Someone once told me the easiest way to turbocharge your car is to buy one with a turbo already fitted.
By this logic, the easiest way to build a track car would be to buy one that has already been raced. Brilliantly simple in hindsight, less so when you’ve spent many years doing the exact opposite.
Thankfully, the Speedhunters audience doesn’t adhere to this advice, which makes our job as storytellers infinitely easier. Because owning a car isn’t about jumping straight across the finish line; it’s about the build, the journey, and the terrible decisions along the way. So many terrible decisions…
Here’s a familiar story: You take a perfectly good car off the road to (try) and make it better. This quickly gets out of hand and suddenly you need a cheap daily in its absence. That daily turns out to be brilliant – because it actually works – and definitely deserves a few tweaks to make it even better. Fast-forward six months and that cheap runabout is now becoming a show/track/drift/drag car (delete where appropriate). Soon, another cheap daily is needed to replace the old one.
It’s taken me 15 years to realise there might actually be a better way around this. That and the fact only 20% of the cars I own actually work right now, which is some peak first world problems. So, for once – the first time, in fact – I’ve done the exact opposite of what makes Speedhunters great. I’ve gone and bought a car already finished by someone else.
As you can see it’s a red sports car with a prancing horse on the front, so we know it’s either a Ferrari or a cleverly disguised Toyota MR2. The headlights look like they belong on a ’90s Peugeot, so by default we can assume it’s a 360 Modena. But this one’s officially known as a Modena Challenge, and that makes it a little bit different. Mainly because it’s not driven by Oakley-clad accountants who think it’s fine to tuck a polo shirt into boot-cut jeans.
The 360 Modena Challenge isn’t a road car that’s been modified for the track; it’s not even a track car that’s been kicked through Demon Tweeks. It’s a dedicated race car, built from a bare shell at Maranello for the Ferrari Challenge race series back in 2000.
Less than 200 were produced and it was the first Challenge race car to be built on Ferrari’s production line. Older variants, like the 348 Competitzione in 1993 and 355 Challenge in 1995, started off as road cars before being converted later down the line. With the 360 Modena Challenge, there was no compromise. Its sole purpose was to go racing, and nothing else.
I paid £14.99 for the number plates from CT Autoparts in case you were wondering. But before we get to that, there’s a bit more geekery to cover which is also my way of trying to justify this car’s existence in the Speedhunters Garage.
The 360 Modena Challenge was only available in left-hand-drive and only with the F1 electro-hydraulic gearbox. It was pretty sparse; gone were all interior comforts (including air-con, carpets and leather) in favour of a carbon fibre bucket seat, 6-point FIA roll cage and fire suppression system. That did mean quite a spicy weight saving – 1,170kg (with all fluids) versus 1,493kg for the standard car.
According to Google, that’s about the weight of half an adult cow, which weirdly doesn’t sound that much. But it’s also roughly the same as seven porcelain toilets, which somehow seems like a lot more. Anyway…
What about the Challenge Stradale? This came after the Modena Challenge race car, and while it was lightweight and track-focused, it was still very much a capable road car. If you can imagine a spectrum of car comfort, the stock Ferrari 360 sits happily at the ‘pretty comfy’ end along with feathers, shag pile carpets and head massages.
In the middle lies the 360 Challenge Stradale – a bit harsher, a bit more noisy, but still perfectly useable on road and track. Then, right at the opposite end, lurks the 360 Modena Challenge complete with its own monthly chiropractor subscription.
Power for the race car remained the same as the road one (400bhp at 8,500rpm), but to give you an idea on performance difference, take a look at the Fiorano lap times – otherwise known as Ferrari’s test track.
The stock 360 Modena puts in a 1:33.00 while the Challenge Stradale brings that down to 1:28.00. As for the Modena Challenge, that’s six seconds faster with a 1:22.00. Which is 1.5-seconds faster than a newer 458 Speciale with almost 200bhp more.
This is all a bit fake news though, isn’t it? You can’t go and compare a dedicated race car with something that can actually be used on the road. But what if that race car wore £14.99 number plates from CT Autoparts?
That’s where Project 360 enters the picture. It’s one of just a few Modena Challenge race cars which have somehow ended up road legal, and the last thing anyone should be spending money on during a global pandemic.
Having visited Japan many times and eaten a wide variety of local foods, I feel it’s important to point out that not everything the Japanese think is a good idea actually is. Like chicken sashimi. But in the instance of this car – and specifically the last owner who managed to register it for the road – they were definitely onto something.
I’ve owned this 360 Modena Challenge for roughly six months now, and while I can comfortably say it’s the most ridiculous car I own, I can’t take any credit for its build other than arranging the finance. It’s bought, not built. Ferrari did the bulk of the hard work in Maranello followed by K&M Speed in Japan a few years later. More on them in a minute.
I’m a firm believer in the built versus bought argument being total nonsense. I don’t think anyone can be considered more or less of a car fan based on their mechanical ability. I could probably fit a set of brakes, but I’d make a mess of it. And when I’m upside down in a hedge waiting for recovery, putting ‘built not bought’ on the report isn’t going to help with my insurance claim.
On the flipside, I have total respect for anyone who does put in the time and effort to build their own cars, regardless of skill. It’s a mentality I admire, because I struggle to find the patience to see even basic DIY mods through to the end, let alone anything major.
There are plenty of reasons for choosing one route over another. But as long as you’re not taking credit for someone else’s work, can we all agree to appreciate builds for their very existence and not cut ‘em down for how they came together? If we need to hate on anything, let’s focus on those who upload black and white teaser photos of repainted cars.
