And that reminds me...



Of the time the ‘Ferrari spell’ was broken and reality set in with the 348tb

If I try to recall my most formative experiences as a motoring journalist one I can remember very clearly was the moment I realised Ferrari had made a crap car.

The Ferrari was the 348tb. It followed a line of two-seat, mid-engined, Pininfarina-designed Ferraris that had commenced with the 206GT in 1968 and not put a fingernail out of place since. So the 348 duly rolled in for testing and I presumed it was business as usual.

The road test team headed for the hills, me in the Ferrari, they in a 911 and a Honda NSX, and at first I couldn’t work out why I was unable to keep up. I had more power than either so I presumed I was simply having an off day.

And I might have gone on blaming myself had we not swapped cars and one of our number, a Canadian who’d grown up unseduced by the magic of Maranello, taken the wheel. At the next stop I sauntered up to him, noting with approval the thunderstruck expression on his face: he had never driven a Ferrari before. ‘Pretty good, huh?’ I ventured. ‘Good?’ he drawled back. ‘It’s a piece of crap.’

So I took it upon myself to enlighten the poor, befuddled fool. We drove together in the Ferrari but something was different. He had broken the spell and now a cold, damp dose of reality set in. The gearbox was not a challenge to be risen to, it was a disgrace in need of a redesign. The handling wasn’t a dream, it was a nightmare. The cabin wasn’t charmingly Italianate, it was a parts bin mess. The car was an overpriced turkey.

I’ve never forgotten that drive and how much better it enabled me to do my job. Even Ferrari ended up winning because although the resulting road test gave the 348 the kicking it so richly deserved, when it was replaced by the visually similar F355 I was able truly to appreciate that as one of Ferrari’s fi nest creations of all time. What’s more, it still is.