EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - The all-new Ferrari 360 Modena for 2000 achieves several goals that seem to be mutually exclusive.
Compared with the model it replaces, the 355, which was also a rear-engine two-seater, the 360 Modena is lighter and faster - yet also bigger, safer and easier to drive.
In a word, aluminum is the key ingredient that makes it possible to combine all those attributes.
'Weight reduction is not achieved by working on single components. It had to come from a complete rethinking of how we design cars,' said Ferrari engineer Franco Cimatti, who led technical development of the 360 Modena. Cimatti spoke in a videotaped interview at a press introduction here.
The 360 Modena is the first Ferrari with an all-aluminum chassis, body, gearbox, engine and suspension. Before, Ferrari confined its use of aluminum to the 'skin' of its body shells.
Pininfarina Group collaborated with Ferrari in designing the 360 Modena. The Pininfarina family has designed 163 Ferraris since the 1950s, including racing models and custom jobs for individual buyers.
Luca Cordero Di Montezemolo, chairman of Ferrari S.p.A., said that when he explained the 360 Modena concept, the designers, and even his own people, looked at him as if he must be joking or dreaming.
'In our first meeting with Pininfarina, I said I wanted a car that was bigger inside, with better performance, and - oh, yes - it must be lighter. They looked at me as if I was a dream man, and said, `Oh, sure. Isn't there anything else you would like?'' he said.
Yet the team met its goals, thanks to the extensive use of aluminum, a more powerful engine and a slick, aerodynamic underside.
Compared with the 355, the weight of the body is down 28 percent, to only 594 pounds. The whole car is down 133 pounds, to a curb weight of 3,064 pounds.
Pushing that lighter weight around is the most powerful, normally aspirated V-8 Ferrari has ever built, with more low-end torque than the 355.
Maximum power for the 3.6-liter unit is 400 hp at 8,500 rpm, vs. 375 hp at 8,250 rpm for the 3.5-liter V-8 in the 355.
Maximum torque is 275 pounds-feet at 4,750 rpm, vs. 268 pounds-feet at 6,000 rpm for the 355.
A Ferrari record of 5,400 hours in the wind tunnel produced an aerodynamic underside, which creates a downward force at the rear end. Pininfarina Chairman Sergio Pininfarina said that the downward force is 396 pounds at 180 mph, vs. 88 pounds for the 355.
Meanwhile, the 360 Modena offers an improved version of Ferrari's optional Formula One racing-style transmission, which was available on the 355. The system makes gear changes in only 150 milliseconds, much faster than a human.
Pulling the right-hand 'paddle' mounted behind the steering wheel changes gears up; the left-hand one changes down. There is a button on the dash for 'Normal' or 'Sport' mode.
There is no clutch, and no need to shift into neutral first, before starting off. You simply step on the brake pedal and start up in any gear.
A six-speed manual transmission is standard.
The car has a form of active suspension that automatically adjusts dampers to reduce body movement.
The total package makes it around the Ferrari's race track in Modena, Italy, in 1 minute, 30 seconds - 3 seconds faster than the 355.
Montezemolo said when he heard that lap time, he judged the 360 Modena was a success. 'Three seconds better than the 355 is a great thing, especially at Fiorano, which is a track that requires the brakes and acceleration, without a long straight. To go fast at Fiorano, you need better acceleration, better handling, better braking,' he said.
'To win races today, you have to be quick in the corners, not just quick in the straight,' he said.
'It is easy to be quick in the straight.'