This 1998 Ferrari F355 Spider could be one tall tale
The supercar market has never been too welcoming to those who peruse the racks at a Big and Tall store. The Ferrari F355 is no exception. The mid-engined sports car fits the tailored-suit feel of a traditional sports car, but this particular 1998 F355 Spider has been re-worked to fit a supersize man, one Superman in particular—Shaquille O’Neal. That might be the least interesting part of its history though.
The F355 is decidedly Pininfarina, and is one of the last Ferraris of the oh-so-recognizable styling that adorned the Maranello brands lineup from the 1980s to the late-’90s. The F355 lives in a weird spot, as it’s less iconic but more powerful than the ’80s cars, but its 375-horsepower 3.5-liter V-8 can’t hold a candle to the swoopy 360 and 430 models which superseded it and require less mechanical attention. That spot in the hierarchy has kept F355 prices low, despite the fact it is one of the later Ferraris that can be had with a six-speed manual transmission.
The one we are looking at today is not that sought-after manual though. Instead, it is the F1 paddle-shifted automatic that is derived from–where else–Ferrari’s racing efforts in Formula 1. The lineage is not what gets top billing here. No, the highlight here is about previous ownership and how those owners fit–literally.
Just a few years into the life of this F355 it was acquired by NBA big man Shaquille O’Neal. He was in the height of his career with the Los Angeles Lakers and we can only guess he was in the hunt for a car that would match his on-court flair. This F355 was just the thing, but there was of course that little problem of it being, well, little.
So before Shaq took delivery, he had the car sent to West Coast Customs, a shop best known for wildly customizing cars for the MTV show Pimp My Ride. There, the F355 got a few modifications that allowed Shaq to drive the car. The driver seat was pushed back so far that the factory-fit gas tank was pulled and a fuel cell fitted into the front trunk. The aftermarket seats were upholstered to match the factory interior and also have four-point harnesses to replace the factory three-point belts. Of course, the car also packs a stereo that was said to cost $15,000 when installed.
The most irreversible change was the unceremonious beheading of the Spider, turning it into a proper barchetta. That change seems outright wrong, but the comments of the Bring a Trailer auction bring to light why this car might have received the surgery so early in its life. One commenter claims to be the original owner of the car, and very shortly after the purchase in June of 1998 slid off a Colorado mountainside in a rainstorm. Claimed to be a total loss, the car would be a perfect candidate for the modifications done, as the value was forever going to be tainted due to the accident.
“The interesting thing here is if the car is worth more as a previously damaged Ferrari or a celebrity-owned and customized piece,” says auction editor Andrew Newton. “The resulting price put it more in the 1st camp to me, but we really can’t say what the buyer had in mind with the final bid of $65,500. Typically, celebrity ownership can boost a sale price if the celebrity is known to be a car enthusiast. In this case, it wasn’t the strongest connection, but one worth mentioning.”
The previous owner’s comments and resulting conversation seemed to really put a damper on an auction that appeared to have a growing interest. A typical #3-condition F355 Spider falls at $60,000, so this falls right in line with the market if the celebrity factor is not taken into effect. Is it a deal? That only matters to the buyer, and only they can say. They also get to add to the story of this car, and possibly clarify some of the past—like the previous run-in with the law when the car was seized as part of a DEA bust in Detroit. At this point, I think the only way to get a 100% straight story of this car’s history is to figure out the technology to teach cars to talk. Short of that, any future owners will likely have to put in some decent research hours to piece together the real story. Regardless of the reasoning behind the purchase, this Ferrari seems to be the ultimate tall tale at the moment. Pun intended.