The Ferrari 348 series marked a radical departure in the way Maranello constructed its cars. Replacing a chassis of traditional steel tubes was a much stiffer monocoque structure with a tubular rear subframe.

The 1990 Ferrari 348ts.
The 1990 Ferrari 348ts sported a lift-off targa roof panel. See more Ferrari images.

Suspension remained independent front and rear with wishbones, springs, telescopic shocks, and antiroll bars, but with revised geometry. The ventilated disc brakes were much larger than those on the Ferrari 348, and used antilock technology.

A midships-mounted V-8 returned, but it was larger and more powerful. Displacing 3405cc, it mounted longitudinally and mated to a transverse gearbox. The displacement accounted for the new car’s Ferrari 348 designation. The transverse gearbox gave it its suffixes -- tb for the closed berlinetta body style, ts for the spyder (which actually had a lift-off targa roof panel).

A higher compression ratio and updated fuel injection helped generate 300 horsepower, 30-40 more than the Ferrari 328, while a dry-sump oiling system gave the new Ferrari a lower center of gravity.

The Ferrari 348 was the last design done under the supervision of chief stylist Leonardo Fioravanti. Taking cues from the Testarossa, its forms were softer than those of the 308/328 but still curvaceous, the side strakes being the most obvious Testarossa inspiration. Wheelbase was longer than the 328’s and the track wider, giving the interior more space.

A rear view of the 1990 Ferrari 348ts.
The 1990 Ferrari 348ts was criticized for its harsh ride and stiff gearbox.

The Ferrari 348, in tb and ts forms, made its debut at the 1989 Frankfurt Auto Show. “To many, it was Best in Show,” said Road & Track. “Free of Testarossa excess -- in width, overhang, styling -- this 3.4-liter V-8 is compact, quicker on the track ... ideal.”

But the Ferrari 348 proved not so ideal in the real world. Road-testers couldn’t quite match Ferrari’s claimed 5.6 seconds 0-60 mph and 171-mph top speed. Worse, they found the car a challenge to drive near or at the limit. Other shortcomings included a harsh ride, a wandering front end at high speed, and a stiff gearbox.

Then Acura released its NSX, and overnight the equation changed. The Honda-designed midengine V-6 two-seater equaled the Ferrari 348’s performance, had better-balanced road manners, greater comfort, and one-upped Ferrari with superior engineering and build quality. And it cost some $30,000 less.

“Has Honda bettered Ferrari?” Road & Track asked rhetorically in a January 1991 comparison. The magazine concluded the Ferrari 348 was “the better exotic” and would later name it “one of the ten best cars in the world.” But of the two, it believed the NSX was “the more successful car.”

The 1993 Ferrari 348 Spider.
The 1993 Ferrari 348 Spider was Ferrari's first convertible since the Daytona.

Well aware of the Ferrari 348’s shortcomings was Ferrari’s new CEO, Luca Cordero di Montezemolo. “I had just bought a new 348,” he said in an interview with Automobile a decade after he took the helm at Ferrari, “and with the exception of its good looks I was utterly disappointed. This was clearly the worst product Ferrari had developed for some time.”

The company worked quickly to improve the Ferrari 348. It upgraded the shift mechanism and climate system and installed new fuel injection and new shocks and springs. Magazines noted the improvements, but the Ferrari 348 couldn’t shake its reputation for hit and-miss build quality and dicey manners at the limit. Couple those perceptions with a global recession, and the result was a drop in Ferrari’s overall sales from more than 4,000 in 1990 and ‘91 to 2,200 in ‘93.

The company’s response for the U.S. market was the “Series Speciale.” This was a Ferrari 348 with slightly different cosmetics and seats, tuned exhaust, and 312 horsepower. Just 100 were made, each with a numbered plaque.

Ferrari also announced the Ferrari 348 Challenge Series for 1994. Owners competed several times a year at racetracks around the world in specially prepared street-based Ferrari 348s. A huge success, the concept was emulated by other manufacturers.

The berlinetta and targa models gained GTB and GTS designations in 1993 as part of the “relaunch” of the Ferrari 348 line. But that year’s real news was the Ferrari 348 Spider. Introduced in Beverly Hills, California, it was Ferrari’s first true two-seat convertible since the Daytona. Well-received by press and public alike, it survived the GTB and GTS by about a year, selling alongside the 348’s successor, the Ferrari 355, which bowed in spring 1994.

Learn about these other great Ferrari Road Cars:

166 MM
250 GT SWB
365 CaliforniaTestarossa
212 Inter
400 Superamerica
365 GT 2+2
F40
340 America
250 GTE
365 GTB/4 Daytona
348
375 America
250 GT/L Lusso
365 GTC/4
456 GT
375 MM
330 GT 2+2
512 BBi
F355
250 Europa GT
500 Superfast
400i
F50
250 GT Boano
275 GTB/4
308 GT4
550 and 575
410 Superamerica
275 GTS
308 and 328
360 and F430
250 GT Coupe
Dino 246 GT
Mondial
Enzo
250 GT Spyder California
330 GTC
288 GTO
612 Scaglietti

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