15 June 2015

Prancing Nags: Ferrari’s Finest Flops.

Regardless of who you might be talking to or their level of interest in motoring, there isn’t a human being on Earth who has never heard of Ferrari. The Modena-based company has become the stuff of legend: the manufacturer of sportscars and supercars who gets everything right every single time.

Except that they don’t. There are scores of sensual, sporting, swift stallions out there, but Ferrari has also been responsible for a few nags. Here then are the top three Unexceptional Ferraris.

348

The Ferrari 348 could have been so right. Scaled-down Testarossa styling, a 3.4 litre quad cam V8 and the right mid-engined layout, it was the car the market wanted. Except that even Ferrari boss Luca di Montezemolo hated it when he took over in 1991. “With the exception of its good looks, I was utterly disappointed. This was clearly the worst product Ferrari had developed for some time.”

Owners have their grievances with it too; a recalcitrant second gear synchromesh, leaking seals and engine failures are just some of the issues which can be found if you trawl the enthusiasts’ and owners’ forums on the internet. They’re not much cop to drive either by all accounts – many will have minor niggles through misuse and the front end of the early cars had a habit of going light at speed. Later cars, badged GTB and GTS instead of tb and ts, are notably better, with many of the faults of the early cars ironed out and the chassis settings tweaked to provide sharper responses. But the final reason that the 348 is decidedly unexceptional is the image. When you drive a 348, what the world will assume is that you’re too poor for the 355 you really wanted.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. For less than £30000 you could be driving your very own Ferrari – in red, with cream leather, and in reasonable condition. That’s a lot less than you’d need to spend to make a really convincing replica, and this one has a pukka prancing horse under the bonnet. Look hard and find a GTB, and what you’ll essentially have is a 355 without the styling tweaks. It might be the least loved mid-engined two seat Ferrari, but it’s still a mid-engined 2 seat Ferrari.

Now, where’s that nice B road…

Mondial

The Mondial started out as a really good idea. The Ferrari 308 was the perfect small supercar – a replacement for the 308 GT4 “Dino”, armed with a 3.0 V8 engine mounted in the middle, and clothed by Pininfarina in a suit so sharp it stole the show in Magnum PI. And the Mondial was Ferrari’s attempt to cash in by developing a version with 2 small rear seats, for the supercar fancier with a young family to accommodate. Great idea. But the biggest issues with the Mondial are that those early cars with black trim and tiny 15” wheels looked desperately out of proportion, and the extra weight blunted any performance aspirations it once had. The later QV restored some of this performance, but it was still a little underwhelming to drive. 1985 saw the engine grow to 3.2 litres and 1989 heralded the arrival of a whole new chassis. By mounting the engine longitudinally as opposed to the transverse layout of old, and yet retaining a transverse gearbox, the centre of gravity could be lowered and the chassis dynamics transformed. The larger wheels and colour coding sorted the looks out too – by the 90s the Mondial t was the car it always should have been.

The Mondial holds a place in automotive history which has never been challenged, too – or rather, the convertible does. No other manufacturer at the time of writing had ever developed a four seat mid engined convertible. And this isn’t the Mondial’s only legacy. The Mondial t was the first Ferrari to feature a longitudinal V8 coupled to a transverse gearbox – and it was this chassis which underpinned the 348, the F355, the 360 Modena and the F430. The Mondial therefore established the blueprint of the modern Ferrari supercar.

And these late Mondial ts are underrated – and because of that, they’re cheap. With early Mondials around the £20-25000 mark and nice ts around £10000 more, it’s one of the cheapest ways into a classic Ferrari. The extra space makes it easier to live with, too. Now the stigma of ownership has gone, it makes a surprisingly tempting classic purchase.

400i

The 400 was an old school Ferrari. Launched as the 365 GT4 in 1968, it became the 400GT and later 400i before a final restyle and engine enlargement spawned the 412 of 1985. But the most heinous was the 400i; gone were the six Webers of old, replaced by a Bosch injection system which robbed the engine of almost one tenth of its power output. With classic styling by Pininfarina and a lusty 4.8 litre V12 powerplant it had the right ingredients. So why are values in the doldrums and why is it here in a list of unexceptional prancing nags? Simple. An automatic two door saloon aimed at XJ-S buyers was an insult to what is perceived to be a supercar name. The 1814kg kerbweight – more than a Jaguar XJ40 – made it feel lethargic for its power output and made it more of a straight line barge than a B road blaster. The automatic took a leisurely 7.7 seconds to hit 60mph, while the manual was barely better at 6.9.

Things began to look up again in 1985. A 200cc increase in engine size brought power up to the 340bhp of the older, carb-fed 400GT, and a few styling tweaks improved its showroom appeal. But its discontinuation in 1989 left Ferrari without a front-engined GT until the 456 of 1992.

Those qualities which made it an unappealing Ferrari, however, arguably make it the most usable of our unexceptional trio. It’s a genuine four seater, with a big boot and plenty of all round visibility. And if you can afford Ferrari servicing bills, 14mpg isn’t exactly out of reach.

Sometimes treading the derided path is the most fun. These three unloved Italians represent the most affordable route into classic Ferrari ownership. And who hasn’t ever secretly fancied a Ferrari? Who cares what anyone else thinks – buy one and enjoy every second.

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