As the 1970s gave way to the 1980s, Ferrari needed a four-seat replacement for its aging and controversially styled 308 GT4 2+2 coupe. Turning once again to styling house Pininfarina (as opposed to Bertone, which had penned the 308 GT4), Ferrari envisioned a car that would carry on familiar family styling lines, yet deliver the practicality of 2+2 seating and the additional benefit of a low price point, at least by prancing horse standards. The resulting coupe hit the market in 1980, and it carried a name from Ferrari’s racing past: Mondial.
Technically, the grand touring coupe that arrived in 1980 was the Mondial 8, in reference to the car’s 3.0-liter V-8 engine. Unlike the original Mondial, which was a lightweight race car powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, the Mondial 8′s focus was on comfort and practicality, and Ferrari envisioned the Mondial attracting a new class of buyer to the brand. With four seats and a trunk, the Mondial represented a reasonable “second car” alternative to owners of Maranello’s harder-core sports cars while delivering a lower price point than the brand’s other four-seat grand touring offering, the Ferrari 400i.
The Mondial 8′s transversely mounted 3.0-liter V-8 initially made just 200 horsepower, a victim of U.S. emissions standards and primitive emissions control hardware. Compared to the previous 308 GT4, the Mondial was 11 inches longer (with a four-inch longer wheelbase) and 957 pounds heavier, so performance failed to live up to the expectations of Ferrari buyers; Car and Driver reportedly clocked a 0-60 MPH time of over nine seconds, as well as a disappointing top speed of just 130 MPH. Despite the car’s stretched wheelbase, European magazines generally praised the Mondial 8′s handling, while Car and Driver declared that the four-seat Ferrari was, “not much fun to drive.”
Underneath, the Mondial 8 used a tubular steel chassis which broke from Ferrari norm by incorporating a detachable rear subframe, allowing easy removal of the engine and transmission. This was another move designed to make the Mondial more affordable to own by simplifying service, though owners were still faced with the same hourly shop rates encountered by owners of higher-end Ferraris. Still, such forward thinking was proof that Ferrari really did put a great deal of thought into the Mondial before the car hit the market.
In late 1982, Ferrari addressed the horsepower complaints of critics by fitting the Quattrovalvole (four valve) V-8 engine into the Mondial, and the result was the Mondial QV. Output was raised to 240 horsepower, and the QV models shed an estimated 209 pounds; as a result, the car’s 0-60 MPH time dropped to the seven-second range, respectable for a Ferrari that could carry three (smallish) friends and a few bags of groceries in the trunk.
Ferrari also debuted an open-air version for the 1983 model year, and the Mondial QV Cabriolet became the first Ferrari convertible to hit the market in a decade, since the demise of the Daytona Spyder. Buyers may have shied away from the Mondial 8, but the addition of more horsepower and an available cabriolet version saw a surge of interest in Ferrari’s most affordable GT offering. Things got even better in 1985, when the Mondial’s displacement was increased from 3.0 liters to 3.2 liters, further boosting output to 260 horsepower.
Though the car’s performance was now where it needed to be, reviews on the Mondial continued to be a mixed bag. Some praised the car for its “Porsche-like” build quality, while others panned it for the excessive use of cheaper materials in its construction, or for its uncomfortable seats which seemed to undermine the car’s grand touring mission. While the Mondial may have used more plastics in its interior than “higher end” Ferraris, it’s important to remember that the Mondial was, from its very beginnings, designed to attract a new breed of (potentially less affluent) buyer into Ferrari showrooms.
The Mondial’s ultimate evolution came in 1989, with the release of the Mondial t and Mondial t Cabriolet. Counter to conventional wisdom, the “t” did not denote “turbocharging,” but instead indicated “transverse transmission.” While earlier Mondial models had their engines and transmissions oriented transversely, the Mondial t versions used a longitudinally oriented engine coupled to a transversely mounted transmission. As a result of this change, the Mondial t’s V-8 engine (now sized at 3.4 liters and rated at 300 horsepower) sat five inches lower in the car’s chassis, lowering the center of gravity and further improving handling.
Another Mondial t feature was the availability of Ferrari’s first adjustable suspension, which allowed drivers to change the damping of the Bilstein shocks via a console-mounted switch. The suspension’s “soft” setting was intended to make the car comfortable on long highway drives, while the “firm” was intended to deliver a bit more entertainment value when the road tightened up. As period road tests reported, even the firm setting left much to be desired, and the Mondial t still produced significant body roll in corners. Thanks to the larger engine, the Mondial t could deliver the run from 0-60 MPH in around 6.6 seconds, running through the quarter mile in 15 seconds at 98 MPH.
Though the Mondial t debuted in both coupe and convertible form, Ferrari would only offer both variants to U.S. buyers for the 1989 model year. Americans, it seemed, vastly preferred the open-air Mondial versions, and the Mondial t Cabriolet would soldier on in the U.S. market through the 1993 model year.
By Ferrari’s standards, the Mondial was a high-volume car, with over 6,800 examples sold worldwide. Today, the Mondial represents a true bargain exotic, with examples routinely trading hands for less money than it takes to buy a new, optioned-out Toyota Camry. As those who’ve answered the siren song of low-cost exotic automobiles will often caution, it pays to thoroughly research a car before committing to purchase, no matter how attractive the price may be. As others have learned, the difference between a cheap Ferrari and an affordable Ferrari may potentially be vast.