When they were new
An original road test taken from the Motor Sport archives, March 1987. By Alan Henry
Max speed: 151mph
Like meeting an old friend after a long absence, an encounter with the Ferrari 328 was a comfortable occasion. You find yourself regarding the car with relaxed familiarity. Previous experience with 308s has taught you the ropes, so it’s just a question of picking up the business of Ferrari enjoyment where we left off with the 308GTB Quattrovalvole. However, when the 328 arrived at our offices late one winter evening, the process of re-acquaintance was a little on the painful side. It is not a heavy traffic car. The clutch is not unduly heavy, but is weighty enough to make life unpleasant. As we joined the rush-hour crawl, I was instantly reminded just what a fish out of water the 328 was in the bumper-to-bumper evening procession.
Twenty-four hours later those trials and tribulations had been blown away, amid the joys of a day’s motoring on deserted country roads through north Essex and south Suffolk. The chassis is just fantastic. All the superlatives have been trotted out time and again, but its impeccable balance, terrific grip and uncanny stability rouse the taste buds of even the most jaded motoring palate.
According to factory sources, this is almost certainly the final derivative of the magnificent Pininfarina-bodied two-seater coupe that made its bow back in 1975. The transverse-mounted V8, enlarged by 200cc, now produces 30bhp more than its 3-litre predecessor and also develops a worthwhile amount of additional torque that enhances the engine’s already impressive flexibility and docile character.
As far as interior trim is concerned, the 328’s facia is now best described as ‘right-hand-drive GTO’, the dials being the same as those in Maranello’s now sold-out run of turbo supercars.
Snuggling into the cockpit, the driver is faced by a 185mph speedometer and rev counter red-lined at 7700rpm. When working the engine hard the oil pressure remains constant at 85psi with water temperature never climbing above 170 degrees. The door handles, interior pockets and arm rests are all new, as are the controls for the heating and demisting system, which are still mounted between the seats. Personally I preferred the old sliding-lever system to the current colour-coded illuminated touch-sensitive controls on the 328, but the new layout is quite logical, even if the new demisting system is every bit as slow to produce results as the 308’s.
The front and rear bumpers are now colour-coded to match the body’s paintwork and the alloy wheels have been restyled. Previously, the 308 was offered with alternative shallow or deep spoilers, but the 328’s standard kit represents a compromise between the choices offered on the earlier car.
Living with a Ferrari requires a few days of acclimatisation, and then you suddenly wonder how you ever got along without it. In fact, the 328’s driveability, lack of temperament and overall blend of performance and docility tends, by strange paradox, to work against it. However well one is acquainted with their qualities, there is still a subconscious tendency to approach a Ferrari expecting it to be temperamental and slightly difficult to manage on anything but an open road. When you are reminded that they are as tractable and usable as any highperformance saloon, you run the danger of comparing them with products of BMW and Mercedes.
But to itemise the awkward aspects of living with a 328 in the light of how it stacks up against such rivals is totally unfair, albeit highlighting just how well Maranello has done its job in recent years. Close examination of trim standards, paintwork and general build underlines just what a high-quality product is on offer. The paint on our test car was of a lustrous quality with no flaws; similarly the leather-trimmed cockpit had no signs of compromise.
Firing up the transverse V8 from cold is one of the great motoring treats of the decade. A touch on the key and the Bosch K-Jetronic-injected jewel bursts into life, ticking over with a gruff exhaust note that belies its smoothness once on the move. Engaging first gear when the box is cold can be a bit of a pain, but the transmission warms up quite quickly and the whole package has a taut, unified feeling at speed, making the 328 feel smaller than its outward dimensions. Unquestionably it is difficult to handle in crowded conditions, reversing into tight spaces being a complex enough business without the added frustration of absurdly small rear-view mirrors. The noise level inside is fairly high, a degree of resonance and boom from the neatly packaged V8 proving to be another wearing aspect in slow-moving traffic. But at speed on the open road you lose much of it behind you, drowned by the willing wail of 270 Prancing Horses.
There is still a reassuring touch of roll when the 328 is cornered hard, sufficient to impart a welcome degree of “feel” to the driver, although it could certainly never be accused of being sloppy. As on the 308, I felt the steering a trifle low-geared for my taste, so life can be a little nerve-wracking darting through country lanes. But on more open B or C roads, this brand of Ferrari motoring is nothing less than a supreme joy. Of course, in terms of pure straight-line acceleration the 328 is certainly no slouch. It sprints up to 60mph from rest in a shade under six seconds, reaching 100mph in 14.7 sec, by which time it is pulling strongly in fourth gear. A final upchange to fifth at 117mph and the surge of acceleration continues steadily towards its 151mph maximum.
Ferrari’s progressive refinement of the V8 two-seater coupe has been unrelenting over the past five years, more than compensating for the original loss of performance prompted by the switch from carburettors to fuel injection on the old 16-valve 308 at the turn of the 1980s.
The four-valve (QV) heads redressed the balance even further, but the 3.2-litre model has polished the Maranello veneer to fresh standards of excellence. It might well be the last of its line, but, unquestionably, it is the best.