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"A Ferrari," Enzo Ferrari said to journalist Paul Frere back in the '60s, "is a 12-cylinder car." And back then they all were. Gloriously long, intricately engineered V12s capped by multiple carburetors lived under the hoods of such legendary cars as the 275 GTB, 365 California and 250 GTO. So when Ferrari decided to build a midengine road car with less than 12 cylinders, it wouldn't be a Ferrari at all.
That first non-Ferrari Ferrari would lead to a series of cars that, in today's popular consciousness, are the very definition of what a Ferrari is. These are midengine cars that are somewhat smaller than the front-engine GTs that were (and many say continue to be) the company's hallmark, and they've been produced in numbers vastly greater than previous Ferraris — even if those total numbers are still minute compared to Toyota's or GM's production in a single day. They've all been powered by V6 or V8 engines that lack the glamour of a 12. And while they've always been expensive, they've always been the cheapest Ferraris — even when they weren't Ferraris.
Having written that, two V8-powered Ferraris are conspicuously absent from this history: the exotic 1984 288 GTO and the 1987-'92 F40. These two turbocharged legends of the '80s are closely related to each other and derive from the V8-powered cars of the era. But they're true exotics — hardly entry-level machines.
Alfredino "Dino" Ferrari was Enzo Ferrari's son and by all accounts the only person or thing the Ferrari founder ever loved more than cars and racing. In the '50s Dino suggested that his father's company should build a small V6 for use in Formula 2 competition. But Dino died of nephritis in 1956 before the engine he had suggested and fostered would run. And long before it would earn glory for winning the 1961 Grand Prix world championship with American driver Phil Hill piloting the Ferrari Dino 156 "shark nose."
So when Ferrari decided to put a V6-powered car for the street into production, it was no surprise that he would call it the Dino. In fact it was called Dino to the exclusion of the name Ferrari, as it was expected that Dino would become a second line of vehicles that would let the Italian manufacturer compete against such lowly marques as Jaguar, Mercedes and Porsche.
The Dino road car first appeared at the 1966 Turin Auto Show: a midengine two-seater powered by a 2.0-liter version of the Dino V6 engine (the "206" part of the name indicates a 2.0-liter 6-cylinder engine). With an alloy body designed by Ferrari's usual collaborator Pininfarina, the 1967 Dino 206 GT was, if nothing else, gorgeous.
With its flowing, curvaceous fenders and sweeping flying buttress roof pillars leading to a ducktail spoiler, the Dino was simply beautiful. That luscious styling enveloped a steel tube frame mounting an all-independent suspension of unequal-length double A-arms at all four corners of the car. The engine sat transversely behind the cockpit and drove a five-speed manual transaxle.
Despite its rather puny displacement, the Dino's all-alloy V6 produced a thrilling 180 horsepower thanks to double-overhead cams, a lightweight reciprocating assembly, a relatively high 9.6:1 compression ratio and three Weber two-barrel downdraft carburetors. Since the Dino was only 165 inches long (about an inch shorter than a 2005 Honda Civic coupe), stood just 43.9 inches tall and weighed less than 2,000 pounds, 180 hp was enough to make for a scintillating performance.
The Dino was produced in cooperation with Fiat, which produced the Ferrari-designed V6 and even used the same engine in the front-engine Fiat Dino coupe and roadster. While the Fiat Dino is considered a minor classic today, it's nowhere near as beloved as the Ferrari that used the same moniker.
But you couldn't yet get Ferrari's Dino in America. Well, at least you couldn't get one from an authorized Ferrari dealer. But a few did sneak in as private imports. The vast majority of 206 GT models remained in Europe.
The Dino 206 GT remained in production unchanged through 1968 and into 1969, until it was phased out in favor of the Dino 246 GT. Otherwise the same car as the 206, the name change indicates the 246 used a new 2.4-liter version of the V6 engine. Thanks to increases in both bore and stroke, the new engine was rated at 195 hp. But some of that additional power was used up in pushing a heavier vehicle, as the body was now steel and the engine reverted to an iron block, some luxury features were added and the car's wheelbase grew 2.1 inches (to 92.1 inches) to provide more cabin space. As a result, the total weight was up almost 400 pounds over the 206 GT.
And still, the Dino didn't make it to America immediately. But changes to the lights and tweaks to the engine (to reduce emissions) allowed the car admission into the United States in 1970.
Motor Trend compared the $13,500 Dino 246 GT (Ferrari's cheapest car) to the $9,471 Porsche 911S (then Porsche's most expensive car) in its July 1971 issue. According to that magazine's test, the 246 GT rocketed to 60 mph in just 6.1 seconds and displayed an impressive top speed of 148 mph.
Road & Track finally tested one for its May 1972 issue. "The Dino's most obvious sacrifice affects the human ear," wrote Road & Track in that test. "It is noisy in the extreme. The sounds are exciting, to be sure: busy tappets, whining cam chains and transfer driver, a raucous exhaust system. All combine to give driver and passenger sensations just short of those of a racecar, and even on a low-speed run to the corner drugstore the Dino seems to be working, snarling, racing. The exhaust note at low speeds gives away its 6-cylinder configuration, but as the engine climbs into its effective rev range (little happens below 3000 rpm, and the unit is decidedly unhappy at low speeds; bucking and misfiring prove it) it takes on the characteristic Ferrari sounds despite having only half the number of cylinders."
