We take a look at the US-only Ferrari 348 Serie Speciale, and examine why the model deserves a second look
Luca di Montezemolo, Ferrari's very own Tony Blair. The visionary leader reinvigorated Ferrari with the verve and passion it had lost, like Blair did with the Labour party. Thankfully, di Montezemolo did it without the help of D:Ream's Things Can Only Get Better…
The di Montezemolo Ferrari is now a thing of the past, though. His parting call was the magnificent 458 Speciale, one of the most extreme road cars on the planet. The 458 version has made the name Speciale synonymous with a stripped down, light weight, hardcore attitude, 9000rpm screaming V8 and racing stripes.
The first modern-era Ferrari to wear the badge though, the 348 Serie Speciale, might seem slightly disappointing at first glance. The interesting story behind its creation though makes it all the more intriguing thanks to the fact it was one of di Montezemolo's first projects. The legend goes that he was so appalled by the standard 348, that he immediately wanted to change it. His short-term fix was the Serie Speciale, which was only made available officially in America.
The Americans usually had pretty bad luck with imported cars during the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s. Their own cars were seemingly built as disposable items, with the Japanese and European imports never quite what they should have been. Cars spoiled by horrible bulbous bumpers and extra lights grafted on; restricted engines, or entirely different and less special engines; terrible slow gearboxes and softened, raised suspension. The list goes on. That's if they even got the car in the first place. The tough and expensive homologation process meant that many of the best European and Japanese cars never even made it onto American soil.
The Serie Speciale bucked that trend. Kevlar F40-inspired seats, revised suspension settings, a 50mm wider rear track, a different front spoiler for better aero. New Bosch engine management along with a new freer flowing exhaust helped increase power to from 300bhp to 312bhp, then to make the most of the power increase, Pirelli P Zeros became standard fit. The final drive was shortened, with a taller fifth gear to retain the car's top speed.
There were a few cosmetic changes too. No stripes sadly, but the side skirts, part of the engine cover and the new front spoiler were all made body colour rather than the black of the standard Ferrari 348. The Testarossa style grills over the rear lights were removed for the Serie Speciale, instead some slightly awkward rear light assemblies were used. But other than the rear lights, not so typically American.
A new starter motor sourced from Japan and a revised air conditioning unit helped improve the Serie Speciale's reliability and usability too. What’s more all that was available on both Berlinetta (hard top) and Spider (a targa style convertible) models.
The changes may not have been dramatic and, even though together they made a significant improvement, it couldn't help the 348's terrible reputation for being sluggish, slow and rather un-Ferrari. The Serie Speciale pales into insignificance in the 348 world when compared to the GT Competizione; a full-on homologation special with Kevlar body panels and more power, very much the 458 Speciale's true predecessor. Then the entire 348 range also gets trumped by the all-round glorious F355 that followed.
The Serie Speciale is so often forgotten, but we don’t think it should be overlooked so easily. Despite it's rarity (only 100 built – plus a handful of UK-spec cars) they seem to be very good value, especially for a limited-run Ferrari. A Berlinetta Series Speciale seems to be about the same price as a standard 348 Spider…
Words: Will Beaumont