At the helm

by Dave Helms


Internet technical discussion forums


I spent some of my early morning hours reading a number of the Ferrari technical discussion pages on the web.  I was shocked at some of the advice that was offered, and wondered how long some of the cars would last if the advice was actually followed!


As with anything mechanical, there are any number of ways to fix something, so any number of opinions can be correct, BUT…..


This one really caught me by surprise. In a discussion about the “whine” that the 308-355’s make just after cold start up.  (We have all heard it, but few truly understand it.)  The general consensus of this web page had the problem centering around the water pump/alternator belt, and the fix was to tighten that “skinny little undersized belt” until you get a “high C” when it is plucked like a guitar string, then hold the revs at 3000 rpm for the first 15 seconds on cold start.  WOW, what a great idea!!!


Fact One:  The noise is a result of cold oil flowing through small passages on its way to the critical engine parts.  On the 308-328’s, it is from the oil making a 90 degree turn from the oil line into the oil cooler tubes. On the 355’s the oil is making some pretty intense turns to get past the oil thermostat to return to the oil tank.  Some cars make this noise, and some don’t.  It has been found that some of the oil coolers have the tubes standing slightly proud in the header tank of the coolers and the cold oil does a little hunting to find its way from the cooler tank down through the cooler tubes. The result of this is the oil cavities a bit when it is cold and thick, thus resulting in the noise.  In reality, this is a good indicator as to when the oil is flowing properly and thin enough to consider driving. Often the noise can be lessened, or eliminated all together, by changing to a thinner oil (5w-40 vs. 15w-50), but we have ever changing ambient temperatures to deal with. A cool morning temp of 30 degrees will often lead to an afternoon temp of 90! On some cars, the thinner oil will end up showing a very low hot idle reading when the day time temps climb, causing some concern to the driver that watches the gauges. 


Ferrari for the most part use aluminum alloy engine blocks and heads, and they go through a great deal of thermo expansion between hot and cold. A great amount of engineering went into designing the engine where all of the tolerances are correct when the engine is hot.  Bottom line, have it checked out to be sure, then let it warm up so you are not trying to force molasses through a straw. 


Fact Two:  That “skinny little belt”(308-328) usually makes a snapping noise when it slips a little on cold start, not the normal belt squeal we all have experienced on our domestic car.  If it is tensioned to the “high C”, as advised on the page I read, expect the water pump bearings to last less than a year. As with most everything that Ferrari does, there is a good reason why it was done!  That “skinny” was used because it is so flexible and can deal with very high engine RPM’s that Ferrari’s see. 


SO..Be careful about believing all you read, as there is a fair amount of poor advice on the web.


Remember that Ferrari didn’t get the reputation they have by just building beautiful bodies!


-- dave helms --