But there were compensating virtues, according to the magazine. "Running up through the gears is quite another thing: This is when we relish the sounds, and the potent V6 hitting 7800 rpm, the redline, is real music." Music or not, the Dino was relatively temperamental to launch, and Road & Track only managed a 7.9-second 0-60-mph clocking for the car, with the quarter-mile going by in 15.9 seconds at 97 mph.
Straight-line performance may have been less than world-beating, but the chassis was supremely rewarding. "The real joy of a good midengine car is in its handling and braking and the Dino's shone as we expected it to. The steering is light, wonderfully precise and quick without being super-quick in the sense of the Citroën SM, and it transmits back, by what seems a carefully planned amount of feedback, exactly what is going on at the tires. Thanks to the layout's low polar moment of inertia, the car responds instantly to [steering inputs]."
The one significant addition to the Dino line for 1972 was the Dino 246 GTS, which replaced the roof's steel center section with a lift-off panel similar in concept to the Porsche 911 Targa top. The "S" in the GTS name stood for "Spyder."
Ferrari never did much more to change the original Dino through the end of its production life after the 1973 model year. It was never a less than exhilarating machine, even if it was less civilized than most Porsches, and it was wildly popular. Even though the Ferrari name never appeared upon it, there was no denying where this car came from.
Sadly, the successor to the first Dino would never be so beloved.
Forsaking Pininfarina, Ferrari (with at least a nudge from majority owner Fiat) turned to Bertone to design the bodywork surrounding the 246 GT's successor, the Dino 308 GT4. While it was doing that, it also forsook the two-place cockpit and the V6 engine. The result was, well, different.
What the 1974 308 GT4 shared with the 246 GT was its general layout; it was still a steel body over a tube frame, the engine was still planted in the middle and sat transversely, it still used a 5-speed manual transaxle, and it still used a suspension consisting of double wishbones at all four corners. It also shared the Dino name and, at least initially, the lack of a Ferrari badge.
But the differences were pronounced. "In many ways the Dino departs from the Ferrari tradition," wrote Paul Frere for Road & Track, "the most novelties being the use of an 8-cylinder engine for the first time in a production Ferrari and that Bertone has been entrusted with the design of the body rather than Pininfarina. It's also one of the rare central-engine cars featuring rear occasional seats. The emphasis is very much on the word "occasional"; however, though there may be room for two small children or to take an adult seated across the car to the movies, it requires a good deal of optimism (and bad faith) to call the Dino a 2+2. But certainly the so-called rear seats are a good answer to the justified criticism that midengine cars are infuriating for lack of oddment space, and the seats might be quite useful to accommodate any luggage that cannot be swallowed by the smallish rear luggage compartment."
But accommodating those tiny rear seats did mean the GT4 needed a relatively long 100.4-inch wheelbase. That's 8.3 inches longer than the 246's wheelbase and did nothing for the car's proportions.
The engine was a totally new unit featuring two belt-driven camshafts over each cylinder bank and four Weber carburetors in the valley between them. With relatively large 81mm bores and a short 71mm stroke, the V8 displaced 2926 cubic centimeters (2.9 liters) that Ferrari bumped up to a nominal 3.0 liters for naming purposes. Despite a tepid 8.8:1 compression ratio and just two valves per cylinder, the V8 was rated at 242 hp at a screaming 7700 rpm — stupendous in terms of 1974 performance. That rating dropped to 240 hp when the car made it over to America and the engine was subjected to the SAE net standard.
Road & Track tested a 1975 model of the 308 GT4 and found it to be much quicker than the competition from Maserati and Lamborghini. "There are distinct levels of performance here," it wrote. "The Dino is a full second faster in the quarter-mile than the [Maserati] Merak and almost two seconds faster than the [Lamborghini] Uracco. The same disparity holds for the 0-60-mph times as well. The Dino engine has a V8 throb to it but the machinery up top — belt-driven cams and cam gear — plus some transfer-drive noise give it a sound unlike any American V8 and unlike any 12-cylinder Ferrari (or the Dino V6 which sounds a lot like a 12). The exhaust tone is the epitome of the word 'guttural.' It's not unpleasant, but it's not a rich sound either — until you get up around 6500-7000 rpm. Then it takes on a melodious tone that is unmistakably Ferrari. The V8, like other Ferrari engines, feels like it will rev forever; it seems less strained at 7500 rpm than most engines do at 4000. The engine is loud but the noises are exciting sounds that never overpower the senses and it's a considerably quieter car than the Dino 246. The Dino V8 is amazingly flexible and docile. Except for a heavy clutch there isn't the slightest problem in driving the Dino in heavy traffic, and if you lug it down to 1500 rpm in 5th gear and then step on the accelerator, the engine will pull smoothly and effortlessly right up to its maximum speed."
That Road & Track comparison test ended with a predictable conclusion: "The overall winner? The Dino by a wide margin. Four out of the five evaluators picked it as their overwhelming favorite, with the lone dissenter opting for the Merak because it fit his larger-than-average frame more comfortably than either of the others and for its lower level of road and wind noise."
The Dino 308 GT4 would stay in production through the end of the 1979 model year without much change in specification beyond those required by emissions control and safety regulations. The power rating on the engine dropped to 205 hp, and that left the somewhat exotic car performing little better than a Corvette. Along the way Ferrari put its name on the car and stuck the prancing horse logo on the steering wheel's horn button.
