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Ferrari 348 Review

Ferrari 348 TS Serie Speciale

BEHIND your head an eight cylinder chorus is channeling Pavarotti as it crests towards a redline of High-C’s. 

-Vincero!

Off the throttle, exhausts crackling, you cut into a sweeping left-hander. Rear steps lively behind front. Tyres grip asphalt. Helm telegraphs everything while registering a meaty resistance. Corner’s dispatched with typical, mid-engined Ferrari poise.

- Si, Si, più veloce!

Back on the power.

An induction whistle!  Like a turbo spooling – the 348′s chorus of eight  breathes in deep to touch higher notes. Higher speeds! The tach races faster toward the 7800 rpm max. Snap ball-capped lever into third and torque takes you to triple digits and your furthest sight-line.

Nose lift’s perceptible and the non-assisted, all-natural steering lightens. Roof off, both the howl of wind and formula-tuned 312 hp V8 compete relentlessly for your attention. Your senses tingle. So this is what having fun while driving fast feels like? Gives sex on wheels a new meaning…

– Basta!

With 20/20 hindsight’s impartial lens, the world of automotive performance has long overtaken the 348. Indeed, when the world was new to the model, the Italian whip fell somehow short of expectations.

By the numbers: Zero to 60 – 5.3 – 5.6 seconds. Top speed – 171 – 175 mph. One owner posted claims online that his car reached 179 mph. Certainly possible. With limiter removed, a Subaru WRX STI can not only match that, it’ll arrive there faster.

There is another, more brutal element to the 348′s story that continues to plague 348 owners like Tosca’s curse on Rome.  It’s an aspect that to this day weighs upon the 348′s legacy and, possibly, value$.

The story is that not long after Enzo’s death in 1988 and Luca di Montezemolo’s ascent, the new chairman had a mind to clean house and breathe fire back into the flagging sports car maker.

For Sr. di Montezemolo, part of mission critical meant trash-talking the 348. In a now infamous interview with Automobile, Ferrari’s boss dispassionately wielded a cleaver to a lovely limb in Ferrari lineage.

“[...] with the exception of its good looks I was utterly disappointed. This was clearly the worst product Ferrari had developed for some time.”

This despite the fact that the 348 succeeded the relatively simple 328 and was sold alongside the controversially styled Mondial.

Some years later, in an interview with Motor Trend, Sr. di Montezemolo expounded on his rationale for distancing Ferrari from the 348. Per MT:

He’d finished the World Cup flushed with its success and decided to reward himself with a yellow Ferrari 348. But just after taking delivery, he was beaten away from the lights by a Fiat Strada hatchback-the hot Abarth version admittedly, but an indignity nonetheless.

“So, at my first meeting as Ferrari chairman, with the MD of our road car division,” he asked, ‘How is the 348? Fantastic?’ “I said, ‘Listen, don’t say this to me because I’m a customer.’ I knew well the problems with the car, and I made a list of them.’”

That list included not only a lack of gusto (the first 348s’ 3.4 Liter V8 advertised 300 hp) but also pointed to a wooden gearbox, instability at high speeds, unyielding ride, and the 348′s bad habit of backstabbing the driver at the limit.

Stereotypical behavior of a temperamental Italian sports car, certamente.

Sr. di Montezemolo charged Ferrari boffins with extracting some Diva from the machine. Hence, this nero su nero 348 TS Serie Speciale.

One of one hundred 348s slotted for the North American market in 1993, among the Ferraristi this evolution of the 348 design marks something of a patch fix in the run up to the 1995 launch of the popular F355.

The Series Speciale compensated for stability issues with a revised suspension and adjusted aerodynamics. Stylistically, the slats over the rectangular tail lamps were removed, a chrome Cavallino added, a new grille in front, but the signature straked side intakes (“cheesegraters”) remained.  To improve function and reliability, Ferrari added a new gearbox, Bosch engine management system, a Made-in-Japan starter, and, for good measure, a new AC system. 

Ask Lane Baker if he’ll ever sell his 348 (with 40K on the clock) and he’ll answer you with a laugh, “This is my coffin. I’ll never sell it.”

Mr. Baker is an engaging car enthusiast.

An engineer by trade,  he can list, point-by-point, the adjustments that he and other Ferrari owners have made to their 348s. He chalks it up to the experience of hands-on ownership and the bond between man and machine. More to the point, owning the 348 has been his dream come true.

“It’s my baby,” he confides. He shows pictures of the car being delivered off a truck all the way from somewhere west of the Mississippi and jokingly points, “it’s the truck’s giving birth to my car.”

Mr. Baker is an active member of the online forum FerrariChat. He describes the community of 348 owners as a “brotherhood” and notes that there’s a healthy rivalry which exists between 348 and 355 owners. In one instance, he recalls exchanging choice words with another member over acid remarks made about the 348′s design.

He and the 348 community are similarly vexed by Luca di Montezemolo’s remarks. It’s as though the full merits of Ferrari ownership are, in some important way, being denied them. Imagine Porsche execs publicly discrediting the 996 generation as a misstep in 911 evolution.

Inconcepible!

Which brings us round back to time behind the wheel. Fortunately for the 348, actions speak octaves louder than words.

After miles of piloting through corner after dip and straightway after onramp, you conclude that the 348 exudes a kind of charisma that only Maranello seems to procure.

The 348 is a monocoque bodied marriage of traditional  driver-centric values and the first taste of technological modernization.   For instance, press on the 348′s firm brake pedal and you have not only the value of true stopping power, but the added assurance of ABS. That said, overplay your hand and there’s no electronic safety-net to keep you from casting a line into the great unknown.

To wit: the 348′s from a golden age when you as driver are responsible for your actions.

Likewise, the 348 summons your active engagement, not passive participation. You cannot help but savor the machine’s Italian bravado which is matched by a technical finesse that’s absent in something so blunt as an American muscle car or so aseptic as a Japanese sports car.

Add to that organic character all the functional idiosyncrasies of two-decade-old Italian sports car design (entry and exit are a challenge) and what you have is an original car with genuine charisma. It’s as complete a package as one could ask for.

Which leaves you to happily forget  0-60 times and allow your senses to embrace the finest pipes this side of La Scala.  The 348 and Mr. Baker’s TS Serie Speciale, in particular, represent in their fallible form, quintessential Ferrari virtues.

In the automotive context, there’s no higher compliment.

-Dilegua, o notte! Tramontate, stelle! All’alba Vincero!

Many thanks to Lane Baker.