If you aren’t already familiar with Harlow Jap Autos in the UK, I urge you to ignore their Instagram at all costs – unless you’re a board member of a pharmaceutical company manufacturing a COVID vaccine. Harlow’s stock is some of the best in the world, and ever since buying a Skyline from them a few years back, I’ve been mildly obsessed with what Ozz and the team are bringing over from Japan. Like the Cockpit Wako R33 GT-R here, or the Veilside R34 GT-R they’re currently in the process of rebuilding.
I’m convinced they’ve installed spyware on my phone though, because within a week of sending images of track-spec 360 Ferraris to Ben and Ryan, this Modena Challenge magically appeared in stock. It was red, had a roll cage and Japanese number plates. I couldn’t think of a single reason why it’d be a good idea, which in turn made it a no-brainer. How bad could it be?
On the road, it’s a bit like sticking Usain Bolt in a pair of Crocs and making him run the 100m sprint. He’ll do it – and be ferociously fast in the process – but by the finish line he won’t be entirely happy.
Because, unsurprisingly, race cars aren’t particularly good as road cars. That doesn’t mean they’re not entertaining, but if your brain isn’t wired in to the Speedhunters way of living it’ll get quite annoying quite quickly.
None of these issues will faze anyone who’s ever made their road car into a track car and got a bit carried away; there’s a weird sense of pride associated with driving something that has no place being on the road. I thought getting older might change that, but if anything, it seems to be getting worse.
The 360 is far too low, far too stiff, and far too noisy for sane motorists. But the same could be said for my first 1.4-litre EJ9 Civic I bought 15 years ago. The only difference now is I look like someone who’s gone through an aggressive divorce.
Actually, there is one real annoyance – the steering lock. Or rather, lack of. Having half a turn each side does require a bit of re-evaluating your drive. Parallel parking? Forget about it; you’ll look like this Austin Powers clip. T-junctions are the real bugger though. If you don’t stay far enough to the left or cut the junction early, you’ll end up on course for the grass verge. Not ideal on the A43 to Northamptonshire.
But you know what? If it wasn’t noisy, uncomfortable and a bit ridiculous, I’d have been disappointed. For years I’ve obsessed over building track-spec road cars, and while you usually end up with something pretty good, you always wonder what it’d be like to have a dedicated track car instead.
Admittedly, I might have jumped straight in the deep end with an old Ferrari rather than something more sensible like a Clio Cup, but my brain tends to get confused at the idea of doing things by half measures.
And if we’re being brutally honest, it’s only a Ferrari 360. This isn’t some air-shifted LMP1 prototype with number plates; it’s a heavily focused Modena with an exhaust so loud it made one neighbour issue a death threat on Facebook. We’ll save that for the next update, but before we wrap it up, I need to tell you about K&M Speed’s involvement while in Japan.
Modena Challenge race cars weren’t exactly common – especially in Japan – and this particular car had some properly weird additions, which you can see in some of the pics (red steering wheel, red rear-view mirror, and M Tecnologia side skirts). I fired up Google Translate and eventually found it on a website.
Err, this website.
Back in 2009, Dino covered the annual Tsukuba Super Lap Time, which you can still see here. One of the oddballs from that event was a Ferrari 360 Modena Challenge built by K&M Speed and Swift Springs. Even with its fairly moderate power output, the car – this car in fact – lapped Tsukuba in a healthy 59.3-seconds, which was good enough for it to win the N/A Open Class.
Through the wonders of social media, I ended up speaking with Kasuya-san from K&M Speed who helped build the car for its previous owner, Toshiaki-san. If someone contacted me about a car I’d previously owned I’d likely go into hiding, but Toshiaki-san couldn’t have been more friendly, sharing a whole load of images and articles which you can see above.
When I asked him why he sold it, I received back a picture of a Ferrari F40 sitting on centre-lock BBS wheels. “With Kasuya-san from K&M Speed, we have made it 600PS with GCG turbos, MoTeC engine management, Öhlins dampers and much more,” Toshiaki-san replied. Seems a fair replacement.
Nerd-out complete, what’s the actual plan for it?
Obviously, there’s going to be a three-part unveiling on YouTube. Maybe some videos of it being revved or attempting a McDonalds drive-thru – real hard-hitting stuff. Although on second thoughts, this is Speedhunters; we should all be trying to preserve car culture and not kill it off.
In reality, it’s racked up around 1,500-miles so far with the bulk coming from an ‘impromptu’ track session at Anglesey earlier in the year. It’s a 500-mile round trip for me, and handily coincided with a photoshoot being done for Top Gear magazine back in September. Who’d have thought taking a race car to a shoot – on a track – would end up with a few laps at the end?
I’ve already swapped the stock wheels for a set of BBS RE700/701s (similar to the NGT design but still 5-stud) along with fitting a new steering wheel and quick release on account of me being western and fat.
For the past few weeks, it’s been over at ICS Motorsport in Henley-Upon-Thames having a complete health check to get it fighting fit once again. ICS are doing the belts, plugs, all fluids, and replacing the huge number of ball joints and linkages within the suspension which have all perished over time (sped up by frequent road use).
Once that’s all complete, I’ll be swapping the aero over to something a little less wacky involving Challenge Stradale side skirts and an NGT front bumper (non-wide version). I don’t dislike the way it looks currently, but it looks a bit out of balance with the front splitter sitting higher than the side skirts. Important racy stuff.
After that, it’s a case of taking it on as many track days as our COVID-shaped 2021 will allow. My skill is a world apart from the car’s ability, but it’s not going to stop me having a massive amount of fun in the process. That is until Ryan overtakes me in his E30.
It’s not all going to be Ferrari-branded clothing and lap times though; I’m still a Speedhunter nerd at heart, and the best way I can demonstrate that is with a new set of wheels – arguably the best wheel design in the world. I’ll leave you with the teaser above and next time we’ll see how they look fitted.