"Compared with, say, a Chevrolet Caprice," wrote Car and Driver in its test of one of the last GT4s, "a Ferrari is about as sophisticated as a two-bladed ax. Quality control on your average $41,000 Ferrari would make an inspector on the Fiat 131 line scream in pain and indignation. Ferraris are not particularly reliable, though their loyal owners point out that they are better in this respect than Lamborghinis and Maseratis. This is damning them with faint praise, however, because Lamborghinis and Maseratis are about as reliable as a presidential press secretary."
According to Car and Driver, that last GT4 ran to 60 mph in 7.3 seconds and completed the quarter-mile in 15.8 seconds at 87 mph. That performance made it quicker than a contemporary Jaguar XJ-S or BMW 633Csi, but slower than Porsche's 928.
Time hasn't been kind to the Dino 308 GT4, and it's become one of the few Ferraris to lose luster over the years. It wasn't a bad car really, as much as it was an awkward one. "It's also unfortunate that the car looks like a new-generation Corvair," wrote Car and Driver's Larry Griffin in a counterpoint sidebar to the magazine's last test. "The 308 GT4 is not unhandsome, but it lacks the whiz-bang, artsy-craftsy lines that found their unerring way into the resplendent 308 GTB. Pininfarina just draws better cars than Bertone. One insensitive fellow in L.A., probably stung by his GT4's lack of pizzazz, painted it Day-Glo pink-orange so folks would notice. Forget the backseat and stick with the GTB."
Forgetting the 308 GT4 was easy with a car that looked as good as the 308 GTB.
While the 308 GT4 was straining to be noticed, its younger, smaller brother — the 1975 308 GTB — was impossible to ignore. "Those who dismissed the Dino 308 GT4 with hardly a second glance have every reason to cheer the 308 GTB," wrote Road & Track in its first formal test of the car. "'Stunning to look at, dramatic, sensuous and pleasant from every angle' are just a few comments the Pininfarina styling elicited. The excellent finish also merits mention. The 308 GTB is the first production Ferrari with a fiberglass body. The surface is smooth and ripple-free and the paint is as good as we've seen on the best steel body cars. A real compliment. We've heard rumors that after the initial batch of glass-body 308 GTBs, production will be switched over to steel; if you like the weight-saving and no-rust virtues of fiberglass, you'd better place your order early.
"Compared to the (308 GT4), the 308 GTB is shorter, narrower, lower and lighter. But the only two significant differences are the 92.1-inch wheelbase — same as the Dino 246 and 8.4 inches less than the 308 GT4 — and a 150-pound lighter curb weight which make for even more responsive steering and handling. Mechanically, the 308 GTB has a lot in common with both its Dino predecessors. It's a transverse midengine design with a 5-speed transmission, independent suspension by unequal-length A-arms and coil springs all around with a vented disc brake at each corner. The major difference between the 246 and the 308s is the engine. Whereas the 246 has a 65-degree 2418cc 4-cam V6, the 308s have a 90-degree 2926cc 4-cam V8."
Even more than 30 years after its first appearance, the 308 GTB is still a stunner. With a slim wedge as its nose, gorgeous fenders that rise over the front tires and then plunge down to the base of the windshield, slim doors that rise to meet voluptuous rear fenders, deep scoops along the side that feed air to the engine, flying buttresses behind the cockpit that end at a ducktail spoiler and four round taillights, the car was an instant design classic. And it was the first car with fewer than 12 cylinders that Ferrari didn't hedge about calling a Ferrari. The word "Dino" was nowhere to be found upon it.
With 240 hp to call upon and a curb weight of 3085 pounds, the first 308 GTB was a truly quick car. Road & Track measured a European version ripping to 60 mph in just 6.4 seconds and completing the quarter-mile in 14.6 seconds at 96 mph. They also measured a top speed of 154 mph. For 1976 — the absolute nadir of automotive performance — that was flying.
As attractive as the 308 GTB was, however, Ferrari felt it was necessary to develop a special version of the vehicle for Italy alone called the 208 GTB. Because Italy taxed cars then by engine displacement, Ferrari dropped a liter of displacement from the V8 and eventually added a small turbocharger to make up the power difference.
The rumors about a switch to steel body panels proved to be true, and even before the 308 GTB had completed its first year of production the transition had begun. Today, those early fiberglass 308s are considered the most desirable of the breed among many collectors, even though the steel cars are generally stronger and less prone to rattles and weather damage.
During the 1977 model year, the 308 GTS was added to the lineup — essentially a GTB with a Targa-style removable roof panel. "For the most part," wrote Road & Track upon testing a 1978 308 GTS, "the Targa roof integrates into the overall styling of the GTS very nicely. The first photos of the prototype GTS showed a rather ungainly protruding roll-over hoop. Thankfully that has been smoothly blended into the roof in the production version. Less appealing are the slotted wings covering the rear-quarter windows. These are nothing but a styling gimmick to give the S some individuality and we don't find them aesthetically pleasing. Styling is, of course, a personal matter but functionally the slots needlessly restrict the driver's outward vision to the rear quarter. These panels do serve one function: The one on the left conceals the fuel filler cap and the one on the right (also lockable) opens for cleaning the rear-quarter window."
