New-Wave V8

The 348 reinvented Ferrari’s 8-cylinder lineup, but polarized owners, enthusiasts and the media in the process.

New-Wave V8 1
January 15, 2015

At the 1989 Frankfurt Auto Show, Ferrari unveiled the 348 tb and targa-top ts. As the replacement for the long-running 308/328 series, not to mention the first all-new model revealed after Enzo Ferrari’s death, the 348 had big shoes to fill. And, on paper, fill them it did.

The 348 introduced plenty of new thinking to Maranello’s V8 lineup. Most significant was the adoption of monocoque construction—in this case a pressed-steel chassis with welded-on body panels—in place of the company’s traditional steel-tube frame. In addition, the 348’s 300-hp engine was mounted longitudinally, compared to the 308/328’s transverse mounting, and paired with a transverse gearbox (first seen on the Mondial t) for better packaging and a lower center of gravity.

While the 348’s mechanicals were clear improvements over those of its predecessors, the same couldn’t necessarily be said of its styling. Abandoning the 328’s classic lines, Pininfarina’s designers developed a modern, angular wedge profile outfitted with Testarossa-style slatted side air intakes and taillight treatment. Reviews were mixed.

Reports of the driving experience were likewise mixed. There was no question the newest “baby” Ferrari came with a significant increase in performance, one that brought it closer than ever to its 12-cylinder big brother, but the 348 was accused of tricky, if not treacherous, at-the-limit handling. In an era when Acura’s NSX made owning and driving an exotic easy, this was a high hurdle to overcome. Extensive, well-publicized problems with build quality soon further blemished the new model’s image.

It wasn’t long before the 348 bounced back, however. Ferrari went to exceptional lengths to repair problems with existing cars, vastly improve the build quality of new ones and sort out the handling issues (’92-and-later examples received reworked suspension hardware and settings). The launch of the sportier Serie Speciale in 1992 and the debut of the Ferrari Challenge racing series in ’93 gave the model newfound credibility, while the 1994 arrival of the 348 Spider reintroduced a true convertible to Ferrari’s stables for the first time in more than two decades.

Today, the 348 continues to divide opinion. While many owners swear by their cars’ performance and overall reliability, the model’s reputation is still heavily influenced by its early teething problems, even though most of those issues have been resolved. Although it’s crucial to search out a fully updated, fully serviced example, the 348’s reputation is a boon for today’s buyer: It has kept prices relatively low.

Marketplace

The 348 was, in many ways, Ferrari’s first modern car. Unfortunately, the $120,000 model was also the wrong car at the wrong time. The 348 was introduced just as the 1985-89 collector-car market imploded, which reduced demand for new and used Ferraris alike. Early examples suffered from serious build-quality issues, which further diminished buyers’ enthusiasm, and the Testarossa-inspired styling, so radical and in vogue a few years earlier, was starting to age, badly. All these factors conspired to reduce 348 production, which had been chugging along at roughly 4,000 cars per year, nearly 50 percent by 1993.

New-Wave V8 2

In the end, however, the 348 ended up outselling both the 308 and the 328, with more than 8,300 examples produced between 1989 and ’95. Breaking down that total, Ferrari built 3,116 berlinettas, 4,446 targas, 1,146 Spiders and 100 of the U.S.-only Serie Speciales.

Not surprisingly, the rarer Spider and SS models command higher prices than the more common tb’s and ts’s. Overall, though, the 348’s high production numbers mean there’s no chance of the model ever becoming collectable in any financial sense. —Michael Sheehan

Model Low High
348 tb $25,000 $40,000
348 ts $25,000 $40,000
348 Spider $35,000 $50,000
348 Serie Speciale $35,000 $50,000

These prices are for fully serviced cars in good-to-great condition.

On the Road

h4.The 348 has received many mixed reviews, with critics alternately praising its power and panning its handling. Here’s some of what we’ve said about the model.

I WAS SURPRISED to discover that the 328 and its [four-inch] shorter wheelbase actually fit me better [than the 348 ts]; at six-three, I maxed out the 348’s legroom and headroom capabilities. Yet the seat is comfortable, and the superb bolstering for your lower back holds you firmly in place.

As always, the shift lever falls right to your hand. Unfortunately, the tranny itself does not compare with those on other Ferraris, for it has a recalcitrance that is more balky than notchy, and it requires a deliberate effort to move through the gate.

The Tipo F119 3.4-liter V8, on the other hand, is a pure joy. Energetic and extremely tractable, stomp on it in first gear and a 348 makes a 328 seem anemic, rough around the edges and decidedly “old school.” That seamless thrust continues in the other gears. When standing on it and whacking the shifter through second and third, the 348 delivers that exhilarating, relentless pull found in an F512M.

