The Ferrari Mondial is forty this year. Time to look back on the story of one of Maranello’s less illustrious creations.
In my idle moments, I occasionally peruse Autotrader and do some fantasy shopping for the cheapest supercar I can find. When searching under Ferrari it was, until recently, a racing certainty that the model propping up the bottom end of the price range would be the Mondial, which celebrates its 40th birthday this year.
This was partly a result of its ubiquity. With 6,149 cars produced during its thirteen-year lifespan, it was one of Ferrari’s best-selling models. However, it was mainly down to the fact that the Mondial was never really loved by the marque’s aficionados, who regarded it as too compromised and soft to be considered a proper cavallino rampante.
The Mondial replaced the Bertone designed 308 GT4 and, like its predecessor, it attempted to combine a mid-engined layout with 2+2 seating, to provide occasional rear-seat accommodation for children or diminutive adults. Ferrari returned to Pininfarina for the Mondial, and the angularity of the 308 GT4 was replaced by a rather more curvaceous style in the Ferrari tradition. The Mondial was attributed to Pierangelo Andreani, who also designed the 1981 Maserati Biturbo.
The Mondial 8 was launched at the Geneva Motor Show in March 1980. It was based on the chassis of the 308 GT4, but with a 100mm (4”) stretch in the wheelbase to improve interior accommodation. It had a transversely mounted 2,927cc V8 engine with Bosch mechanical fuel injection that produced a relatively modest 214bhp, allegedly so that it could comply with new stricter worldwide emissions standards. The gearbox was a five-speed manual unit with a racing style dog-leg gearchange that placed first behind reverse, third behind second and fifth behind fourth in the same planes.
With the Mondial, Ferrari set out to build a car that would be more practical, not just in its accommodation but also in its day-to-day ownership and use. The engine was a well proven unit that had already been in use for six years. Servicing costs were relatively modest, at least by Ferrari standards. Unusually for a mid-engined design, both the clutch and timing belt could be replaced without removing the engine or transmission from the car.
The reaction of the motoring press at launch was rather lukewarm. While recognising its greater usability, they pointed out that the Mondial’s performance, particularly its 0-60mph time of 8.2 seconds, was little better than the contemporary Mk1 Golf GTI, although it still outpaced the GTI considerably in terms of top speed, 143 versus 112mph. The Mondial was handicapped by its weight, 1,569kg compared to 1,286kg for its identically powered two-seater sibling, the 308 GTBi.
Ferrari took these early criticisms on the chin and set about improving the Mondial’s performance. In 1982 it introduced the Quattrovalvole, a four valve per cylinder version of the engine that raised the power output to 240bhp. The car was otherwise unchanged and was designated Mondial QV.
In 1983, a Cabriolet version of the Mondial QV was added to the range. This was still a 2+2, although the rear seats had to be mounted closer together in order to accommodate the roof mechanism. The Mondial cabriolet remains the only mid-engined 2+2 convertible produced by any manufacturer.
In 1985, the engine was enlarged to 3,185cc which lifted its power output to 266bhp. At the same time the Mondial was given a light facelift with more rounded body-coloured bumpers replacing the original black items. The interior also received a new instrument binnacle and other trim adjustments. The new model was designated Mondial 3.2.
The Mondial was given a final and very major mechanical overhaul in 1989. The transverse engine was replaced by a longitudinally mounted V8, enlarged to 3,405cc, which was good for 296bhp. The gearbox remained transversely located, giving rise to the confusing Mondial T designation*. Visually, the car differed little from its predecessor, but a distinguishing feature was the smaller air intake in the rear quarter with a vertical rather than inclined trailing edge.
At last the Mondial had the performance to match the storied Ferrari name, with a 0-60mph time of 6.3 seconds and a top speed of 158mph. Handling was excellent, at least as good as its two-seater 348 TB sibling, and high-speed stability was better because of the Mondial’s longer wheelbase.
So, why was the Mondial, for all its later strengths, not appreciated more during its production life and in the years following? Certainly, it struggled to shake off the negative impression caused by the lacklustre performance of the original Mondial 8 model, but I think its real problem was rather more fundamental to the 2+2 design.
I suspect the answer lies in its appearance and, in particular, its side profile. The angular 308 GT4 hid its 2+2 layout quite well, but the Mondial’s extra 100mm between the wheels left an awful lot of bodywork between the trailing edge of the door and the rear wheel arch, which upset its proportions greatly. Worse, in order to improve headroom for rear passengers, whose seats were mounted higher than those in front, the roof was raised, which gave the Mondial an unfashionably (for a supercar) deep DLO.
Put simply, the Mondial lacked the visual aggression usually associated with such cars and suffered as a consequence. Ferrari never repeated the Mondial format and its successor 2+2 GT cars have all been front-engined.
That said, there has been in recent years a reappraisal of the model and it is no longer possible to pick up an early second-hand one for the price of a well-equipped new supermini. As I write this, the cheapest Mondials on sale in the UK are at asking prices in the high £20k area and the centre of gravity for better examples seems to be in the high £30k’s. Maybe we’ve finally learned to love the Mondial?
* The ‘T’ stands for trasversale and was also a reference to the 1975 to 1980 Ferrari 312T series Formula One cars that won four constructor and two driver’s world championships; the latter for Niki Lauda in 1977 and Jody Scheckter in 1979.
That 1979 driver’s championship, Ferrari’s last until the Schumacher era, was also likely to have been the prompt for the Mondial name. In 1982, following the shocking death of Gilles Villeneuve, Ferrari’s hopes rested upon team mate Didier Pironi, who appeared set to take the championship. However, his terrible crash at Hockenheim put paid to his motor racing career. Watching on his TV set at Marenello, Enzo is said to have muttered; “Addio Mondiale”.