By the time the GTS came along, the ratings for the V8's output were also coming into question. "Even more confusing are the horsepower and torque figures," Road & Track wrote in that same 308 GTS test. "We list 205 SAE net horsepower at 6600 rpm for the S and 240 at 6600 rpm for the almost identical engine in the B. Torque figures are 181 pound-feet at 5000 for the S and 195 at 5000 for the B. The S numbers are the correct ones and we can only assume the confusion arose when the Italians translated the European horsepower and torque ratings to SAE net figures."
Whatever the horsepower rating, the 308 GTS was hardly the quickest Ferrari ever built. Road & Track had it accelerating to 60 mph in a so-so 7.3 seconds and flitting through the quarter-mile in 15.8 seconds at 90 mph. "The GTS," the magazine concluded, "or any Ferrari for that matter, is not a car to be driven either sedately or casually. All the controls — steering, clutch, brakes, shifter, throttle — are meant to be used with firmness and decision. Around-town driving is no fun at all. It's only when you get out on your favorite twisty road with the top down that you discover what this car is all about. Then you begin to comprehend the Ferrari mystique and why an enthusiast will spend more than $30,000 to own one. Irrational? Of course. But, oh what fun!"
As is required whenever writing about the 308 GTS, we hereby confirm that yes, it was a 308 GTS that Tom Selleck's character drove through the run of the TV series Magnum, P.I.
Both the 308 GTB and 308 GTS continued through both 1979 and 1980 essentially unchanged. But for 1981 fuel injection finally came to the cars, which were renamed the 308 GTBi and 308 GTSi. "The muscular dual-overhead-cam aluminum V8 has been stripped of its fabled Weber carburetion," reported Car and Driver in a test of the 308 GTBi. "Bosch K-Jetronic Continuous Injection System fuel injection feeds the hungry little cylinders these days. It meets current emissions standards with the help of a dual Marelli Digiplex electronic ignition system, and also with air injection, exhaust gas recirculation and controls for crankcase ventilation and evaporation of fuel and oil....
"The car will stroke around town without loading up, overheating, or pausing even once when you nail the throttle. It simply runs and runs freely." The output ratings, however, remained stuck at 205 hp. Road & Track measured a 308 GTSi loping to 60 mph in 7.9 seconds and running the quarter-mile in 16.1 seconds at 88 mph.
Another noticeable change alongside the coming of fuel injection was the abandonment of the 14-inch-diameter Cromodora wheels and Michelin XWX tires used before in favor of new 390-millimeter diameter Speedline wheels and the then-new Michelin TRX tires. The TRX tires, which used that strange metric wheel diameter, were also used on cars like the then-current Ford Mustang and BMW 6 Series. But they never caught on, and over the years most cars — including Ferraris — originally fitted with them have reverted to using conventional-sized wheels and tires.
During the 1982 model year the 3.0-liter V8 engine was modified to accept new cylinder heads incorporating four-valve combustion chambers. The result was yet another name change, as the 2-seat twins became the 308 GTB Quattrovalvole and 308 GTS Quattrovalvole. As you've surely already guessed, "Quattrovalvole" means "4-valve" in Italian.
"The only past criticism leveled at the 308," wrote Road & Track in a 1983 comparison test including the 308 GTB Quattrovalvole, "has been that its 3.0-liter V8 didn't produce quite enough horsepower (in strangled American form) to match the car's racy good looks. Ferrari has fixed all that now with the introduction of its 4-valve cylinder heads. The Quattrovalvole engine puts out 230 hp at 6800 rpm, compared with 205 hp for the old 2-valve engine. It should be noted that the new heads won't fit the old engine, as the oil holes have been moved.
"The extra horsepower has put the 308 on a more-than-even footing with the [Chevrolet] Corvette and [Porsche] 928S. In sheer acceleration the 308 was the quickest car in the group, with a 0-60-mph time of 6.8 seconds (compared with 7.0, 7.0 and 9.0 for the Corvette, 928S and [Porsche] 944, respectively). It is also quicker from zero to 100 and in the quarter-mile than the others. Only in top speed on the five-mile run did it lose to the 928S — redlining at 142 mph and the only one so geared that the redline was achievable."
The injected Quattrovalvole engine was by far the friendliest engine put into a 308, with excellent midrange power to go with its top-end wallop. And the Quattrovalvole 308s stayed in production through 1984 and 1985.
But 1986 brought with it another significant update, as the 308 models grew into the 328 GTB and 328 GTS as the V8's displacement grew to 3.2 liters. "The 308's double-overhead-cam, four-valve, 2927cc V8 has been bored and stroked to increase its displacement to 3186cc," reported Car and Driver in its first test of the 328 GTS. "In addition, the compression ratio has been bumped up from 8.6 to 9.2:1, intake valve lift has been increased and the Digiplex ignition system has been replaced by a slightly more refined Microplex system. Other improvements to the engine include redesigned intake runners, larger oil coolers and lines, a different throttle body, slightly redesigned combustion chambers and different spark plugs. As a result of these changes, the power output jumps from 230 hp at 6800 rpm to 260 at 7000. Torque is also increased from 190 lb-ft at 5500 rpm to 213 at the same engine speeds....The new 328 scoots to 60 in 5.6 seconds and trips the quarter-mile clock in 14.2 seconds at 97 mph. Together with new, more aerodynamic body panels, the power increase yields a top speed of 153 mph, a solid 9-mph improvement."