New-Wave V8 3

It also relishes sinuous roads. The [unassisted] steering is so beautifully direct that the car moves the instant you think about an input, in the exact amount you planned. Clearly, this Ferrari’s limits are way beyond those of most drivers, and you would have to be doing something awfully foolish to find the snap oversteer manners Car and Driver and others spoke of.

That makes the 348’s ride all the more of a letdown. It is bouncy on uneven pavement, and it often wanders at speed on similar surfaces. The body has a number of squeaks, and you can feel the frame flex slightly.

Climbing into the 348 Spider was a relief, especially after finding so much to gripe about in the ts. From the instant I got behind the wheel of the later version, it was immediately clear that it is a totally different car. The construction quality and attention to detail are decidedly better. More important, it is an altogether different experience on the road. Tackle the same streets and freeways that had the earlier ts bobbing, and the Spider remains glued to the tarmac, the suspension soaking up undulations without upsetting the occupants. It is even more delicious at high speed.

It is also clear Ferrari improved the chassis. The Spider feels more rigid, and doesn’t exhibit the flex and creaks found in the earlier ts. Its wider rear track, altered gear ratios and unmuffled V8 symphony make it an even more enjoyable tango partner for dancing down your favorite series of bends and straights.

—Winston Goodfellow
“Sparkling Diamond or Gem in the Rough?” FORZA #30

DESPITE COMMENTS BY PAST TESTERS, I still find the [348 Serie Speciale’s] driving position suited to someone whose legs are shorter and arms are longer than mine—and the seats were definitely made for someone with a narrower posterior. But there is a payoff, and it comes as soon as the drive begins. The SS is a rocket sled, pure and simple, with more straight-line speed than can be exploited on public roads, cornering potential far beyond my skill level and superb brakes. It sounds terrific, too, especially as it reaches its 7,200-rpm redline.

The SS makes its driver work for speed. Steering, braking and shifting all require deliberate effort. Delicacy doesn’t count here; the car does what you make it do, no more and certainly no less. In its cornering behavior, the SS is a vast improvement over earlier 348s, showing no tendency to wag its tail. That criticism of the breed was unjustified in my view anyway, as what some found to be erratic behavior was simply the 348’s razor-sharp responsiveness.

New-Wave V8 4

—Ray Thursby
“The Unloved Ferraris,” FORZA #48

The Garage

EARLY 348s SUFFERED from a number of engineering and component shortcomings that seriously tarnished the car’s reputation. Ferrari took these problems seriously and implemented an ongoing program to fix issues as they arose, re-engineering where needed and replacing component suppliers as appropriate. To some degree, dealers were given latitude to be proactive in fixing known problem areas. By late in production, most of the model’s issues had been taken care of and the 1993-on cars rolling out of the factory gave their owners good service.

Getting and keeping a 348 working well is more dependant on an individual car’s history than most. My advice is to buy the newest, best-maintained example you can get, since the ownership experience is very dependant on date of production, the updates the car has received and adhering to the factory service schedule. Getting an expert opinion on any car you’re seriously considering is vital.

On the other side of the ledger, the 348 requires no special electronic equipment to perform service or repairs. It is one of the last cars from Maranello that an advanced do-it-yourselfer can expect to maintain properly.

Like the 288 GTO, Mondial and Testarossa, the 348 features a removable subframe that holds the engine, transmission and rear suspension. This facilitates removing the engine for routine service and repairs, but that removal and subsequent reinstallation add significantly to the cost of these services and repairs like replacing the water pump or working on the lower chain drive. A major service typically starts at around $7,000 and goes up from there. —Brian Crall

MAJOR ISSUES

WEAK BEARINGS

The inner support bearing for the cam-drive jack shaft had insufficient capacity for the load it carried. An update that supplied, among other parts, a different bearing was offered, but while it was an improvement a change in block design was needed for a true fix. Ferrari did just that: Starting with assembly number 4384, a new block allowed for a much improved support bearing design.

CHAIN TENSIONER WEAR

The possibility of extensive chain-tensioner wear in the lower drive system warrants close inspection during all major repairs or services requiring engine removal. It is interesting to note that, for the F355, this entire cam-drive system was replaced with one that is very close in operation to that of the 308.

