Much maligned and unfairly so due to some debatable performance tests, the Mondial was a solution to Ferrari’s realisation that even playboys could have families who’d need somewhere to sit. Launched in 1980 as the company’s replacement for the GT4, by the end of its run of 6800 in ’93 it had become Ferrari’s best-selling model of all time. However, its importance runs beyond sales figures.
With a Pininfarina-penned body over a spaceframe chassis, mid-mounted V8, five-speed dogleg-first gearbox with an open-gated shift and four seats, the Mondial provides something for everyone. It even has that most ‘80s of design touches, louvres. Unfortunately, due to some US magazine road tests featuring a supposedly pre-production model and an iffy gear selector, the model earned an unfair reputation for being slow. A stigma it took years, if not decades, to shake off. Thankfully, it’s now appreciated for what it is: a game changer for Ferrari.
In truth, the early 3-litre cars were strangled by emissions in the US and never featured performance to set the world alight, but around 220bhp was ample for a genuine four-seater GT and they were easily quicker than the controversial tests suggested. Power rose to 300bhp from the later four-valves-per-cylinder 3.4-litre cars (badged QV for quattrovalvole) and there was also a 3.2 that was good or 0-60mph in a little over 6 seconds.
Road tests praised the Mondial for its handling and road manners, perfectly blending the dynamics expected of the badge with the long-distance, high speed capability demanded of a GT. What’s more, when it followed the launch of the coupe, the convertible was the first – and only – mid-engine drop-top.
The range underwent significant revisions in ’89. Alongside various design tweaks, Ferrari altered the engine and transmission layout from being transversely mounted to longitudinally mounting the engine with a transverse gearbox. This meant that the engine could sit lower in the chassis, further improving handling. It also aided ease of maintenance, as the engine and gearbox assembly could now be dropped out on a removable subframe. Basically as easy to run as a Mondeo, then…
If a convertible version was good enough to, as part of a publicity stunt in 1988, drive the Pope around the Fiorano Circuit without him praying for more power, then it’s good enough to rightfully earn its place as an iconic Ferrari.
Can you think of a more exotic, misunderstood four-seat GT?