The engine wasn't the only change to the 328s, however. A rack and pinion steering system swiped from the 288 GTO was fitted and the suspension was revised. Externally, the front end was redone with a smoother, blunter bumper and grille and new 16-inch wheels were fitted with appropriate tires.
As good as the 328 was, it was still using the same basic chassis introduced with the first 308 — and that in turn was derived from the even older original Dino. The 328 lived through 1987, 1988 and 1989 virtually unchanged, save for incorporating antilock brakes for its final year. The total production of this family of cars was close to 23,000 total units. That's a huge number for Ferrari. But it was time for a new car.
If there ever was a Ferrari that didn't deserve a successor, it was the Dino 308 GT4. But it got one anyhow when the company displayed the Mondial at the 1980 Geneva Motor Show. If the 308 GT4 was Ferrari's "ho" then the Mondial was its "hum."
The Mondial was basically a stretched 308 GTB with a new body over the midengine chassis that featured uncharacteristically awkward Pininfarina styling. Like the 308 GT4 it had two vestigial "seats" behind the front pair that were adequate for ferrying the occasional rhesus monkey back and forth from the experimental lab. The Mondial's 104.2-inch wheelbase was a full 12.1 inches longer than that of the 308 GTB.
Since it shared so much with the 2-seat V8 Ferraris, it's no surprise that the Mondial's evolution closely tracked theirs. So it started with the carbureted 3.0-liter DOHC V8 making 205 hp. Then it got fuel injection with the appearance of the 1981 model year and along with the 308 swapped its 2-valve heads in favor of Quattrovalvole 4-valve units in time for 1983.
The one significant variation on the Mondial theme also debuted in '83 — the cabriolet (full convertible) version. This was Ferrari's first full convertible since ending production of the fabulous Daytona Spyder in 1973 and it was greeted with massive indifference by most of the Ferrari faithful. After all, it was still a Mondial.
While 1984 was a carryover year for the Mondial, in 1985 the car was blessed with the same 3.2-liter 230-hp V8 that was fitted to the 1986 328 GTB and 328 GTS. The car barely changed through 1986, 1987 and 1988.
But in 1989 the powertrain was revised, with the now longitudinally mounted engine teaming up with the transverse gearbox. As this made a "T," the car was now called the Mondial t. With Ferrari introducing the 348 series for 1989 (more on that coming up) the Mondial got an upgrade to that car's 3.4-liter V8 that made a full 300 hp.
Though neither the Mondial coupe nor the convertible were ever very popular, the convertible was selling better and by the 1991 model year it was the only Mondial offered.
The Mondial limped through 1992 and 1993 before the company ended its run. Like the 308 GT4, the Mondial turned out to be one of the few forgettable Ferraris.
To date, there hasn't been another midengine Ferrari 2+2 since the Mondial.
Superficially, the 1989 348 looked like an evolutionary development of the 328. Except for the side strakes swiped from its big brother the Testarossa, the styling carried forward general themes established by the 308 and 328. It wasn't much larger than the 328. And it carried a slightly enlarged version of the now familiar Ferrari quad-cam, 32-valve engine. But in fact the 348 was a vastly different car from its immediate ancestors. Even if wasn't a vastly better car.
The biggest change from 328 to 348 was a move from body-on-frame to unitized construction — the first time ever in a Ferrari. For a small manufacturer like Ferrari, such a radical change in how it built cars was not an insignificant development. And that wasn't the end of the engineering innovations.
"...instead of a transverse engine and an inline gearbox, everything has been turned through 90 degrees," reported Motor Trend in its first driving impression of the 348. "The main reason for this was not any philosophical dislike of transverse engines, but simply a search for better cornering behavior. Like the Testarossa, the 328 had too high a center of gravity for ideal handling, and the rearrangement has permitted Ferrari to lower the engine by more than 5 inches."
The transverse gearbox fitted to the 348 also gave the car its official name 348tb, with the "t" indicating the transmission's transverse orientation and the "b" for "Berlinetta," indicating a closed coupe. There was also a 348ts, with the "s" meaning "Spyder" and a removable roof panel over the cockpit. Yet there was another 348 Spyder on the way.
While the 348's suspension was new in every detail and component, it was similar in concept to the 308/328's. There were still double wishbones at every corner of the car with coil springs, and the geometry was massaged to minimize dive under braking. The 348 did, however, get 17-inch wheels instead of the 328's 16s, with appropriately larger tires.
With increases in both the bore and stroke dimensions, the new 3.4-liter version of Ferrari's now familiar V8 was rated at a full 300 hp at a wailing 7200 rpm. And it was pushing around a body with some significant changes. "Despite a 4-inch-longer wheelbase than the 328," reported Road & Track, "the 348 is about 2 inches shorter overall....The side air scoops are as prominent a design element on the 348 as they are on the Testarossa, and provide function as well as form. The upsides of this design include a cooler cockpit because all sources of heat are behind the driver, reduced weight (the plumbing carrying fluids to the front of the car has been eliminated) and a larger, more usefully shaped front trunk.
"The downside is that more of the car's weight is over the rear wheels; we measured a 40/60 front/rear weight distribution for the tb versus 44/56 for the last 328 GTS we tested. Despite significant weight-saving measures, including an aluminum hood and deck lid and graphite-reinforced plastic for the central tunnel, the 348 tips the scales about 100 pounds heavier than its predecessor.
