by Dan Carney
“Do you think,” inquired Amedeo Felisa, director of Ferrari’s GT street cars, “that it is too loud?”
Among the multitude of tweaks that turn a run-of-the-mill 360 Modena F1 into a 360 Challenge Stradale is a new exhaust system that is without a doubt the coolest new technology for car nuts: an automatic muffler by-pass. Drive hard, and the sound jets straight out open pipes. Drive gently, and it passes through the conventional muffler letting you creep out of the neighborhood, past the library, without notice. Who hasn’t imagined such a system? Thanks to Ferrari for continuing to fulfill adolescent fantasies, even if we are no longer adolescent.
Is it too loud? Considering that the resulting sound is the closest earthly approximation of the music produced by angels’ harps, no volume could be too loud. It is just right.
2003 Ferrari Challenge Stradale
The carbon fiber-wrapped interior looks fighter plane-serious, with bare door panels and minimal clutter. There is no stereo (at least not on the one I fantasize I will buy) and the array of buttons with unfamiliar labels lines the center console standing in for the steering wheel-mounted buttons on a Ferrari race car. The buttons start the engine and control the traction control system, switch the car’s suspension settings and engage reverse gear. All it needs is Michael Schumacher’s differential adjustment knob.
2003 Ferrari 360
The tab for removing all of the unneeded accessories to lighten the load? A $40,000 tariff over the 360 F1’s $160,000 price tag. Okay, it’s not quite the bad deal it sounds, because the price includes the smart muffler, which is by itself worth the price of admission. But it also includes carbon ceramic brakes like the ones on the unattainable Ferrari Enzo.
Hammering the Challenge Stradale around Ferrari’s Fiorano test track, the 380-mm [front, the rears suffer through with puny 350-mm rotors] dining charger-sized carbon composite material (CCM) brakes not only didn’t fade during my hard laps, they stayed reliable throughout the afternoon’s abuse at the hands of other journalists without the smoke, stink, and occasional open flames usually elicited by journalistic track testing. On the street the high friction coefficient can make the brake action a little grabby and abrupt, but they trim the braking distance by about ten feet, which can be plenty useful.
Street tires, like brakes, are typically grossly inadequate when driven hard on the race track, so special compliments to Pirelli for the P Zero Corsa tires (P225/35ZR-19 front, P285/35ZR-19 rear) supplied on the Challenge Stradale. Usually testing street cars on the track reveals mostly the limitations of the tires and brakes, and not much about the car itself. In this case, the Pirellis didn’t leave us wondering how the car would drive with race tires fitted, because they performed like race tires. Life expectancy is relatively short, but they’ll hold up longer than the tires on Schumacher’s Ferrari F2003-GA.
External clues to the nature of this particular Ferrari are limited to a slight bump on the tail and an extended splitter beneath the front bumper that contribute to the 50 percent improvement in downforce to stabilize the car at speed. The aforementioned Lexan windows aren’t on all of the cars, but it is easy to spot the bare carbon-fiber side-view mirrors in place of the body-color plastic mirrors on lesser 360s. If the owner really wants to advertise the exclusivity of his ride, then the red, white, and green Italian flag stripe down the middle of the car is available.
2003 Ferrari 360
A couple goodies we won’t get in the U.S. are the four-point seat belts and roll bar that are optional in other markets. Both would be a good idea for track days.
Topped off and tuned up
Engine output is up 25 horsepower, to a rated 425 horsepower, thanks to a polished intake manifold and the low restriction exhaust by-pass. Weight is trimmed by 25 pounds, courtesy of the deleted items and tricks like the use of titanium for the suspension springs. That oughta discourage the reflexive impulse of some sports car drivers to ditch the factory suspension.
The suspension can be set for “sport” or “race,” though we found the “race” setting preferable for any kind of sporty driving. In the sport setting the Ferrari suffered a surprising amount of understeer. Also, in the sport mode, the stability control system is more intrusive, making it harder to kick out the rear end to offset that understeer. Best of all for the track is to switch off the stability control with the suspension in race mode.
Switching to race mode also changes the program for the paddle-shift system, banging off gear changes in 150 milliseconds instead of a leisurely 500 ms when in sport mode. With the gas pedal planted and the muffler bypassed, the Challenge Stradale makes pure music as the revs climb between the split-second shifts of the paddle system. Reach the next corner and click down through the gears with revs computer-matched to road speed and it is like watching an in-car race video. Observers could be easily fooled into thinking the driver is actually as competent as the car makes him look and sound!
The column-mounted paddle shifter itself is the industry standard. Forget steering wheel-mounted buttons; when you are turning you can’t reach the buttons because the steering on street cars, unlike F1 cars, is not one turn from lock to lock. Ferrari wisely mounts its paddles on the column, and even extends the right-side upshift paddle specifically to make it easier to reach while unwinding the steering wheel exiting turns.
For take-off, the paddles aren’t needed if the driver engages the launch control system for F1-style standing starts. With the car set to race mode and the traction control switched off, the driver may engage an automatic launch control system that will modulate the clutch and bang off redline upshifts until the gearbox runs out of ratios. Again, the car makes the driver look like a hero.
What else matters for $200,000?
2003 Ferrari 360 Stradale
Base Price: $200,000
Engine: 3.6-liter V-8, 425 hp/275 lb-ft
Drivetrain: Six-speed paddle-shift manual transmission, rear-wheel drive
Wheelbase: 102.4 in.
Length x width x height: 172.3 x 75.7 x 47.2 in.
Weight: 2602 lb
Fuel economy (estimated): 10/16 mpg
Standard safety equipment: Anti-lock brakes, traction control, carbon-ceramic composite brakes, dual front airbags, and three-point seat belts.
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