Judged against other Ferraris, the Mondial appears to fail every test, being neither conspicuously fast enough, rare enough nor conventionally pretty enough to match people’s blinkered preconceptions.
With too many seats and insufficient cylinders it seems destined to remain firmly at the bottom of the food chain, the model that no-one seems to want to buy for its own sake.
Look closer, though, and what you will find is a rather accomplished 3-litre grand touring car that just happens to be a Ferrari; a well-packaged, interestingly engineered junior exotic that took the idea of the mid-engined coupé with 2+2 seating to its natural conclusion, if only in as much as no-one has attempted it since.
Built for a dozen years to the tune of more than 6000 examples, the Mondial, like so many supposedly ‘lesser’ species of exotic Italian machinery, was actually a reasonable commercial success for the Maranello firm – which, after all, was the point of the exercise.
Here, for perhaps the very first time, was a Ferrari conceived to address buyers’ expectations of build quality, durability and usability in the face of stiff competition from a raft of increasingly reliable and well-screwed-together German rivals.
With its extensive rustproofing, fuel injection and plug-in diagnostics, much was made of the fact that, at launch in 1980, the Mondial 8 was a new kind of Ferrari, a new beginning for the firm as it entered the ’80s.
It was also, interestingly, the first of the V8 road cars to be named rather than numbered; ‘Mondial’ was a moniker that honoured the four-cylinder sports car of the early ’50s and, taken literally, meant ‘world’ or ‘global’ in Italian and was probably an oblique reference to the fact that this was a Ferrari truly created from the outset for world markets, with North America particularly in mind.
Having pulled its smog-making 12-cylinder models out of that market, a US-friendly V8 Ferrari was more important than ever, given that the country took 35% of a total output that was 75% in favour of the V8 cars anyway.
The people of Fiat, having noted the popularity of the 308GT4, acknowledged that even Ferrari had rivals and had to compete in the real world.
They had taken control at Maranello more than a decade before the transition of power had been respectfully managed, so the Mondial was probably the first Ferrari to have been created completely under Fiat’s influence.
It was an entirely commercial proposition, the compromises inherent in any car shifted in favour of the end user rather than to satisfy the purist whims of a frustrated Grand Prix car designer.
A watered-down, low-calorie Ferrari, perhaps, but in its essentials still very much a Ferrari, with its tubular chassis, open-gated five-speed gearchange and a transversely mid-mounted quad-camshaft 3-litre V8, albeit now electronically injected and ignition-managed.
Admittedly, its emissions-friendly 214bhp was 36bhp down on the (probably spurious) 250 claimed for the 240lb lighter, Weber-carburetted 308GT4.
There was gloomy rumination at the time over reports of a flabby 8.5 secs 0-60mph time and a top speed of 145mph, although most of the bad press emanated from America, where the cars made only 205bhp.
What the armchair critics tended to forget about these early Mondials was that this was a car that would cruise at 120mph, carrying four people in perhaps the best and most complete interior of any Ferrari road car up to that time.
Light, airy and fully leathered by Connolly, it featured Ferrari’s first adjustable steering column (without resorting to spanners), as well as central locking and properly engineered air conditioning.
There were also enough digital systems, plus warning and service-schedule lights, to make BMW owners feel at home – which, of course, was important.
Built by Scaglietti, the body was attributed to Leonardo Fioravanti of Pininfarina.
Though he was still only 42 years old in 1980, the Mondial was already the eighth Ferrari he had signed off, in a portfolio that also included the Daytona.
He began work on this successor to the Bertone-designed 308GT4 in the mid-’70s and soon came to the conclusion that a four-inch longer wheelbase was going to be required to make the space in those rear seats more meaningful, even on a ‘+2’ basis.
At 13in longer overall, 3in wider and a towering 5in taller than the 308GTB, the Mondial body was mainly steel but with aluminium for the nose, engine cover and doors.
Underneath, extensive use of ribbed and boxed sheet-steel made it a stiffer entity than the GT4, and much was made of the fact that, by removing a few bolts, the engine and gearbox could be dropped out for easier servicing.
If the styling, with its high roof and cab-forward driving position, was not vintage Ferrari then, in a way, it’s hard to see what other conclusion could have been arrived at.
Graceful in profile but slightly wide for its length, Fioravanti’s shape had a light touch that diverted attention from the packaging headaches of creating a mid-engined car with half-sensible rear seats and a usable boot.
Buyers liked it, although the Mondial 8 was not an easy sell according to Tony Willis, now keeper of the Maranello Archive but at the time working for Maranello Concessionaires.
