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Ferrari 348 Company History

Published: 3rd Nov 2017 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Ferrari 348
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Jeff Bailey

Who doesn’t dream of owning their own red Ferrari? The curves, the presence, the power, the glory. Life is never without its surprises and one day, after all the hard work had paid off, I’d scraped enough wonga together to stretch to a Ferrari… well, it would be rude not to as they used to say back then!

I’d had a few Italian cars before, such as a Lancia HPE and an Alfa Spider, but this was really the big league now and I couldn’t afford to make a mistake. £50 grand for a second-hand car! Was I mad? I decided to consult an official Ferrari dealer to get the benefit of a properly sorted car with a factory-backed warranty, so I paid a visit to Bob Houghton Ferrari, based in Gloucestershire.

Although any Ferrari is attractive, back in the early 90s I’d lusted after the 348. There was something about the curves, the presence – it was the most beautiful car I’d ever seen. I wanted one then and I wanted one now. Of course, the 355 is visually very similar and if anything, even more beautiful, but it was a relatively new model and the prices were way beyond my budget which I’d set at £50,000.

A 348 it was, then. People who know Ferraris say the targa versions are all very well when the sun’s out, but there is body flex. This, together with the inevitable water leaks steered me towards the closed Berlinetta version. I plumped for an earlier 1991 car with 18,000 miles because it was pristine – and condition is everything with Ferraris.

On the test drive, it was a sunny day and the roads were empty in rural Gloucestershire. I opened her up and we covered about 10 miles. My first impressions were lukewarm. I thought the performance, whilst quick, was not much better than the supercharged Jaguar XJR that I had just sold and, second, the suspension was buckboard hard. On the positive side, the handling and roadholding were delicate and intuitive and when I had got used to the dog-leg first gear, everything fell into place; I was hooked.

Houghton agreed to carry out a full service and cam belt change which is essential every two years whether the car has turned a wheel or not. This little lot cost the thick end of £3000 so I was happy to get it all out of the way before I collected the car. Insurance with a reputable classic specialist cost around the £750 mark and routine servicing when the belts aren’t being included is around the same, which isn’t too bad.

The all-important Ferrari warranty (recently revamped to cover models 15 years old-ed) was activated for peace of mind, but I was a little disconcerted to see a limit of £2000 on any one claim as I’d been told by my dealer a 348 engine rebuild would cost £25,000! Reassuringly though, it did add that the workshop had never had to do one for a road car customer.

Sod’s law said that it would be raining when I collected it, but I was wrong – it was a deluge. What an introduction to the world of Ferrari ownership the 100-mile drive home was; a white-knuckle ride to rival anything at Alton Towers due to the combination of inexperience, sheet water and a rather twitchy rear (mine and the car). So, day to day what’s it like to own one of these supercars? Ecstasy or agony? The answer is a bit of both. She is a flamboyant Italian mistress and occasionally does what she wants. A lot did go wrong, but they were niggling faults rather than mechanical Armageddon. In truth, the engine never seemed to be strained, no matter how hard it was revved and the harder it was revved, the better it sounded! One day I nipped into the pub for lunch and afterwards when I tried to start it the battery was flat; this triggered the alarm, accompanied by manic flashing and hooting. The car just would not start and the mirth on the faces of drinkers sitting outside will stay with me forever.

Don’t ever break down in one of these unless nobody can see! Actually, the battery went flat on a number of other occasions and had to be replaced. So did the alarm. The offside headlamp also refused to retract, which gave the Fezza a demented winking expression – and more mirth from passers-by.

The worst things that happened were, as it turned out, minor, but were quite capable of bringing on a coronary seizure. One of these was a red light appearing as I was giving it some beans around the Oxford ring road. Before I could take any action, there was a notable loss of power and then a total loss as the engine cut out. I coasted into a garage and looked up the handbook. It appeared to be a heat sensor on one of the two catalysts which closes down that bank of cylinders to protect it. It was checked out and the sensor found to be faulty and replaced under warranty. The second one did the same a month later…

Another was more unnerving still. The top hose blew in dramatic style on a main road and I coasted into a Peugeot garage just in time to see Old Faithful erupt somewhere behind my head. At the time, I had no idea what it was, but I did see illuminated pound signs in front of my eyes for some time. No damage was done, apart from the usual ribbing (this time from grinning Peugeot mechanics), but it had to be trailered to the dealer yet again, which was a pain, but it was thankfully, again, covered under the worthy warranty.

Thus far, it all seems a litany of disaster – and to be frank, it shouldn’t happen after spending £50,000 on a used car. A Ferrari, however, is not a car you can just jump into and run down to the shops (although I did on many occasions); nor is it the sort of bullet-proof build you take for granted driving, say, a Mercedes SL500. But that’s to miss the point, proven by other peoples’ reactions to the car. Men see it as testosterone personified and when parked it attracts more blokes than women, which I hadn’t noticed until my girlfriend pointed it out!

It also polarises other drivers’ reactions. One type looks on wistfully, the other will do anything possible to cut you up or impede your progress; there are no grey areas. This would often be topped off with a two-finger flourish, but you learn to ignore it – with a Ferrari, what is there to prove?

My time with the 348 was an experience rich in extremes and passion, which is as it should be. It is, for better or worse, the ultimate automotive status symbol and that’s part of its problem. Other peoples’ attitudes mean you can’t just go out for a drive unnoticed and that includes the police. If you’re going for it in a Ferrari, better keep your wits about you and don’t dice with other road users.

Ultimately, rising early on a summer Sunday morning and seeking out a nice deserted Gatso-free rural B road will find the best in this car. Culminating in a swift half and admiring its perfect shape outside a country pub at lunchtime finally makes sense of it all.

When the time came, I sold her (the car not the girlfriend) and the 348 now has a new owner. For my part, she will be remembered as the impossibly beautiful Italian mistress with whom I was lucky enough to spend a few stolen moments and like a nostalgic scent, the sound of a passing Ferrari on full chat still sends tingles down the spine. She’s gone, but not forgotten. Rather like a difficult relationship – with time, you only remember the good bits.


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