Fantastic Article from Paul Glyde (First appeared in UK Ferrari Club Winter 2011)

Fantastic Article from Paul Glyde (First appeared in UK Ferrari Club Winter 2011)

MONDIALISSIMO

“When you’re in the mood, it’s as exciting to drive as any Ferrari should be.
Jeremy Sinek Motor Oct 1982

It is a sensible car; it can be, whenever you require it, a sensational car.
LJK Setright Car Sept 1991

A brief tribute to a super car

I drive a car that is still one of the more eye-catching vehicles on the road.
Particularly when, today, all that most eyes catch are retina-tranquilizing
glimpses of computer designed travelling tedium.
It always gets attention. And no wonder, it’s the colour of passion and carries
the most enviable badge in the world. It accelerates like Usain Bolt escaping
from a hungry cheetah and its top speed is more than double the figure that
gets traffic cops eagerly licking their pencils. Whether it’s cruising through city
streets or cornering stylishly around country lanes my car passes many tests
beautifully. It always scores highly on the small boy ‘double-take-eyes-off-thetexting’
response. It gets mega points on the rusty white van man at the petrol
pump’s ‘wanna swop yours for mine’ banter scale. It’s ‘classic’ enough to get
one thumb up rather than two fingers from people at zebra crossings. And it’s
almost unbeatable at attracting blokes (frantically trying to impress their
girlfriends) in screaming high revving Polos and Fiestas that follow my car like
sucker fish trailing a great red shark. A very desirable car then…and yet…and
yet…

…when asked, “what have you got?” at Ferrari gatherings, its name elicits a
narrow eyed response and an unenthusiastic “aahh!” from seasoned V12
pilotes. No one yet has written a lavish wallet and coffee table punishing book
about it. Every year, without fail, it appears in those tiresome ‘Drive a Ferrari
for the price of a Ford’ type articles that fill space in magazines for
unimaginative editors. I suppose, if you summed it up in music terms its
reputation is more of a James Blunt than a James Brown, successful but
without soul. And let’s not think about what Jeremy Clarkson thinks about
it…even better, lets not think about him at all!

The Ferrari Mondial ceased production in 1993 and there wasn’t much
emotion in Maranello. However, this car had been one of their most
commercially successful models with more than 6,800 produced in its 13-year
run. It was launched at the Geneva Motor Show in 1980 as a 2+2 coupe
replacing the more angular 308 GT4. The name came from the famous 500
Mondial four cylinder racing car that achieved a second place in the 1954
Mille Miglia and a class victory in the 1956 12-Hours of Sebring race. The
designer, Sergio Pininfarina and the coachbuilder Carrozzeria Scaglietti were
equally part of the marque’s illustrious history. Together, they created the
controversial styling with a higher roofline than usual, generous Connolly
leather clad interior space, arguably good rear legroom (well, I’ve had plenty
of argument from friends with their knees around their necks) and excellent
all-round visibility, a rare quality in cars of this kind.

The reviewer of often super-critical Car magazine was impressed: “superbly
blending dynamic ability with masterful body design, clever electronics and
Porsche-like build quality – (it) is proof positive Maranello is reaching bright
new heights.” However other reviewers were less won over by its 130mph
speed limit and ‘0-60 in 8.2 secs’ acceleration. USA’s Car & Driver magazine
said, “(the Mondial) can barely get out of its own way”. A slow Ferrari! The
Factory were superfast in reacting to these slurs and in 1982 they introduced
the Quattrovalvole or QV with a new 4-valve head, allegedly based on the
early 80’s F1 engine. Now the car performed like a Ferrari and Motor
magazine was ecstatic: “Quattrovalvole has effected a miracle cure and
Ferrari’s mid-engine trio (of V-8s) are back running strongly in the supercar
league where they belong.”

Now that they had speeds that blew the roof off, it wasn’t long before Ferrari
decided to take it away completely. The Mondial Cabriolet appeared in 1984,
the first convertible built by Ferrari since the 1970’s Daytona Spyder. A year
later the model range was enhanced with the gutsy introduction of a 3.2 litre
V8 and finally in 1989 the fastest most luxurious Mondial accelerated into view
with the engine upgraded to 3.4 litres and now mounted longitudinally with the
gearbox situated transversely. This allowed Ferrari t-shirted nerds everywhere
to smugly explain the otherwise mysterious “t” designation. The car was also
the first Ferrari with power-assisted steering. This innovation had the more
traditional tifosi tutting away but seemed a brilliant idea to anyone like me
building up Schwarzenegger-style biceps trying to park my car at Waitrose.
Although clearly competitive on the road Mondials have never emulated some
of their more illustrious family member’s success on the track. However (I
write, frantically trying to find any major racing association) a Mondial based
Ferrari PPG Pace Car appeared at the 1989 Champion Spark Plugs 300 in
Laguna Seca and several were used as safety vehicles in many of the Indy
Car World Series events. Christies later auctioned one in 2004 at Le Mans
where it sold for £62,108. And they do actually have some race success. They
may have never completed the Mille Miglia or crossed the line at Le Mans, but
Mondials are still competing strongly at club events.