"Some of the 348's additional avoirdupois can be blamed on its greater width, up a whopping 6.5 inches primarily because of those massive side scoops. But inside, the 348 driver will find that a portion of that extra width has gone into a welcome increase in cockpit roominess."
Road & Track's test measured the 348tb getting to 60 mph in 6.0 seconds, which was certainly a solid performance (and better than the 328) but no better than that of some cars costing one-third the Ferrari's $94,800 price. Motor Trend claimed the car rocketed to 60 in just 5.5 seconds and topped out at 171 mph, which led the magazine to conclude that "...this calls into question the purpose of the [larger, 12-cylinder] Testarossa, which is no more practical, doesn't handle as well, and is no longer significantly faster."
The 348 was basically unchanged through 1990 and 1991, while a less restrictive exhaust bumped the 348's engine output during the 1992 model year to 312 hp. Also, a monochromatic paint scheme was introduced and a "serie speciale" model for the tb and ts included thin F40-like racing seats, a wider track and reduced ride height.
A full convertible version of the 348 made it into production for 1994 in the form of the 348 Spider. "The Spider's top is simple, well made and clever," wrote Road & Track. "Stowing it involves releasing a single lever in the middle of the header, pushing the top halfway back, then lowering a handbrakelike handle located next to the driver seat. This causes the structure to descend neatly into a small space behind the seats with a simultaneous collapsing of the fabric buttresses — like little circus tents having their poles pulled out. The top does not compress completely below the rear deck's surface, so snapping on the padded cover is needed to tidy the appearance."
Road & Track measured the $130,290 348 Spider zipping to 60 mph in just 5.6 seconds and completing the quarter-mile in 14.1 seconds at 101 mph.
Also new for '94 was the "348 Challenge," a special version of the 348tb equipped with a roll cage and racing seats for the Ferrari Challenge spec-racing series. Basically, the Challenge was a way for really rich guys to go racing in a Ferrari without having to worry about actually preparing a racecar. The Challenge series would continue using subsequent V8 midengine Ferrari models.
The 348 was a success, with the Spider gaining enough popularity to continue through 1995 even though the 348tb and 348ts had been replaced. But Ferrari's dominance of the exoticar world was coming into question. After all, Honda had introduced the all-aluminum Acura NSX in 1991 and that car was instantly hailed as an all-time great — not just a great Honda, but a great midengine, 2-seat sports car. Ferrari was going to have to respond forcefully to regain its position atop the supercar heap.
"The transmogrification from 348 to F355 is analogous to Ferrari and Pininfarina's reworking of the old 308 GTB into the 288 GTO a decade ago," wrote Motor Trend in its first test of the wholly spectacular 1995 F355. "In fact, many of the styling cues that appeared on that last GTO, including the ducktail spoiler and rear-quarter window air inlets, now appear on the F355. But the general proportions and greenhouse area are identical to the 348.
"It's the details of the F355 that let the beauty of its essential, emotional Pininfarina shape radiate. In place of the 348's distracting cheese grater side strakes, the F355 has simple open air inlets. Where the 348 had...crude slats across its tail, the F355 has a graceful convex panel containing the traditional four round taillights. The nose has been reshaped with thinner turn signals and separate round driving lamps replacing the 348's blocky integrated units. The 348's heavy-appearing 17-inch Cuisinart-slicer wheels have made way for 18-inchers whose five spokes...appear light and purposeful. The subdued, brilliant detailing extends down to the car's fuel filler cap, which is gorgeously polished cast alloy. In comparison, the 348 seems almost vulgar."
Well, compared to the F355 the 348 was vulgar. If the 308s positioned the V8 Ferraris as true Ferraris, the F355 made them contenders for the informal title of "World's Best Car" for the first time. An evolutionary move forward from the 348 the F355 may have been, but it was a revolutionary car as far as thrilling performance and comprehensive ability. From the standpoint of balancing everyday livability with all-out athleticism, this was the best Ferrari built up to that time — by far. Ferrari had more than answered the challenge set forth by the NSX; it had spit in Honda's eye.
Forget for a moment the full-length ground effects belly pan and the way Ferrari had tuned the all-wishbone suspension, and concentrate solely on the engine. A development of the existing Ferrari V8, the most obvious departure from previous editions was the extra displacement to 3.5 liters and the fitment of 5-valve-per-cylinder DOHC heads. But that was only the start of the engine's innovations.
"The temptation to use an electronic valve control system like Honda's VTEC must have been intense," explained Motor Trend about the F355's engine in contrast to the NSX's, "but the three intake and two exhaust valves sitting atop each combustion chamber have advantages of their own. The intake valves sit together in a crescent, with the center one opening and closing 10 degrees later in the crankshaft rotation than the other two. Theoretically, that laggard valve should increase turbulence in the combustion chamber and promote more efficient combustion....
"Air enters the engine through twin airboxes situated just behind each rear wheel, and then through large air trumpets for a straight shot into each combustion chamber. Somehow Ferrari has snuck through an exhaust system that seems unmuffled and incorporates a variable exhaust backpressure control to maintain the ideal volume no matter what the engine speed.
