achilles’ is enough to send the revs soaring. Whatever it’s got over the 380hp and 268lb ft of the stock F355 won’t make upthe shortfall to something like a 488 Pista, which near-as-makes-no-difference doubles those figures. But if ever there were an argument for quality over quantity of horsepower this it, the hair trigger response and savage bark enough to have your pulse racing from tickover to redline.
Of course, the joke remains everything beyond the engine on a Ferrari is an afterthought. These are the areas in which Jeff’s upgrades start making sense. If there were any rattles or squeaks you wouldn’t be able to hear them anyway but that’s not the point. The car just feels taut, without any of the slop or bagginess you’ll find in 20-year-old regular ones, however many miles they’ve covered. And for all the macho noise and drama the controls remain light and easy to use while the car feels alert without being pointy or scary.
The faster rack helps restore some faith in the front end but it’s the smaller F40 wheel and spacing to bring it closer to your chest that really help. Everything feels up to the task too, even the relatively small (but discreetly upgraded) brakes offering staying power while the whole car feels like it could take a proper thrashing without getting all Italian about it.
By keeping the suspension supple Jeff has maintained the road car’s sense of approachability, the sharper responses telegraphing weight shifts more clearly and accentuating the F355’s natural balance. It’s not as hyperactive as a modern Ferrari, for sure. But it’s easier to get your flow on, the beautifully linear throttle response, the rising howl of the engine note, the knowledge it’ll keep pulling beyond 8,000rpm and anticipation of the next upshift all setting neck hairs to attention. Drive this car properly and the rewards are easy to appreciate, the delicate blips required to smoothly navigate your way up and down the box adding an inspiring soundtrack to a driving experience already brimming with intensity. It’s the kind of car where acceleration figures and other stat-based bragging rights just seem totally irrelevant. Gorgeous to look at, demanding to drive in all the right ways and yet simultaneously approachable and fun – it’s everything you’d want in a Ferrari. With a sense of race-ready toughness you don’t get in the original.
Modern supercars are faster and ‘easier’ to drive, most certainly. But when the quality of feedback is so pure you don’t fear the absence of electronic safety nets or feel a need for face-saving assistance. The flow of inputs from eyes, ears and seat of the pants all inform your outputs through wheel and pedals, the car’s responses so natural and uncorrupted it feels totally seamless. On a good day you might get a sense of this from a nicely presented standard F355. But it feels like this is the Modificata’s default mode, and a mood it can sustain for as far as you’re willing to go.
Some might question the need to answer a dilemma Ferrari never felt was posed with the F355 and tell you a road-going Challenge car is a vulgarity the world doesn’t need. They may say ideas of hot-rodding and resto-mod upgrades have no place in the Ferrari world. Don’t worry. Over the noise this thing makes they won’t be able to make themselves heard.
SPECIFICATION - FERRARI F355 (STANDARD CAR)
Engine: 3,496cc V8
Transmission: 6-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 380@8,250rpm
Torque (lb ft): 268@6,000rpm
0-62mph: 4.7 seconds
Top speed: 183mph
Weight: 1,350kg (dry)
MPG: You won't care
CO2: Not sure, but it does good flames
On sale: 1994-1999
Price new: £78,000
Price now: £100,000 (plus conversion work)
Nurburging photos courtesy of RaceTracker