Thank Frankel it's Friday: Debunking long-told Ferrari myths

17th February 2017
andrew_frankel_headshot.jpg Andrew Frankel

Ferrari is in nostalgic mood. Not only has it exhumed the ‘Superfast’ name after over half a century for use on its new 789bhp 812, the accompanying blurb also evokes the memory of what it describes as the 365GTB4, which I always thought was 365GTB/4 and which everyone else calls the Daytona.


Having grown up on the legend of the Daytona it never occurred to me that one day I might drive one. If it had, it would certainly have seemed equally inconceivable that I might emerge from the experience with my mind less than entirely blown away. But then Ferraris are, or certainly used to be, funny things likely to create all kinds of false impressions even among journalists whose job was to report objectively upon them.

There was a time when I was one of the worst offenders and my sole saving grace was that I was too junior in the car magazine world to have much ill-considered nonsense published about them before I had my epiphany.

It came courtesy of a Canadian journalist called Gavin Conway who would in time edit Classic & Sports Car magazine over here and Automobile in the US but who was at the time fresh off the boat and entirely unknown in the business. The occasion was a group test involving a Ferrari 348, Honda NSX and a Porsche 911. Gavin was, I think, just along for the ride but during a quiet moment I tossed him the keys to the Ferrari and told him to go and drive it up the road. I knew he’d never driven a Ferrari before and I looked forward to seeing his slack-jawed face upon his return.

Well, slack-jawed he was, but not for the reasons I’d expected. ‘Andrew,’ he said, ‘I don’t see what the fuss is about. It’s not very quick, the gearbox is awful and I don’t like the way it handles at all.’ 


I was, of course, scandalised. Or at least I would have been had my Canadian chum had the slightest idea what he was saying, which was that this Ferrari was rubbish. Even so, it was with refocussed eyes that I slotted back into the 348 and headed up the road. And it was like I was driving a different car: one that wasn’t that quick, that did have an awful gearbox and handling you had to watch every step of the way. In that instant, an illusion built up over my life to date that Ferrari was a brand that could do no wrong shattered into a thousand pieces. My rookie mate, unburdened by pre-conception, saw all along what I could only now see myself: the 348 was, indeed, rubbish.

That drive changed everything and I never again allowed myself to be romanced by a car just because it was a Ferrari. Since then I’ve been blessed to drive an example of almost every one to go into production since the Daytona. So here are some disconnected jottings about the Ferraris I’ve driven whose reality was some distanced removed from their reputations.

The Daytona: a genuinely great car for its age with a wondrous engine, but not the paragon I had been led to believe. Appallingly heavy at low speeds, it needed space and pace before it would do its thing.

The 365GTC/4: remember this one? A de-tuned Daytona engine, with sidedraught Webers, additional rear seats, self-levelling rear suspension and power steering. Not as quick as a Daytona but most of the time a nicer car to drive. Light to handle, incredibly comfortable over long distances and, to these eyes at least, even better looking.


The Boxer: I’m so glad these unfairly maligned Ferraris seem to be having a late life renaissance. I’ve only driven one, but I adored it. To me, it’s one of the best looking Ferraris of all, lighter by far to handle than a Daytona and only tricky when deliberately provoked on the limit. With the GTC/4, among the most under-rated Ferraris of all.

The 308GTB: A beautiful car with sublime steering, a lovely gearbox and a sharp yowl from Ferrari’s first road-going V8 engine. But never a quick car, slower point to point than a standard 911 of the same vintage and no less easy to lose in the wet. A car where the sense of occasion of simply being on board often cloaked the dynamic limitations of the machine itself.

The Mondial: Slow and ugly but saved by being the best handling Ferrari of its era. That long wheelbase eliminated the twitchiness of the 308/328/348 two-seaters leaving a car that was actually pretty delightful to hoof around on the throttle.


The 288 GTO: Might find myself in trouble with this one, but must report as I find, and the only one I ever drove scared the hell out of me in the way the faster, far more raw F40 never did. Simply put its chassis and comparatively narrow tyres couldn’t begin to cope with the demands of an engine designed for a Lancia Group C car. Visually, it’s among my top three Ferraris of all time and probably has my favourite interior of all, but to drive it felt overpowered and underdeveloped.

The Testarossa: Not a great Ferrari, but far better than its reputation suggests. More of a sports touring car than a traditional supercar, it came with one of the greatest engines ever fitted to a Ferrari and ride quality that would shame many limousines of the era. Not a real driver’s car, but a languid, long-legged machine that needed not short test drives, but decent distances before it would reveal its true character.

These then are just some of the Ferraris that have either exceeded or fallen short of expectations. The eagle-eyed among you will note that none hails from the last 20 years or so. That’s not because I’m stuck in the past but because access to Ferraris in this period for people like me has been transformed, leading to an extensive body of reliable evaluation leaving almost no room for myths and rumours to spring up. Which is good news for the Ferrari-buying public and bad only for those who, like me, once needed only to see a black prancing horse on the side of a car to presume its wearer could do no wrong.

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