"Combine the F355's exotic induction and exhaust systems with an 11.0:1 compression ratio and an ultralight reciprocating assembly featuring titanium connecting rods, and the result is a high-revving engine that is among the world's most efficient air pumps. That respiratory efficiency translates into 375 hp at a way-up-there 8250 rpm (just 250 rpm short of the breathtaking redline). Do the math, and that works out to a specific output of 107.3 hp/liter — the highest of any naturally aspirated production car engine ever sold in the United States. To put this in perspective, if it had the same specific output of the Ferrari, the 5.7-liter LT1 V8 (in the Chevrolet Corvette) would produce 611 hp (instead of 300) and the 8.0-liter V10 in the Dodge Viper would make 858 (instead of 400). Even the 3.0-liter VTEC V6 in the NSX, which has a high 90 hp/liter specific output, would make another 50 hp if it had the F355's punch per cubic centimeter."
But as impressive as the output was, many commentators couldn't get over how spectacularly it sounded. That was mostly due to the adoption of a "flat crank" which offset its journals 180 degrees from one another instead of the conventional 90 degrees, effectively leaving the engine operating as if it were two separate 4-cylinder engines. Flat cranks are relatively common in racing (IndyCars in particular), but rare in street-bound vehicles because of their inherent lack of balance. To compensate for that vibration, Ferrari used a set of advanced technology engine mounts that dampened most of the vibration out before it could be transmitted into the car's structure. "This may be the finest V8 in the world," concluded Motor Trend, "and the F355 announces its claim to the title with the most vibrant sound available in a production automobile. Let's not put too fine a point on it: This thing sounds badass."
Stirring the somewhat reluctant 6-speed manual transmission (another first in a Ferrari) for all it was worth, the F355 Berlinetta streaked to 60 mph in just 4.7 seconds and completed the quarter-mile in just 12.8 seconds at 110.2 mph.
At first the F355 was available only as a Berlinetta, then as a Spider with a removable roof panel. Soon after that it was also offered as the full convertible Spider using essentially the same top that was used on the 348. A "Challenge" competition version debuted as well.
"An F355 Challenge racer is basically an F355 Berlinetta coupe enhanced to withstand the rigors of competition; except for a lightweight exhaust system and competition clutch, the midmounted 375 hp 3.5-liter DOHC 5-valve per cylinder V8 and transverse six-speed manual-transmission drivetrain remains unchanged," explained Motor Trend. "The Ferrari-supplied kit that turns a regular F355 into a Challenge racer includes a full roll cage and safety harnesses, a lightweight seat, competition steering wheel, fire-suppression equipment, solid suspension bushings, rear brake cooling ducts and a set of 14-inch diameter front and rear Brembo disc brakes whose adoption requires the fitment of the included Speedline 18-inch wheels. Around those wheels goes a [larger] set of Pirelli series-specific racing slicks....Challenge competitor or not, every F355 owner will want the black mesh grate that replaces the body-color convex tail piece between the street F355's taillights. Not only does it help with engine cooling under race conditions, it looks, well, whatever the passionate Italian term for 'badass' is." But the Challenge package wasn't cheap, adding $30,000 atop the F355 Berlinetta's $123,400 base price. Plus it took 110 hours for a dealership to perform the conversion. And the shop rate at Ferrari dealerships is not cheap.
Through 1996 and 1997 the F355 family remained essentially unchanged — and no one was asking for any changes either. But for 1998 the F355 was offered with an optional computerized shifting system for its six-speed manual transmission known as "F1."
"In principle," explained Road & Track about the new transmission, "the system is exactly what Ferrari has used for several years in F1: clutching and shifting done hydraulically, all managed by an electronic [unit] that also controls the engine's eight throttle valves to ensure proper matching of engine speed with the gear selected. Whatever your driving style, the reengagement of the clutch after each shift is always smooth, unless the throttle is to the floor and utmost speed is required."
The F1 system was operated by the driver tapping paddles placed just behind the steering wheel. Tapping the left paddle would signal a downshift, while a tap of the right one would order an upshift. In the transmission's "Normal" mode the shifts would take just 0.2 second — quicker than virtually any human could perform using a clutch and conventional shifter. If so desired, the system could also still operate like a relatively conventional automatic transmission. Putting the system in "Sport" mode quickened the shifts to just 0.2 second at full throttle, but disabled the automatic operation, requiring that the driver actually tap the shift paddles. To some, the F1 system seemed a betrayal of what an engaging driving machine a Ferrari should be. To others, it was as if they'd reduced Michael Schumacher down to a set of algorithms and installed his shifting ability as a $7,000 option.
The F355 made it through 1999 unchanged, having successfully pushed Ferrari back to its prominent position at the top of the sports car hill. It even made that hill taller.
With the F355 clearly an all-time great, Ferrari could have relaxed and coasted with its successor. Maybe it'd do a few styling changes and throw in a fresh color palette? It's not like Ferrari hadn't made half-efforts before. But instead this time it decided to push the envelope with the outrageous 360 Modena for the year 2000.
"The 360 Modena had to be bigger than the F355, but lighter and more powerful so it would clearly outperform it — and be at least as much fun to drive," Road & Track wrote about their first encounter with the new car. "So it was decided that they'd make the car in aluminum."
That meant replacing the 348's and F355's unibody with a new all-aluminum space frame somewhat similar in concept to that underpinning the Acura NSX. The engine was based on the F355's 40-valve DOHC V8 but expanded to 3.6 liters, with output now warping up to a full 400 hp. A new 6-speed longitudinal manual gearbox supported the car with, once again, the F1 computerized shifting system as an option. "Though being 9 inches longer than its predecessor," wrote Road & Track, "having bigger brakes and being more powerful, the 360 Modena is 220 pounds lighter than the F355."
