The Ferrari 348 by every measure was a better-performing car than the one it replaced, the Ferrari 328. Horsepower, acceleration and top speed were all vastly improved.
Yet, journalists constantly regurgitate the same story about it being the car having flaws and Ferrari's (then) new CEO bagging its performance. Yes, the F355 that superseded the 348 was faster still (yet remarkably, retained much of the superb body and coachwork). But so was the fate of the F355 with the arrival of the 360. As was the fate of the subsequent V8s, the 430, 458 and 488. That's what Ferrari does. Each new generation gaining from the next.
But when introduced in 1989, the 348 was the darling of the European motor shows and continued production with constant refinements until 1995. The Ferrari 348 made its debut in September 1989 at the Frankfurt Auto Show and was deemed 'Best in Show'. It was the final V8 mid-engine model developed by Enzo Ferrari before his death. It is also the last of the analogue Ferraris. The 348 engine also had a dry-sump oil system to prevent oil starvation at high speeds and during hard cornering.
Weighing just 1370kg, the 348 has few excess kilograms. The lack of mass is also due to a lack of power steering and no airbags (given the current Takata airbag fiasco, a good thing). This places the 348 in a very different league to contemporary cars with a myriad of sensors, chips and computers.
This is an analogue machine.
The electronics are usefully targeted to essential systems such as ABS and twin Bosch engine computers. Sure, there was also a self-diagnostic air-conditioning system. But there is, however, a significant up-side to the lack of modern tech: great reliability and nothing expensive to fry, replace or maintain.
Not distracted by superfluous lights, buttons and gadgetry, the first thing you notice when firing up a 348 is the sound. No Detroit-like burble here, instead you get that unique Formula 1-inspired symphony that even Ludwig Van would have actually heard in his later years (and approved of!). At around 4000rpm through to the 7500rpm redline, the engine simply sings a note only a Ferrari can reach.
As for the styling, I think it's brilliant.
Pininfarina stylist Leonardo Fioravanti (read 246 Dino, Daytona 365, 288 GTO fame) drew styling cues from the legendary Ferrari Testarossa, including the iconic horizontal strakes down the side of the body. The nose also echoes the F40, these two arguably being two of the most iconic Ferraris ever produced. For journalistic prats to suggest Fioravanti somehow came up with a clunker in the 348 beggars belief.
A recent UK TV show survey had the presenters shaking their heads when the results showed the Testarossa was considered by the public to be "the most beautiful Ferrari". Yet, the 348 is more rounded than the Testarossa with door strakes that have form and function – they deliver cooling air to the engine's twin radiators. Dated styling? So is Michelangelo's David.
The 348 has an extremely low stance, equal to the F355 and lower than the 360, 430, 458 and 488 that followed. The Connolly leather interior is clean, slick and still has a contemporary look. Not bad for a design from a quarter century ago.
Performance? In nanny state Australia, it's more than adequate, but, sure, the latest 2018 hot hatch/STi will probably leave it behind at the traffic lights. 100km/h will come up in some 5.3 seconds, however things change radically after that. Due to its low mass and slick aerodynamics, 200km/h comes up almost as quickly, and it will keep accelerating up to 270km/h. Lower in the speed envelope, the 348 corners brilliantly. The steering is simply positive and precise.
As for the lack of power steering, EVO magazine's Henry Catchpole states the 348 “has some of the best steering, possibly the best, that I have ever sat behind”. He expounded on the car’s analogue character, describing the steering as, “coming alive in my hands. It literally starts wriggling around, talking excitedly about all the bumps in the road and sometimes making a bigger gesture as a camber attracts its attention. Despite the lack of assistance and the wheel’s relatively small diameter, it’s not heavy in any way, there’s just perfect weight and no slack to add to the constant communication".
There are some caveats. I managed to take my wife for a spin in my 348 TS. Literally. I discovered mid-engine cars can have a property that was unknown to me at the time: snap oversteer. The fix, as I later read while in the house of the dog, was don't lift off the accelerator too aggressively if you feel the tail drift while accelerating into a corner. Thankfully, only my pride was damaged during this dismal display of my driving ability.
Driven more intelligently, the 348 simply hugs corners. One of the joys it provides is to watch the blind panic unfold in the rear-vision mirror, as you go through a hairpin (at around three times the 'safe advisory' speed sign's clip) while an over-exuberant P-plated buzz box epicly fails in their attempt to follow at the same clip.
As for finding a good right-hand-drive 348, I wish you well. In Australia, as I write, you can choose from four, none of which were locally delivered. One is a left-hand drive. Some parts are becoming hard to acquire. Things to look for are: no signs of rust, no signs of collision damage/repair, a positive clutch (twin-plate versions are difficult to track down), working AC and working clock. Air vents are known to get sticky, with many interiors looking shabby due to poor efforts to refurbish them.
Make no mistake, they are fast becoming rare birds. Only around 600 non-south-paw versions were built, and of them only around 150 were deported to Botany Bay. Having seen many UK/Euro-sourced 348 and F355 imports, corrosion has been a real problem in the samples I have seen. Australian-delivered cars also tend to have a better service/paper trail that can be as long as your arm, which is good.
Evidence of regular servicing and not-inexpensive cam belt changes is essential. USA-delivered cars are another rust-free option, but of course are all left-hand drive. Lots of luck seeing traffic on the wrong side of the car with a 40-inch (about a metre) ride height. Best not even go there methinks, or at least make sure your car and personal insurance are up to date.
In summary, the Ferrari 348 is an iconic version of the marque that has been unfairly maligned by hearsay and ignorance. To coin the contemporary phrase: fake news. The ride is racing-car firm, steering positive and performance more than adequate to lose your licence while still in second gear – or first gear if you really want to nudge the redline in a school zone.
As for the styling, when I'm in my 348, people just don't notice the Porsche next to me. They point, hold up their phone-cameras, prod their young kids, saying 'Look! A Ferrari!'. Most don't have a clue what year or model Ferrari it is, they simply point, wave, smile and possibly wonder what line of narcotic I deal in.
The exhaust note is symphonic. The Pininfarina styling is clearly timeless, which is more than I can say for the grey-haired guy in the driver's seat – but even he is grinning like a kid. By any measure, the Ferrari 348 is a great example of this iconic marque. Given prices have risen some 50 per cent in the last five years, it seems the market has finally woken up to this fact as well.