Updating an Old Friend

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 a relaxed sense of familiarity.

Basically, previous experience with the 308s has taught you the ropes, so it’s just a question of picking up the business of Ferrari enjoyment where we left off in 1983 with the last test of 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. Memo to my own personal notebook: the central-engined Ferrari is not a heavy traffic car. 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 out of the metropolis.

Lowering the driver’s side electric window produced a douche of spray into my right ear from the tyres of neighbouring trucks. The clutch is not unduly heavy, but it is certainly heavy enough to make life unpleasant in these claustrophobic circumstances.

The irritating way in which the sharply raked screen reflects the instrument lighting is bad enough on empty roads, added to which the top of the screen’s area swept by the single wiper was only fractionally above my eye line. Oh yes, and the wiper itself had emitted a mouse-like squeak. And the steering lock was barely sufficient for manoeuvring in tight corners.

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 never fail to arouse the taste buds of even the most jaded motoring palate. And, believe me, I had felt pretty jaded and bruised after my exasperating battle with the rest of the motoring world only the previous evening!

According to factory sources, this is almost certainly the final derivative of the magnificent Pininfarina-bodied two-seater coupe which 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 which enhances the engine’s already impressive flexibility and docile character.

The sweet-revving V8 remains mated to familiar five-speed gearbox, the lever sprouting from its evocative metal gate in the cockpit. Weighted in the second/third plane the box continues to be adequate, if hardly outstanding by modern standards.

Needing firm and uncompromising handling, the lever moves with a notchy precision — except that dog-leg back into first which has always proved a bit of a trial. Happily once on the move you can forget about first completely and even from a walking pace the 328 will catapult away when second is engaged.

The braking system remains generally unchanged, with ventilated discs on all four wheels, but the handbrake now works on small rear drums in place of the disc-braked system which was generally regarded as less than effective on the 308. The calipers employed are now the same as those on the Mondial, offering more pad area.

As far as interior trim is concerned, the 328’s fascia is now best described as “right-hand drive GTO”, the instrumentation being the same as in Maranello’s now sold-out range of turbo super-cars.

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 touchsensitive controls on the 328, but the new layout is quite logical, even if the 328 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, the alloy wheels have been re-styled and the cooling vents on top of the front wheel arches have been replaced by additional venting in the centre of the nose section, between the retractable headlights.

Our test car was not fitted with the optional roof spoiler just above the engine bay, there no longer being any choice when it comes to the chin spoiler at the front. Previously, the 308 had been offered with an alternative, deeper spoiler, but the 328’s standard kit represents a compromise between the two choices offered on the earlier car.

Living with a Ferrari requires a few days’ 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 them.

However well one is acquainted with their qualities, there is still a sub-conscious 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 high performance 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 quality underlines just what a high quality product is on offer. The paint on our test car was of a lustrous quality with no flaws to be seen; similarly the leather-trimmed cockpit had no signs of compromise, botching or shoddy workmanship.

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 Maranello’s 270 Prancing Horses.

There is still a reassuring touch of roll when the 328 is comered hard, sufficient to impart a welcome degree of “feel” to the driver, although it could certainly never be accused of being sloppy by any standards.

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 this Ferrari 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 carburetters 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 may well be the Iast of its line, but, unquestionably, it is the best. AH

Model: Ferrari 328 GTB.

Maker: Ferrari Automobili, Maranello, Italy.

Type: Two door, two seater coupe.

Engine: Light alloy 90-degree V8, 3185cc (83 x 73.6mm). Twin overhead camshafts. cr 9.8:1. 270bhp at 7000rynn. Bosch K-Jetronic mechanical fuel injection.

Transmission: Rear-wheel drive. Five-speed manual transmission with limited-slip differential.

Suspension: (front) Wishbones and coil spring/dampers and anti-roll hat. (rear) Wishbones and coil spring,dampers and anti-roll bar.

Brakes: Ventilated discs on all four wheels with servo assistance and split circuits. Handbrake operates on rear drum.

Steering: Rack and pinion.

Wheels and tyres: Light alloy 7in rims (front ) with 205/55 VR16 Goodyear NCT radials. Light alloy 8in rims (rear) with 225,50 VR16 NCT radials.

Performance: 0-60mph. 5.7 sec: 50-70mph. 5.4 sec; Maximum speed: 151mph.

Economy: Overall. 18.7rnpg. Estimated 24mpg (touring).

Price: £38.900.14p basic (tax paid). Extras fitted to test car included metallic paint (£599.25p). air conditioning (£1499.99p). Maranello Concessionaires charge £200 for delivery in the UK. plus £20 for plates.

Summary: One of the great, thoroughly usable high performance sports cars of our time. Cumbersome to manoeuvre in traffic, it belongs on the open wad where its exquisite road manners can be exploited to the full.