And the Ferrari Mondial has had many winning roles in the movies. A Mondial
was one of the stars of Weird Science, directed by John Hughes in 1985. Two
unsuccessful nerds try a scientific experiment that conjures up Kelly Le Brock
who dramatically changes the quality of their lives and transport – so they get
the woman and the car of their dreams. In 1988, a pure white example shines
in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels driven by Steve Martin who stars with Michael
Caine as two con men competing against each other in the South of France.
The car, red and sexy, also wakes up “Sleepers’ a pleasant but uninspired TV
series from 1991, in which Nigel Havers and Warren Clarke play two KGB
‘sleepers’ in the UK who have been forgotten – a fate the series also suffered.
And early this year a chiaro blue Mondial skidded into view as Uday
(psychotic son of Saddam) Hussein’s vehicle of choice for a spot of
debauched butchery in “The Devil’s Double”.

“Shut up Al, I can’t hear the engine”

But, I think the car’s outstanding role was in “Scent of a Woman”, a drama
starring Al Pacino as a blind ex-Army Colonel. The sequence where, with his
understandably panicking nephew, he blasts a Mondial T Cabriolet around
New York’s tight riverside alleyways is the car’s ‘Italian Job/Bullitt’ moment,
Hooo-haaaa!!! Which reminds me, the Mondial was also notable as being the
only thing in the movie that’s actually louder than Pacino’s Oscar-winning
performance.
But that was in 1992 and a year later the Ferrari Mondial was just part of the
marque’s long history. Today, even the youngest is 18 years old, so what are
they like to own. Mine was a company car (Advertising, you won’t be
surprised to hear) and when I was accelerated out of the agency it left with
me. It’s still running well, thanks to the outstanding love and care of Roger,
Claire, Alastair and the guys at The Ferrari Centre. On a day-to-day basis it’s
hard to describe the special attraction of the car without saying it’s p-p-p-p, oh
no, the dreaded P-word. Like a sensible supermodel or a faithful footballer a
practical Ferrari is just unthinkable. Fortunately, the PR guys at Maranello
came to the rescue when they described the newly launched California as
‘versatile’. I like that word, it means flexible, resourceful, and multitalented.
That’s it, my car is like all other Ferrari’s give or take 20-50 mph top speed
and a second or three when you hit the hot pedal. But it’s superior to at least
90% of them when it comes down being versatile.

For example, I’ve read interviews with owners where they sheepishly admit
that the most distance their supercar travels is from home to club events and
back. Not in a Mondial, which, as its name suggests, offers the world, be it via
the Channel Tunnel, the Corniche or the Co-op car park. This is because the
fortunate ‘pilote’ (there must still be around 6,000 of us around) travels the
Earth’s most romantic highways in appropriate Ferrari style but with two rear
seats and one ‘gran turismo” luxury denied to most other owners – a decent
sized boot.

And what a difference this makes. I’ve been driving down to Le Mans for the
“24hrs” since the 90’s and a couple of years ago I was having a coffee in one
of the first ‘Aires’ after Calais. Three Modena’s shimmered in and parked. The
first driver climbed out leaving his passenger inside, opened the bonnet and
removed his luggage for the trip – I’ve seen wash bags that were bigger! If
that was all he was packing, well, after 3 hard living days and nights (at least)
he’d be humming higher than an Audi R8 TDI! Fortunately for the legendary
Le Man’s atmosphere the fourth member of the party arrived, in an estate car
of course, packed solid with his colleague’s bags.

The Modena’s caught up with me later. We drove along together for a while,
it’s amazing what the threat of an instant 90-euro fine or worse does to your
right foot. Four Ferrari’s in a glorious parade except mine was carrying two
people, two proper bags, panama hats, rainwear, boots, a case of wine,
sleeping bags, camp beds, etc, etc – proper kit that ensured a splendid time.
And that’s it. What makes the Mondial a super car is summed up neatly by a
story a business colleague told me about a dream journey from London to a
rented Yorkshire cottage one Christmas Eve. It was just him, his girlfriend and
his Ferrari 328 GTB. It was one of those dramatically beautiful winter
evenings and you can imagine, after leaving the motorway, the red car’s
vigorous but graceful progression through the moon lit winding country lanes.
Above, the stars were a shower of diamonds randomly scattered across the
deep blue, black velvet of the sky. The frost-sprinkled trees glittered like a
Harrods shop window as they reflected the headlights and the engine’s howl
bounced off the gleaming stonewalls. Ahead they knew a log fire was already
warming up the Christmas spirit and a bottle of Montrachet was cooling in the
fridge…and yet, and yet…

…for the whole 5 hour journey his girlfriend sat frostily with her suitcase
parked on her lap. In a Ferrari Mondial the dream would have been perfect.

Popemobile Maranello style

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: