The Practical Pony

The Mondial delivers the Ferrari experience with room to spare.

The Practical Pony 1
March 11, 2016

Ferrari’s four-seaters occupy a distinct space in the company’s stables. Neither as fast nor stylish as their two-seat contemporaries, they deliver a more relaxed, luxurious driving experience, one that makes them ideal for the metaphorical (or literal) crossing of continents.

In the early 1970s, after a decade of building V12-powered 2+2s, Ferrari decided to downsize. The Bertone-styled 308 GT4, introduced in 1973, combined an all-new mid-mounted 3-liter V8 engine with vestigial rear seats. While this reasonably financially successful model proved the concept, there was room for improvement when it came to implementation.

For its next mid-engine 2+2, Maranello stretched the GT4’s wheelbase by four inches to allow for more rear legroom and turned over design duties to Pininfarina. The result was the Mondial 8.

Named in honor of Ferrari’s 1950s’ 500 Mondial sports-racer, the Mondial 8 debuted at the 1980 Geneva Auto Show. Period press reviews praised the car’s looks, interior space, and comfort, but its anemic performance—the V8 delivered just 205 ponies in U.S. trim, and the Mondial weighed around 450 pounds more than the 308 with which it shared that engine—produced little enthusiasm.

Maranello remedied the power deficiency in mid 1982, with the launch of the Mondial QV. Now powered by the 235-hp four-valve V8 from the 308 Quattrovalvole and sporting a lower final drive ratio, the car felt more like a proper Prancing Horse. The interior also received a slight freshening, but the biggest news came in January ’84, when Ferrari unveiled a Cabriolet version, its first-ever four-seat convertible.

The model improved further in early 1985 with the debut of the 260-hp, 328-powered Mondial 3.2. The newest Mondial also received a full exterior update, with a 328-style facia, 328-style color-coded bumpers, and 328 wheels. In ’88, the 3.2 became the first U.S.-spec Ferrari equipped with anti-lock brakes.

The Practical Pony 2

If the Mondial QV and 3.2 were straightforward updates of the original 8, the 1989 Mondial t was more of a rethink. While the exterior remained mostly unchanged, the t’s interior was all new and much more modern looking; it even offered fold-down rear seats. More significant, the t received the 348’s 300-hp longitudinally mounted engine and transversely mounted gearbox, along with Ferrari’s first power-assisted steering setup and electrically adjustable shock absorbers.

Another first arrived for 1993, the final year of Mondial production, when Ferrari introduced the optional Valeo semi-automatic transmission. The Valeo system retained the classic gated shifter but eliminated the clutch pedal; F1-style paddleshifters were still several years away.

Although the Mondial quickly evolved into a excellent car, it never attracted the attention or carried the cachet of Ferrari’s sports cars. For that reason, the various Mondials are some of the least-expensive Ferraris you can buy. But for those enthusiasts who want a more refined, comfortable, and spacious car, the low price of entry only makes the Mondial more appealing.

Marketplace

When new, the Mondial was a sales success. Although the underpowered Mondial 8 is widely disparaged today, Ferrari sold 703 of them between 1980 and ’82. Things only got better from there as the model evolved through three additional versions over the next 11 years. From 1982 to ’85, Ferrari built 1,145 Mondial QV coupes and 629 Cabriolets. Production of the 1985-89 3.2 fell to 987 coupes and 810 Cabs, but climbed again with the 1989-93 Mondial t: 858 coupes and 1,017 Cabs were built.

The Mondial has never inspired the lust of its more sporting cousins, and its value on the secondary market reflects this fact. It wasn’t long before the Mondial became the bargain hunter’s Ferrari, and today’s buyer has to beware of previous low-buck repairs and deferred maintenance. A pre-purchase inspection is mandatory.

It gets worse. A major service on an inexpensive example can potentially cost half of the purchase price. Replacing a worn-out leather interior requires an upper four-figure investment. The Mondial has even proven immune to this decade’s across-the-board increase in Ferrari prices. If anything, values of the pricier models have continued to settle.

The Practical Pony 3

The good news? A well-sorted Mondial offers 150-mph performance, excellent handling, a roomy interior, and the wonderful sound of a Ferrari V8, along with all the mystique of the Prancing Horse badge. And you can get one for the price of a new Honda. —Michael Sheehan

Model Low High
Mondial 8 $15,000 $20,000
Mondial QV $20,000 $30,000
Mondial QV Cabriolet $25,000 $35,000
Mondial 3.2 $20,000 $30,000
Mondial 3.2 Cabriolet $25,000 $35,000
Mondial t $25,000 $35,000
Mondial t Cabriolet $30,000 $40,000

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

On the Road

It may favor comfort over outright speed, but the Mondial drives like a real Ferrari. Here’s some of what we’ve said about the model over the years.

I HAD BEEN FORTUNATE enough to drive…the Mondial 8 shortly after its launch. To say the experience was underwhelming is an understatement. The cars were s-l-o-w…and the steering was ponderous, especially at low speeds.

It became clear within minutes that the 3.2 was an entirely different breed of Prancing Horse from the Mondial 8. Still a bit heavy at a dead stop…[the 3.2’s steering] immediately lightens once you start moving. It was [also] more communicative than that of the earlier cars, making the 3.2 more rewarding to drive.

And be assured this is a “rewarding drive.” The long wheelbase dishes out a compliant ride at any speed. Handling is superb, and the car feels very controllable as you pitch it into a turn. The steering and suspension give good feedback, with minor body roll coming to the fore only at prodigious speeds.

The engine is tractable and dishes out good thrills once the Mondial is up and rolling. Acceleration in first and second is decent…[and] when you whack the lever into third and keep the pedal planted to the metal, the elasticity of that never-ending pull will put a smile on your face. From 4,500 rpm on up, the 3.2 is all Ferrari, the surge above 6,500 being strongest. Shift into fourth, mash the throttle and the acceleration continues unabated.

The Practical Pony 4

—Winston Goodfellow
“A Ferrari Within Reach,” FORZA #41

ACCELERATING HARD down a short straight, there’s no doubt the t is good for all of its 300 horsepower; it feels considerably quicker than its 270-hp 3.2-liter predecessor. The four-cam V8 spins quickly through the rev range with a hard-edged metallic howl, and the hefty mid-range shove gets progressively stronger as the engine shrieks towards redline.

The Ferrari sails back and forth through a series of medium-speed bends in a reassuringly neutral fashion. Turn-in is keen, with a minimum amount of speed-scrubbing understeer to spoil the fun. The light steering makes it easy to position the Mondial on the road. While period purists no doubt looked aghast at the power assist, Ferrari’s engineers did a great job of retaining steering feel and weighting in their quest for improved ease of use.

The t’s lower center of gravity pays dividends when it comes to handling. It feels more hunkered down than earlier Mondials (although not as much as the more sporting 348) and is easier to drive fast and get into a satisfying rhythm. However, there is considerable body roll when the shocks are set to their soft setting. Hitting the button with the two little shock-absorber icons stiffens the suspension enough to inject more confidence into the equation, though it doesn’t completely transform the Mondial’s touring-oriented behavior.

—Zachary Mayne
“Double Duty,” FORZA #76

The Garage

THE FOUR GENERATIONS OF MONDIAL share their drivetrains with Ferrari’s contemporary two-seaters. The Mondial 8 utilizes a fuel-injected version of the 308’s two-valve 3-liter V8, while the Mondial QV is powered by the four-valve 308 engine. (FYI, due to its emissions-control equipment the 1983 model makes a little less real-world horsepower than the ’84 and ’85 versions.) The Mondial 3.2 shares its 3.2-liter V8 with the 328, and the Mondial t uses the 348’s 3.4-liter engine and transversely mounted transaxle.

The Practical Pony 5

The most significant potential problem areas are listed here, but for more information on a particular Mondial refer to the relevant Buyer’s Guide for its “partner” model. You’ll find the 308 guide in issue #127, the 328 in issue #133, and the 348 in issue #140.

Mondials are sturdy, robust cars overall, but they suffer from electrical gremlins that owners should be prepared to deal with from time to time. While the t did away with the earlier cars’ problematic Check Control System (see below), it has its own set of gremlins thanks to its more advanced design.

With the exception of the 8, Mondials were available as coupes or Cabriolets. The convertible top was designed to maintain the coupe’s distinctive roofline when closed, but the stylish design can be frustrating to raise and lower until you learn its idiosyncrasies. An assistant helps, but patience, care, and a delicate touch on the fragile and expensive top latches (which must be properly adjusted to function correctly) are always required.

Like the 288 GTO, Testarossa, and 348, all Mondials feature a removable subframe that holds the engine, transmission, and rear suspension. The t’s reoriented engine and transmission and new cam-drive design require the subframe to be dropped for routine service and repairs, which adds significantly to the cost. Whenever the engine is removed, the chain tensioner in the lower drive system should be inspected for extensive wear.

Some Mondials, especially early examples, are offered for sale at very attractive prices. This can be a false economy; paying less up front often leads to paying more in the long run due to poor quality of repairs, haphazard maintenance, and so on. I recommend buying the newest, best-maintained example you can, and of course getting an expert opinion on it first. —Brian Crall

MAJOR ISSUES

ELECTRICAL GREMLINS

The Mondial was equipped with, by Ferrari standards of the day, numerous electrical conveniences. These included electrical releases for the front and rear luggage compartments, the engine cover, glove box, and fuel-filler door. All versions except the t also had a status display called Check Control System that monitored oil levels in the engine and transmission, the engine coolant level, the washer-fluid level, the braking system, brake and external lights, the air conditioner, and more. From the beginning, these gadgets suffered from component-quality issues and have been a regular source of problems and owner complaints.

The Practical Pony 6
WEAK FUSE BOARD

The Mondial introduced a new fuse board that eventually found its way into the entire lineup. This board’s internal connections have, over time, proved inadequate to handle the current load needed for some systems. GT Car Parts will rebuild the standard board if it fails, while Scuderia Rampante Innovations offers a more expensive upgrade that will solve the problem for good.

FRAGILE EXHAUST VALE STEMS (MONDIAL 8 ONLY)

The two-valve 308/Mondial 8 engine featured exhaust valves with hollow, sodium-filled stems. Age has taken its toll on the structural integrity of these stems, and reports of broken valves—and the resulting extensive engine damage—seem to be becoming more common. I recommend replacing the original-style exhaust valves with modern one-piece stainless-steel items.

HIGH OIL PRESSURE (MONDIAL 3.2 ONLY)

The 308 engine suffered from low oil pressure at high temperatures, so Ferrari increased the oil pressure in the 328/Mondial 3.2 motor. Unfortunately, this increase, particularly when the oil was still cold, was sometimes too much for the oil-cooler hoses and, less often, the cooler itself; from time to time, these components would blow up, spraying oil all over the place. Ferrari issued a Technical Service Bulletin (TSB) calling for a modification to the oil-pressure relief valve to lower the oil pressure; almost all cars will have already received this fix.

IGNITION ROTOR (MONDIAL 3.2 ONLY)

The 3.2-liter engine introduced a redesigned ignition rotor and cam extension that it mounted to. The cam extension had a built-in rubber vibration damper that often delaminated, allowing oil from the pressurized camshaft to leak, sometimes profusely, from the distributors. A TSB was issued to replace the extensions with a solid-type cam extension; almost all cars will have already received this fix.

WEAK CAM-DRIVE BEARINGS (MONDIAL t ONLY)

The 3.4-liter engine featured a totally redesigned cam-drive system. This setup, which used a single, very long timing belt to drive all four cams, was driven by a chain-driven jackshaft and oil pump. Prior to engine 24719, that jackshaft was supported by a small under-rated bearing that was prone to premature failure. Ferrari redesigned the bearing, although it was only an improvement, not a fix, since the block’s design did not allow the use of a larger bearing. (Engines after 24719 received a redesigned block with a larger bearing, which improved the situation considerably.) Several parts in the cam and oil
pump drive system are not available from Ferrari and need to be sourced from Scuderia Rampante Innovations.

MINOR ISSUES

All Mondial coupes were available with an electric sunroof. The sunroof’s cable-drive system has some fragile parts that sometimes fail.

Early 1989 Mondials featured an interim engine-management system: *Bosch 2.5 Motronic*. Few cars were built with the system, which is not well supported by either Ferrari or Bosch; some replacement parts can be very challenging to find. (The simple, reliable, robust, easy-to-diagnose Motronic 2.7 was introduced partway through ’89 production.)

The 3.4-liter engine had a reputation for oil leaks at the cam-seal housings. These can be reasonably well addressed by performing the modifications outlined in a couple of Technical Service Bulletins issued by Ferrari.

The Mondial t’s hydraulic clutch-release bearing and the sleeve it operates on were both marginal designs; they are prone to splitting their housings and spilling hydraulic fluid. Hill Engineering offers high-quality redesigned replacements.

Early t’s came with a substandard Delco alternator. Failures were so common Ferrari paid for an update kit to change to a Nippondenso alternator where required long after the cars were out of warranty, although many of the early cars were never updated.

The optional Valeo semi-automatic transmission works great and is reportedly very reliable. However, because these cars are so rare—it’s possible fewer than 100 were produced—it’s difficult to quantify how reliable they truly are. In addition, finding someone with experience to work on one will likely be difficult, and some parts are challenging to source.

Also from Issue 149

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  • Luigi Villoresi remembered
  • Scottsdale, Paris auctions
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