There is no oxymoron likelier to raise a bunch of red flags than “cheap Ferrari.” Quite right, too. If it’s cheap, there must be something terribly wrong with it. Missing engine, bent frame, rotting panels? No, it’s just a Mondial. Those were born cheap and stayed that way ever since. So what’s the catch?
It’s not entirely clear to me why Ferrari thought this car was a good idea. The basic concept is certainly pretty quirky: a four-seater with a transverse V8 ahead of the rear wheels. That’s a lot of things to locate within the wheelbase of any car, let alone a sporty Italian one. Consequently, said wheelbase needed to be stretched a bit, as did the car’s other dimensions, increasing the weight to a decidedly hefty 1.5 tons.
Bonus headache: you have to use the same 3-litre engine as the predecessor, only detuned to 214hp (in Euro spec) because of the EFI replacing the carbs. The dreaded Mondial 8 coupé was launched in 1980, right as the Western world entered a recession. The new base model Ferrari was barely able to reach 100kph in under 10 seconds – underwhelming to say the least.
In 1982, things started to improve a bit with the new Quattrovalvole (four valve) head, good for 240hp; the drop-top joined the range in 1983 and significantly added to the Mondial’s appeal. That’s the model we have here – made between 1983 and 1985. After that date, the nose changed and the bumpers were body-coloured. Oh, and the V8 became a 3.2 litre, with 270hp now on tap. The final version was the 1988-93 Mondial T, thus named because its new 300hp 3.4 litre engine was now mounted longitudinally, when the transmission kept its east-west orientation, thereby forming a ‘T’ shape.
In the end, the Mondial got the engine it deserved, but the early cars, especially in US-spec, were reportedly painfully slow. However, the longer wheelbase made for a better-handling mid-engined Ferrari than any that preceded it. Said longer wheelbase also almost makes for a genuine four-seater, or a generous 2+2. This I can vouch for from personal experience: the only Ferrari I’ve ever had the pleasure of sitting in was a Mondial coupé, back in the mid-‘90s. I sat shotgun and two of my buddies were in the back – both were six footers at least, and they survived.
The Ferrari Mondial has regularly made the “Worst car” lists of various car magazines since the ‘90s. Heck, when I sat in one as a teen, even I knew this was the “poor man’s Ferrari” I had been warned about. Still made all the right noises and had a lovely leather interior, though. And that gated shifter looked just as nice as it does in any Italian 12-cyl. supercar.
Beyond the performance issues, many feel the need to criticize the car’s looks – any combination of “it’s too big, too chunky, too plain” – and point to Pininfarina’s prominently-displayed plaque to indicate the chief culprit. But PF had to work with the chassis that Ferrari presented them with, and it was quite an unusual one.
I mean, I get that folks prefer the (Bertone-designed) 208/308 GT4. It’s objectively a very nice car. In my view though, that doesn’t make the Mondial horrible by comparison. If you want ugly, the Lamborghini Jalpa and the Maserati Biturbo are in that dumpster over there. And I personally find the 348 and the F355 far less interesting to behold than the Mondial, and the less said about ridiculous things like the F50 the better.
On top of that, literally, the work that PF did with the soft-top is nothing short of sublime. The shape of that fabric top emulates the coupé down to the flying buttresses, preserving the Mondial’s overall shape. Well played, Farina.
Incidentally, the Interwebs claim that the Mondial cabriolet is the only mid-engined open-top four-seater ever produced, conveniently forgetting that most Matra M530s had a targa top, rear seats and a V4 ahead of those rear wheels. But then the rear seats in those are nowhere near as generous as the Ferrari’s, and targa tops are not exactly equivalent to a convertible, but still, the asterisk is warranted here.
The snobbery of people who look down on these as “unworthy of the Ferrari name” is only matched by the snobbery of the folks who bought these because of the prancing horse badge in the first place. Despite the snootiness, questionable claims of “ugliness” and, more justifiably, the car’s lackluster performance, people bought these Ferraris in droves. Well, relative droves: just over 6000 were made, which is a lot for Ferrari. They did keep them in production for almost 15 years. The cabriolet version ended up being a firm favourite of the California crowd, which helps explain why they made so many.
Now that the Mondial’s reputation is shot, most original owners (present CC probably excepted, given the license plate) will have sold theirs on and moved down to deeper money pits, so these cars remain affordable. On its own merits, the Mondial can be appreciated as a roomy oddity among its usually cramped peers, dressed in a pretty restrained Pininfarina body — and topless, too, if the weather’s good. All for a reasonable price, you say? So I repeat: what’s the catch?
Curbside Classic: 1985 Ferrari Mondial QV- Los Angeles Family Car, by Dave Skinner