Ferraris winning formula. Its mid-engined V8s formed the basis of the firm’s current success, and now make great classic buys. Ross Alkureishi chooses his favourite, photo by Tony Baker. He was a canny man, Enzo. The Maranello-based company that bore his surname sold its first road car – a 166 – into private hands in 1947, ostensibly to fund racing activities. It soon became clear that one facet complemented the other, and over the next few decades they would enter into a symbiotic relationship. Success on the track lent excitement, kudos and soulful substance to the roadgoing sports cars that it sold to the great and the good, while in return those beautiful people bestowed the products with an extra touch of glamour.
The 308 comes alive the faster you go, particularly in terms of the steering. Below, l-r: familiar vents and pop-up lamps; all-alloy V8 sounds great on carbs
This created the perfect storm to propagate the Prancing Horse legend. Throughout the 1950s and ’60s – from Berlinetta to California and Spider – the company strictly adhered to the conservative principle of a large V12 engine up front. Even as his main competitors – such as Lamborghini, with its innovative Miura – started embracing radical new design concepts, 11 Commendatore insisted on following tradition.
THE BLEND OF WEDGE AND CURVES STILL HASTHE ABILITY TO BEGUILE
For canny, include stubborn. Yet even if it wasn’t allowed to wear a Ferrari badge, he gave the green light to the V6 Dino project. That it had a role in homologating the engine for Formula 2 racing no doubt softened his resistance to change, but here was a product of Maranello in all but name; and how it sold, shifting in amounts that no previous model had come close to. Suddenly, 12 was not necessarily the magic number, with engine placement also up for negotiation. The idea of the ‘junior’ Ferrari had been born.
Fast-forward to the modern day and, as the prices of all 1940s, ’50s and ’60s models – including the 246 – head into the stratosphere, it’s to the subsequent decades that real-world newcomers to the marque’s classic offerings must turn. And that’s where its majestic, yet still relatively affordable, V8s lie.
The new Dino 308GT4 notched up several firsts – Ferrari’s maiden V8 engine, and mid-engined four-seater – and delivered fizzing performance, but it proved to be a false start in replacing the much-loved Dino 246. The modern wedge bodywork by Bertone was too much for traditionalists, who had been brought up on a diet of curvaceous sensuality.
When Pininfarina’s two-seater 308 Berlinetta – penned by Leonardo Fioravanti – made its debut at the 1975 Paris Motor Show, its svelte glassfibre lines only accentuated the ungainliness of its sibling. The tubular chassis had been chopped by Sin but the car itself was longer, and this time there were no concessions to practicality, allowing Fioravanti to focus purely on style.
The GTB shared the GT4’s quad-cam 3-litre V8, which was still mounted transversely amidships and kicked out 255bhp at 7700rpm. The independent suspension had double wishbones, coil springs and an anti-roll bar front and rear, while drive was delivered through a five-speed gearbox and limited-slip differential. The fact that both cars shared almost identical technical set-ups, and performance, proved that the motoring public – and Ferrari fans in particular simply adore a pretty face.
Today, those results still have the ability to beguile. This steel-bodied GTS — just 712 glass-fibre examples were made before production shifted – looks like the love child of wedge and curve, with just enough of each to satisfy both tradition and modernity. The muscular wheelarches combine with elegant air intakes to lend it a graceful profile, while the rear is a lesson in design simplicity. To my eye it’s the most aesthetically pleasing of our quartet.
The cabin boasts an attractive combination of switches and chromed sliders, while the position of the thick Momo steering wheel and the leather bucket seat’s ergonomics force you to adopt a straight-arms/bent-legs driving position. Prime the carburettors with several pumps of the pedal and the V8 fires first time. The springloaded gearlever slots into first with a satisfying clack but you have to wait for it to come up to operating temperature before you can easily select second.
Even at low speeds the four Weber carburettors just behind your head provide a mellifluous noise. Nail the throttle and there’s a momentary delay as they come on song, before the note hardens as the quad tailpipes enter the fray. This soul-stirring combination of sounds is everything you want from a Ferrari, and you find yourself shifting the cogs as often as possible just to hear the engine’s multitude of machinations.
The brakes are more than up to the job and the steering gets more communicative the faster you go, with the low-speed harshness of the ride smoothing out. Through fast comers, the 308 has a tendency to understeer but it’s easily dialled out with a touch of throttle.
Later models embraced technology that, to the minds of many, had the effect of diluting the purity of the driving experience. The 308 gained fuel injection in 1981 and subconsciously I’ve already made up my mind that I’m going to enjoy its similarly endowed successor less. There was a collective sigh of relief at the 328’s 1985 Frankfurt Motor Show unveiling: Fioravanti’s much-loved lines were relatively unchanged.
By then its junior Ferrari was the company’s biggest seller, so it would have been foolhardy to give it too radical an overhaul.
In the metal, it looks like a general smoothing off of the 308’s sharper lines has taken place, with most of the exterior changes to be found below the belt-line. Larger colour-coded bumpers give the front greater bulk and result in a less pointy nose, while the new grille design differentiates it still further. It seems longer and lower, yet the 328 is actually half an inch taller.
The updated interior is less pleasing. A thicker-rimmed steering wheel and longer gearlever are welcome additions but many of the 308’s controls have been replaced with parts-bin components. It’s a little uninspiring in comparison. The seats arc more comfortable thanks to thicker padding, but still lack a bit of lateral support, and the pedals seem more cramped.
Out on the road, however, it’s a beast. The V8’s capacity was increased to 3185cc, and the compression ratio rose from 8.6 to 9.2:1. Power was up to 267bhp and torque to 224lb ft. Its delivery is instant yet deceptive – there’s no sudden kick, just a steady forward propulsion that takes you from 0-60mph in less than 6 secs. It’s so strong in the mid-range and at die lop end that its exhaust note is, if anything, louder and more strident than the 308’s.
The greatest improvement is in its handling. Uprated Koni dampers help, but it’s the bigger 16in wheels with lower-profile Goodyear NCT tyres — 205/55VR on the front, 225/50VR at the rear – that have the largest effect. The increased traction inspires confidence and enables you to attack corners significantly faster than you would do in its predecessor. There’s improved long-term reliability, too, thanks to Marelli electronic ignition and better fuel economy. Even though we’re talking supercars, what’s not to like? And that’s before we get to values.
Talking of money, the unloved 348 now finds itself among the ‘entry-level’ Ferraris. If you trawl the marque’s internet forums you’ll find a lot of anti-348 feeling, but is it justified or is it simply a case of picking on the ‘different’ kid?
Just as the 308 and 328 shrank the Berlinetta Boxer’s lines to 246-like dimensions, Marancllo repeated the trick with a shape that brings to mind a mini Testarossa. The resulting form is squat, pugnacious and certainly less graceful, yet it has an attractive forward-thrusting stance. Black plastic slats on its tail are very much inspired by its senior sibling – a car that many said would never come back into fashion, but has – as are those massive straked air intakes on the doors, which feed the radiators and an oil cooler.
Unlike in the earlier cars, engine placement is longitudinal with the gearbox transversely mounted, mimicking the 312T F1 cars of the 1970s. At the rear, a subframe houses the power unit and provides suspension pick-up points. Overall, it’s 6 1/2in wider but the design means that it has a lower centre of gravity.
The significantly larger cabin follows a similar layout and level of appointment, while the engine has the same basic architecture but increased to 3405cc with 300bhp on tap. It delivers this ferociously, although aurally it only really comes alive between 2000 and 4000rpm, plus it has a unique sound that’s more of a deep-throated throb than an all-out howl.
This is the last Ferrari to have non-assisted steering and it’s a delight. It feels light yet perfectly weighted, and transmits every nuance of the road surface to your hands. Compared to the earlier cars it’s more intuitive and easier to drive. Through hard corners there’s lashings of grip and the suspension elicits little roll, but you are more aware of the 348’s heft; on the limit, period road-testers found them very hairy indeed, with a tendency to pendulum.
The F355 was intended to be a more practical Ferrari than earlier models, but even the 348 (above left) offers an increased amount of room.
Those characteristics, combined with its looks, seem to be the main reasons for dismissing it as simply a ‘fill in’ model between the 328 and F355, but later cars feature altered suspension geometry that makes them a bit more predictable in their handling, and fixes are also available for earlier ones. The reality is that you’d need to inhabit the far side of Loonsville to attempt the exploration of its handling limits on public roads. What is clear from talking to owners is that those who do buy a 348 simply love them.
That’s a strong word but worship is stronger still, and that was the response garnered from the motoring public and journalists alike by the arrival of the F355. If Ferrari had been accused of taking its eye off the ball with the 348 then its replacement was ultimate proof of refocus. Although it looked like a cosmetically revised, elongated 348, here was a different beast altogether. The underlying structure is the same but, with Honda et aI banging hard on the performance door, the engineers at Maranello reconsidered and redesigned every element.
The result is a stiffer, more powerful and far superior-handling car that still weighs much the same as its forerunner. An enclosed underbody with twin diffusers on the rear and a lip spoiler combine to produce a whopping 220lb of down-force, while, despite the same engine layout as the 348, electronic adjustable dampers and double wishbone suspension at each wheel take the guesswork out of handling.
It’s wide, low and has a presence that oozes malevolent intent. If the 348’s rump polarised opinion, the F355s – with quad circular tail lights restored – is as close to perfection as the original 308’s. Inside, the sober cabin sports airbags but is still performance-focused.
At low revs it’s an incredibly easy car to drive. The power-assisted steering means that it’s a cinch to manoeuvre, the clutch is feather-light and the six-speed, non-dogleg gearbox is the first in which all ratios function perfectly from cold thanks to double-cone synchromesh on first and second, plus rod rather than cable operation.
The 3 1/2-litre V8 is good for 380bhp, and with five valves per cylinder and titanium conrods it’ll spin to an incredible 8500rpm. Up to 4000rpm the noise is spine-tingling but beyond that – as the exhausts’ bypass valves open, allowing access to an extra 20bhp – it’s epic, with a how l more addictive than any illicit substance.
Through corners there’s an insane level of grip – the 355 simply hunkers down and powers through. Huge vented brakes scrub off speed with an impressive intensity, but if there’s a slight criticism it’s that the steering feels a little over- assisted and light at times — if only it had retained the system from the 348.
THE 348 PROVIDES A DRIVING EXPERIENCE THAT IS AT ODDS WITH ITS REPUTATION
Although they share the same bloodline, there’s a real individuality to each car’s character. The 308 is an old-school charmer, the induction noise of which makes even pulling away in first gear a beautiful experience, but the day of the bargain-priced example has gone.
The 348 is misunderstood and provides a driving experience that is at odds with its reputation. If you can afford the maintenance costs, meanwhile, the F355 remains a scintillating choice – even now you’ll struggle to do better in terms of balance and ferocity. It is one of the most accomplished sports cars of its time, and is sometimes even referred to as ‘the car that saved Ferrari’. It is without doubt the best ‘junior’ model since the cherished Dino, but more than that it’s both a direct descendant of the 1970s classics and a launchpad to the technology-laden models that followed.
But to my mind, it’s the rugged, sensuous and relatively economical 328 that now offers the best-value entry into the full-fat Ferrari ownership experience. If you’ve always fancied one, I wouldn’t hang around.
Thanks to The Ferrari Owners Club of Great Britain ferrariownersclub.co.uk; Chilston Park Hotel handpickedhotels.co.uk, The Ferrari Centre ferraricentre.com; Peter Critchell
The specialist – Matt Masters, The Ferrari Centre
“The 308’s body is more prone to rust so check the bottoms of doors, wheelarches and lower quarter panels. Run your fingers along the body swage line because corrosion not discernible to the eye can be felt here.
“Engines are very rugged, and if they’ve been serviced correctly They’ll run at maximum revs all day long. Second-gear synchromesh tends to be recalcitrant but on nine out of 10 cars this gets better once it’s up to temperature. Water pumps require regular and careful checking because bearings are prone to failure.
“There’s no huge price disparity among steel-bodied 308s, but the carburettor cars are more desirable Two-valve injection models have less power than either the carburettor or four-valve injection cars and are a bit cheaper, but they’re not a bad buy because the final-drive ratio was altered to give similar acceleration. The glassfibre models are the most sought-after – you won’t find one for under £100,000.”
“Check the 328 for corrosion in all the same areas as on the 308. Bodywork on later cars had significantly better anti-rust protection, so that’s a worthwhile consideration when buying. Mechanically, it’s prone to the same water- pump bearing and second-gear synchromesh issues as its predecessor, but it’s a well-built, very reliable car and a properly sorted example is pretty much bulletproof.
“ABS became an option from 1988 onwards, which improved stopping power, but many owners prefer the look of the earlier alloy wheels that dish inwards – these can’t be swapped to a car with ABS.
“In my opinion, of the cars gathered here the 328 offers the best value. One bought for around £45,000 will give you the full experience but it won’t cost you a fortune to buy or run.”
“The 348 is often directly compared to the F355 but that’s unfair. There’s also a stigma about its handling but it’s an easy fix by fitting spacers to give a wider track. Later cars with updated suspension handle more predictably.
“The paintwork on the buttresses cracks, and if you own a car for 10 years expect to tackle this at least once. Roof panels on the TS leak where the A-pillar meets the window and roof. They all do it, so check interior condition. The centre console and vent panels are made of a rubberised substance – this goes sticky and is labour-intensive to remove and refinish.
“Due to its longitudinal placement, the engine has to come out to change the cambelts, so it’s significantly more expensive.
“The most desirable models are the GTS and GTB. which were produced at the end of 1993 and had an extra 20bhp – as did all Spiders.”
“The F355 is more costly to run – you’ll need £2-3000 a year for general maintenance.
People get worried about whether valve guides have been checked, but we’ve had very few instances in which we’ve had to address anything like that. Check the history to see if the exhaust manifolds have been replaced – originals crack. Front hub uprights and wheel-bolt seats also need to be checked for cracking.