There were two distinctive elements to the 360's styling. The first were the twin intakes in the front, indicating a split radiator behind the front bumper. The second was that the engine bay was now completely visible under the rear window, lending a sense of spectacle missing from the 360's ancestors.
The aluminum structure eliminated the increasingly rare Targa (removable roof panel) version of the midengine V8 Ferrari from the lineup. But a Spyder version of the car appeared for the 2001 model year. With its twin pod fairings behind the seats and the "engine under glass," it was even more stunning than the Berlinetta.
With the 360 Modena an instant hit, there was little reason to change it. Edmunds.com finally got its chance at the car when we drove a 2004 Challenge Stradale edition. "Just the act of running through those gears is your first indication that the Challenge Stradale is a special automobile, even as Ferraris go," reported Karl Brauer. "All Stradales come outfitted with Ferrari's Formula 1 automated clutch transmission, which uses paddles just beyond the steering wheel for gear swaps. These swaps take place in as little as 150 milliseconds, and because of the electronic interaction between the gearbox and engine, revs are automatically matched to provide maximum efficiency and stability when downshifting. This same transmission is available on 360 Modenas, and it typically includes a full automatic mode. But on the Stradale there is no such mode — all gearchanges must be accomplished by the driver, though the tranny will automatically drop into 1st gear when the vehicle comes to a stop. The settings of 'Street' and 'Sport,' used on the standard Modena, have been upgraded to 'Sport' and 'Race' in the Challenge Stradale. In 'Race' mode just the aforementioned 150 milliseconds pass between gearchanges, the steering ratio quickens and the suspension settings stiffen."
The lightened and hard-core Challenge Stradale wasn't our last chance at a 360 Modena, however. We finally got our shot at the $186,456 360 Spider a few months later in a full test. "...despite the 360's magical driving dynamics," wrote Karl Brauer, "with this car it's all about the engine. Not just in terms of acceleration — the car reaches 60 mph in about 4.5 seconds — but also in terms of sound and emotion. The 3.6-liter engine's note isn't as throaty as an American V8; it sounds more like a Ducati V-twin than any other four-wheeled conveyance we've experienced (except for a Stradale). It's also more visceral than anything we've driven and, along with the steering, that is one of the elements that separates it from Porsches, Aston Martins and Ford's new GT."
But that didn't mean the 360 Modena Spyder was above criticism. "Unfortunately," continued Brauer, "it doesn't have any torque below 4000 rpm, which is where the Ford smokes this one (literally). The Stradale version of the 360 weighs less and has more torque and horsepower, so it feels much livelier, as do Porsche's various horizontally opposed engines. For the fastest launches, you have to turn off traction control, floor the throttle and be ready to shift before the engine hits its rev limiter at around 9000 rpm (redline is at 8500). Even with the F1 transmission, you have to be on your toes (eh, make that fingers) to beat the rev limiter, as the engine's lack of alacrity vanishes above 4000 rpm. From that point on, the V8 becomes a fiery demon of noise and power, rocketing the Spider forward while emitting a shriek that can both frighten and delight — usually both."
The 360 Modena was still vibrant, still fresh and still exciting when Ferrari decided to replace it. And Ferrari once again rose to the challenge of topping itself.
The latest midengined marvel from Maranello did the 360 and F355 proud, with performance taken to the highest level yet.
The 2005 F430's styling is an evolution of the 360, with more aggressive air intakes in front and atop the rear quarters as well as Enzo-inspired taillights. The cabin is likewise similar in most ways but different in others, as the general shape of the dash is familiar, though details like the vents for the climate control are more exposed, like the taillights out back. Giving the F430's cockpit even more of an F1 flavor is the "manettino" switch on the steering wheel that offers five different modes for the stability control system, including "snow," "race" and "off."
From our road test of the F430, it was clear to see that the F430 was a force to be reckoned with in the supercar world. "With the engine now displacing 4.3 liters, output soars to 483 hp and 343 lb-ft of torque. Coupled to an improved F1 transmission that allows gearchanges in as little as 150 milliseconds. Our test Spider hit 60 mph in 4.6 seconds and ran the quarter in 12.4 seconds. With all that power, the F430 proved somewhat tricky to launch and we wanted to give the car back to Ferrari with the clutch intact."
The F1 transmission also benefited from some tweaking, as we indicated: "The biggest changes come in the area of power delivery, both because of the increased torque and because the F1 transmission is vastly improved. Not only are the shifts less prone to "head toss" under part-throttle conditions, but the transmission is better at figuring out which gear to pick when left in Auto mode. For instance, when setting the manettino to its Race setting and lifting off the throttle, the transmission would often drop two gears (depending on vehicle speed) in anticipation of slowing for a turn. It would also hold gears longer before upshifting....Combine this with the engine's wider power band and the F430 proved much easier to drive rapidly, whether in Auto mode or when shifted manually."
Even the already superb handling dynamics of the 360 had been improved as well: "Beyond its substantial drivetrain refinements, we're happy to report that even existing 360 Modena strengths, such as steering response, chassis dynamics and exhaust note, are better on the F430. We would have bet our best driving gloves that Ferrari couldn't improve on the 360's combination of perfect steering and nimble handling, but we'd be driving bare-handed. Add in the car's throatier exhaust rumble and it's clear that even the things we liked about the 360 weren't yet topped out."