The Ferrari 348 wasn’t as bad
Ask Ferrari enthusiasts — or, really, car enthusiasts — to name the most unimpressive Ferrari models, and you’re bound to turn up two usual answers: the Mondial and the 348. I generally agree with the sentiment about the Mondial, but I’ve decided I can no longer allow the 348 to receive this negative reputation that I deeply believe it doesn’t deserve.
Why do I believe this? Because I’ve driven the 348, and I know it isn’t as bad as most people (who haven’t driven it) say it is. To provide my point, I recently borrowed one from Performance Auto Wholesalers in Miami to drive it again, this time in front of whatever cheap video equipment I use, so that I could make my case for the 348 — and why it’s better than you think.
So to get started with the 348, let me give you a brief overview. The 348 came out in 1989, and it was offered as a coupe (348tb, later 348 GTB), a full convertible (348 Spider) or a targa-topped model with a lift-off roof (348ts, later 348 GTS), which is the version I drove. The 348 was sold from 1989 to 1994, the third model in Ferrari’s highly popular midengine V8 line, which started in 1977 with the 308. The 348 debuted after the 328 and before the much-loved and highly appreciated F355.
This brings me to my first point: The 348 suffers from “middle child syndrome.” Essentially stuck between the early, iconic 308 and the later models with higher performance (F430, 458 Italia), the 348 isn’t viewed as a great performer, like later versions, or a particularly attractive car, like earlier models with their increasingly appreciated wedge shapes. The result is that the 348 is the least expensive of all V8-powered Ferrari models — a line that now spans eight generations — with asking prices routinely in the $50,000-$70,000 range.
And yet, an objective look at the 348 shows it probably doesn’t deserve this fate. Sure, the 348 isn’t as attractive as the gorgeous 308 — but it’s objectively better in every way, with improved handling, a nicer interior, more equipment and stronger performance. Much stronger performance: The 308 had just 235 horsepower, it did zero to 60 in something like 7.8 seconds, and it could only hit 140 miles per hour. The 348 upped that to 300 horses, a 5.6-second 0-to-60 time and a top speed of 171 mph — all figures that remain respectable today.
But the 348’s benefits go beyond its numbers on paper. Get in the thing and actually drive and you’ll find that the seating position is nowhere near as compromised as it is in earlier Ferrari models — and it’s not that hard to climb inside or get out. Visibility is decent, too, even to the rear when you’re driving the thing. And everything feels a lot more modern than it does inside the vintage 308.
The real selling point of the 348, to me, though, is its driving experience. I love the thing. Its 0-to-60 time of 5.6 seconds might not seem all that fast, but it feels like it’s blasting off, since you’re so close to the road and since the engine is making all its loud noises right behind your head. More importantly, handling is great for a car from its era: Steering isn’t power-assisted, so you have the feeling you’re doing everything yourself and are fully connected to the road — something you’re missing in later models like the 360 and the F430. Yes, it takes a little work to drive the 348, with the gated shifter, and the heavy clutch, but that’s also true of the Testarossa — a car whose values have recently shot up. And with modern cars getting so easy to drive, the Testarossa and 348 prove that doing a little work behind the wheel can actually be fun.
And then we get back to styling. No, the 348 isn’t the most handsome car — I admit that. But there are a few things I’ve always appreciated about it. Most obvious are the side strakes that run down the doors — a crazy feature also used in the Testarossa, and one that gives these cars a highly distinctive look. I can’t quite understand why they’re prized in the Testarossa, but they’re considered “outdated” in the 348.
I’ve also always loved the 348’s wide stance; it has the low-slung, ultra-wide exotic-car look you’d expect to see from, well, an exotic car. And then there’s the 355 thing: Most people love the styling of the F355, the 348’s successor, but they hate the look of the 348. If you’re in that crowd, consider this: Did you know the two cars have mostly interchangeable body panels? I’m serious. You can swap the 355’s doors right on over to the 348, along with several other items. The “gorgeous” 355 isn’t really as different from the “outdated” 348 as you might think.
Anyway, I don’t think the 348 deserves to be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars or to be considered a classic Ferrari on the level of a Daytona or Dino. But I do think it’s undervalued and underappreciated — and I think it deserves a little more respect. Hopefully, now, you do, too.
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