New-Wave V8 5
BAD ALTERNATOR

Early cars were equipped with a failure-prone Delco alternator. Ferrari provided a complete conversion kit to update any car with an alternator problem for quite some time after the warranty expired. The kit included the Nippondenso alternator of the later cars, new mounting brackets, all hardware and a new harness for the alternator itself. It’s unlikely you’ll find a car with the original Delco unit today, but it’s something to watch out for.

MINOR ISSUES

All 1989 models, along with some ’90 and ’91 cars, were equipped with Bosch’s Motronic 2.5 engine-management system. (Motronic 2.5 lacked the Federally mandated On Board Diagnostic, or OBD1, capability, so Motronic 2.7 was phased in starting in 1990.) A number of parts for the 2.5-equipped cars are no longer available from Bosch, making engine-management repairs more complex.

When new, the 3.4-liter engine sometimes suffered from considerable oil leakage at both the forward ends of the valve-cover gaskets and the large O rings that seal the cam-seal housings. Dealers were provided with technical bulletins, directions and tools to perform modifications that, if followed correctly, largely cured or at least minimized the problem.

The 348 utilizes an early electronic climate-control system, which can be problematic. The control unit—the electronic heart of the system—is not currently available, so repairs can get complicated. I understand that poor solder joints on the internal PC boards are often responsible for issues, and that these joints can be repaired with some expert soldering.

The car’s dual-disc clutch is expensive, so many have been converted to a less-expensive, single-disc unit. Occasionally, if the oil seals on the coaxial shafts leak, gear oil can get onto the dual-mass flywheel, displacing the grease and ruining the clutch.

The 348 was one of the first Ferraris to manifest the now-dreaded sticky switches problem, in which the coating on some interior plastic pieces becomes gooey and starts to rub off on hands, clothing, etc. If the problem strikes, the plastic bits will need to be replaced or refinished. Sticky No More is very highly regarded for the latter.

Owners’ Take

Bruce Bogart
1989 348 ts

Purchased with 40,000 miles in 2004; currently has 80,000 miles

New-Wave V8 6

Why did you want a 348?
I’ve been a car guy all my life. Ferraris were unobtainable, but, damn, they were beautiful. I had just developed a property in Hermosa Beach and had a wad of cash in my pocket, so I said to myself, “If I’m ever going to own a Ferrari, this is the time.” I went on eBay looking for 308s—I think they’re the most beautiful car ever made—but saw a 348 with a broken transmission. I put in a low bid, went to lunch, came back and found out I’d won it. I replaced the transmission with the later version, figured I’d drive the car for six months like I stole it, then sell it for a profit. That was ten years and 40,000 miles ago.

What do you use your Ferrari for?
Everything. You go into the garage, see the Jeep and the Ferrari, which one do you take? [Laughs] Some days you gotta take the Jeep, but when you’re lucky you take the Ferrari.

What do you like most about the 348?
It’s a great-looking, great-handling car. You can go drive the piss out of it and it’s gonna start the next time. It’s very happy when driven enthusiastically and it goes around corners pretty quick. I’ll get out in the desert and make damn sure it’ll still go 170 mph.

Any dislikes?
The difficulty in modifying them is one, and I wish it had another 50 or 100 horsepower. I also wish the interior was all leather or all something else; there’s a vinyl-like material on the dash and some other areas that’s deteriorating. And, of course, the switches and stuff getting sticky.

How reliable has your 599 been?
Pretty bulletpoof. I’ve replaced a wheel bearing, the alternator, the usual stuff that goes wrong with a car. Everything’s put together pretty elegantly, and working on the car is a matter of being patient. Do everything in order and it goes smoothly. Try to cut corners and it’s going to be frustrating.

How about wear and tear?
The car is actually undergoing a transition now. A year ago, a tree branch fell on it, so I disassembled the car—it was getting a little long in the tooth —and it’s at the body shop having a complete repaint. I’m going to make a hot rod out of it: Remove a lot of weight, make it a combination street/track car. Before the tree, the paint had held up nicely but was getting thin. The interior wasn’t perfect by any means, but it wasn’t ragged, either.

Would you recommend this car to a friend?
I’ve recommend it to many people. A lotta guys who want a Ferrari have seen and heard an F355. Those cars are gorgeous and the sound will make the hair on your neck stand up, but you’re gonna put a lot of money into one of them.

The 348 is still tarnished [by the bad press it received when new], and when Luca di Montezemolo came in, he tried to raise his stature in the company by saying what they had made before him was trash. That hurt our cars. Let’s call it the Dino syndrome.

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  • One-off Daytona wagon
  • Croul Ferrari collection
  • The art of panel beating
  • FXX Evoluzione as art
  • FORZA Tifosi Challenge: 458
  • F1: The Curtain Falls
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