“An F355’s rear panel should be spot-welded not gas-welded; if there’s evidence of the latter, it’s probably had a hefty shunt. A Spider’s seats move forward in tandem with the roof-lowering mechanism, so check that it all works correctly. On all of these cars, a detailed service history is key to validate mileage – F355s are holding their value despite those higher maintenance costs, while manual cars are more desirable than the F1 models.
||Ferrari 348ts||Ferrari F355GTS|
13,131 (all, including 208 variants)
tubular steel chassis with steel body panels (early cars glassfibre)
|steel monocoque with steel, plastic and aluminium body panel|
|Engine||all-alloy, double-overhead-camshaft-per-bank 2926cc V8, four Weber 40DCNF carburettors||all-alloy, double-overhead-camshaft- per-bank 3185cc V8. Bosch K-Jetroiic fuel injection||
all-alloy, double-overhead-camshaft- per-bank 3405cc V8, Bosch Motronic fuel injection
all-alloy, double-overhead-camshaft- per-bank 3496cc 40v V8, Bosch Motronic fuel injection
|Max power||255bhp @ 7700rpm||267bhp @ 7000rpm||300bhp @ 7000rpm||380bhp @ 8250rpm|
|Max torque||210lb ft @ 5000rpm||224lb ft @ 5500rpm||237lb ft @ 4000rpm||267lb ft @ 6000rpm|
|Transmission||5-speed manual||6-speed manual|
|Drive||driving rear wheels|
independent, by double wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers; anti-roll bar f/r
|Steering||rack and pinion||power-assisted rack and pinion|
|Brakes||All ventilated discs, with servo||Ventilated discs, with servo and ABS|
|Length||14ft 6in (4419mm)||13ft 10in (4230mm)||
5ft 8in (1727mm)
|6ft 3in (1894mm)||6ft 3in (1900mm)|
3ft 8in (1130mm)
|3ft 10in (1170mm)||3ft 10in (1168mm)|
|Wheelbase||7ft 7in (2311mm)||8ft (2450mm)|
|0-60mph||5.6 secs||5.9 secs||5.6 secs||4.8|
|Price new||£ 16,499||£35,950||£67,499||£83,000|
|Price now||from £35,000||from £25,000||from £40,000|
“I’ve owned numerous models, including a 246GT, several 308s and a Testarossa, but for me the F355 is a real modern-day classic. Its technology means that it’s easier to drive but still so exhilarating that it puts a smile firmly on your face. I don’t cover a huge annual mileage, but every time I take it out I’m reminded of exactly why I own it.
“Reliability-wise, it’s not missed d beat in 10 years and drives as crisply and sharply now as it did when ! got it. The running costs ore quite sensible in today’s market; it’s simply had regular services and the cambelts replaced when necessary.”
In terms of values, the 355 is worth what Critchell paid for it, so he’s free to enjoy it without being exposed to the depreciation of a new car, and for desirable Ferraris the only way tends to be up.
‘Having owned a Ferrari 308 GT4 for 13 years, have a soft spot for the less-loved, underrated cars. When it cane time to move on, I considered an F355 but it’s a bit more expensive and complex, so I decided on a 348ts. It’s pre electronics so it’s still possible to do some of the maintenance and mechanical work yourself. I run the engine regularly over the winter, and on a dry day drive it round the block to keep everything ticking over. I budget £600 to £700 for on annual service and there’s a big bill every three years because the engine comes out for the cambelts, which is usually £2-2500 including a service.
“I was wary of the horror stories about what could go wrong, but I’m really pleased with it. You never know until you dip your toe in, and I’m quite happy swimming around”
‘I bought the car 11 years ago. At the time, couldn’t afford an F355 and this was in my price range. It’s getting on a bit now but it’ll still hold its own against the modern big boys; put your foot down and off it goes – it’s like having a rocket behind you.
“The fuel tank had a leak just after I got it but that was covered under warranty. Since then I haven’t had to do anything other than regular servicing, which costs £400 to £500 per an nun – with another £500 for new cambelts every other year. I was told to expect a GTS to leak but mine never has and I love the flexibility of it because it can he turned into, in effect, a soft-top
“It has really sensual curves, and the slats in the grille set it off a treat. It’s even got a reasonable-sized boot, with enough luggage room for a weekend getaway.”
‘I’ve loved Ferraris from a young age and 13 years ago – when I was looking to buy one – the 308 fitted into my price bracket, ‘m also a man of a certain age, so the Magnum P1 link played a part.
“In that time it’s never let me down. I keep it on a trickle charger, it always starts and away I go. If it’s been sitting for a while it lakes a lew miles lu loosen up on the load but on a sunny day, whip the roof off and the throaty growl f-om the sports exhaust sounds absolutely beautiful.
“If you put aside £1000 a year, you’ll have more than enough to run one. My biggest bill was £1600 for a major engine service, including shims and belts, but that’s not bad in 13 years. I do bits and bobs on it myself – little jobs I know I can get away with – but I leave things like cambelts to a specialist”