Ferrari Mondial may not be a star in Ferrari’s lineup, but I always have special feeling about it. Many years ago a red Mondial 3.2 Cabriolet stopped just beside me and I had the chance to observe its beautiful lines. Although some motoring journalists said its exterior design was compromised by the need to package 4 seats – and that seems correct when viewing from photos, the real car actually possessed a kind of beauty only Pininfarina-Fioravanti could make. Thanks to the low shoulder line, sharp nose, flying buttresses, flat engine lid and characteristic side intakes, it looked every bit an exotic mid-engined sports car, albeit with 4 seats. Compare with its Bertone-designed predecessor, 308GT4, it looked like a beauty against a beast.
More impressive was how well it accommodated the rear passengers. Mid-engine 4-seaters were not new concept – Lamborghini did that with Urraco, Maserati tried with Merak and Ferrari had 308GT4 preceding Mondial. However, all of them had rear seats only suitable for either small children or luggage. In contrast, Mondial was the only genuine mid-engined 4-seater ever made – this still is true today. Thanks to a 100mm stretch of wheelbase from 308GT4’s 2550mm, it provided significantly more legroom to the rear passengers. It was capable to sit average-size adults for short journey or a 5 feet 3 or so lady for any distance like what I saw in the aforementioned encounter. Besides, the long roof provided plenty of headroom for rear passengers, while the large rear quarter windows provided a good view outside. All these sound luxurious by the norm of regular 2+2, including the front-engined Porsche 928 ! no wonder Mondial was usually called as “family man’s Ferrari”.
People called it a “family man’s Ferrari” also because it was relatively affordable. It cost just half the price of Testarossa or two-third the price of 412, the only other Ferrari 4-seater. It was cheaper than Porsche 928, and leveled with BMW M635CSi. For this price you got a mid-engined Ferrari with an exotic look and a rarity not BMW and Porsche could match. This must be a bargain in the 1980s.
Original Mondial 8 distinguished by black bumpers
Mondial was produced alongside the 308 / 328GTB line and shared most of its mechanicals. The original Mondial 8, born in 1980, was powered by the contemporary 308 engine – a fuel-injected 2926 cc 2-valve V8 with 214 horsepower. This engine was seriously hampered by the need to comply with stricter emission regulations. It represented the darkest days of 308GTB, and in the heavier Mondial it took more than 8 seconds to go from 0 to 60 mph. American version – with a believed 180hp output – was even notoriously timed at 9.4 seconds ! unquestionably, such performance did not live up to its look as well as our expectation for Ferrari.
Mondial 3.2 QV and its transversely mounted V8
Fortunately, whenever 308 / 328GTB received an engine upgrade, Mondial also got the same treatment. Quattrovalvole (4-valve) was introduced in 1982. It lifted the 3-liter engine to 240 horsepower and reduced 0-60 mph to the low 7 seconds range. In 1985, it got the 3.2-litre engine from 328GTB. 270 horsepower allowed 0-60 to be done in 6.8 seconds. Like a Marathon runner, Mondial was picking up speed gradually. Like wine, the older it grew, the better it got.
Mondial T – the best incarnation
The last incarnation, Mondial T, was launched in 1989. It was by far the best Mondial, thanks to a new engine and transmission coming from the new 348tb. The 3.4-liter engine produced a full 300 horsepower, shortening 0-60 mph to merely 5.6 seconds – now it was a true Ferrari. Unlike before, the new engine was mounted longitudinally and drove a transverse gearbox, forming a “T” configuration hence the name of the car. As the old transverse engine was mounted above the gearbox, the new configuration lowered the engine by a massive 6 inches and improved handling a lot. Besides, Mondial T also got the Maranello’s first electronic adaptive dampers (with 3 driver-selectable settings) and later on an option of Valeo clutchless transmission.
However, the most important addition was the Cabriolet in 1983. The fabric roof not only did not damage the beautiful shape but even enhanced it, especially when it was opened. No wonder the majority of the Mondial sold afterwards was Cabriolet.
With the mid-engine design, it is not a surprise that Mondial was usually praised for good handling, roadholding and agility. Autocar magazine described the 3.2 QV as “a Porsche beater”, and the Mondial T handled better than its 2-seater stablemate 348tb because it was more progressive at the limit.
After more than 6000 cars produced, Mondial went into retirement in 1993. Sadly, Ferrari had no intention to build a successor to it, perhaps because the mid-engined 4-seater configuration could no longer provide generous space that modern customers demand. Moreover, at that time Ferrari was pursuing to migrate to ultra-premium segment, so it no longer wanted to build an affordable family man’s Ferrari. People wished to buy a 4-seater Ferrari had to pay premium price for the flagship 456GT. This is why Mondial is so memorable today.