“I liked the Mondial – and I believe I gave the car its competition debut at Prescott – but the later ones were much better. The patchy electrics and the dashboard of the 8 made life strenuous.”
Over the ensuing 12 years, Ferrari strove to boost the Mondial’s power and improve its specification.
The 1982 four-valves-per-cylinder Mondial QV banished all accusations of insufficient urge, its 32-valve, 240bhp, flat-plane-crank V8 having the highest specific output of any naturally aspirated production engine in the world at the time.
A bored and stroked 3185cc, 270bhp unit arrived in ’85; still quattrovalvole, of course, but now known simply as the Mondial 3.2.
Meanwhile, encouraged no doubt by strong sales of the 308/328GTS, the Mondial Cabriolet was launched in 1984.
This was the first fully open production Ferrari since the Daytona Spider and would become the true success story of the Mondial range, with sales that soon matched (and eventually outstripped) the closed car.
The last of the Mondials was the 300bhp, 3.4-litre Mondial t, with its powertrain lowered by 5in, the engine having been turned through 90º to sit longitudinally but with the gearbox remaining transverse, source of the ‘t’ for transversale.
This was a concept borrowed from the Formula One cars of almost 20 years earlier, which lowered the centre of gravity and also made the clutch more accessible for servicing.
Martyn Tuthill’s Mondial is a ‘t’, a 1990 full-history car bought from Foskers in May 2017.
“I’d always hankered after a Ferrari,” he says. “I was looking at 308GT4s and early Mondials, but I wanted the better technology in the later car.”
Interestingly, he finds the Mondial more usable than his Porsche 911 targa and says that the only problem he has had is a temperamental air-conditioning switch.
That said, he has never been brave enough to risk opening the sunshine roof: “It has a sunroof, but if they are not set up right they can damage the paint on opening.”
This is the Mondial’s first outing in five months.
It sits on Pirelli P6000-shod five-stud, five-spoke alloys with ‘Ferrari’ cast into the rims (even the glass has tiny Ferrari badges etched onto it).
You enter through long, wide-opening doors to assume a driving position that is low-slung enough to allow the wearing of a Trilby.
From the outside even big people look a bit lost in the front chairs of this short-nosed/tall-roofed car, its acres of glazing making the air conditioning mandatory, even in the UK.
Ahead there’s a boxy dash that has a hint of the Rover SD1’s modular treatment (but much more stylishly resolved), and your feet go slightly off to the left (because of the intrusion of the front wheel boxes) with the steering column going quietly off to the right.
The excellence of the seats, the surprising elbow room and the glassy, light-filled atmosphere of the cabin allow you to dismiss these compromises, having already noted the depth of the boot and the fact that the rear seats will accommodate kids of up 12 years, or at least the skinnier 1980s versions.
There are no starting issues; just the whirr of the fuel pumps and you’re on.
The clutch is heavy by modern standards but light compared to older Ferraris thanks to hydraulic operation; the smooth bite point helps, too.
Manoeuvring, you bless the power steering that was a feature unique to the ‘t’. The turning circle is ponderous, but after that you don’t think about it again.
Pottering in traffic, it doesn’t have huge lowdown torque but the power delivery is smooth, the ride civilised (Tuthill keeps the adjustable dampers in ‘comfort’ mode) and the sounds from engine and ’box sufficient to make the experience special, trailing away in the wind at speed.
The low gears in the classic open gate prove difficult to find when the oil is cold, but otherwise the Mondial is a simple, forgiving car with lunging but not brutal acceleration and tasty throttle response.
The smooth, firm accelerator pedal is perfectly matched to the solidly progressive brake.
It makes a perfect fulcrum for a bit of heel-and-toe action when the testosterone begins to flow and you start to get a taste for the fast, metallic and precise click-clack-clickclack action of the gears.
The ratios are closely stacked, all the better to maintain the bristle of excitement from a glorious engine that starts pulling really hard from 3500rpm, whipping round to 7000rpm in that sonorous blur of valve thrash and quadraphonic camshaft whine that always thrills, no matter how many times you hear it.
With its loving owner’s face a mask of friendly but silent apprehension in the passenger seat, I will not pretend that I sampled the limits of the Mondial’s chassis behaviour or found out for myself that the longer wheelbase really does make the handling more forgiving than its two-seater siblings.
What I can say is that the Mondial is a car with capabilities way beyond my talents, and probably yours; cornering is mainly flat with a hint of roll in tight turns and always grip to spare at both ends.
It’s consummately relaxed and stable, immune to clumsiness and indecision, with a smooth and communicative feel that flatters the timid but rewards those who want to engage with it.
The world of Ferrari is so much about status and rarity and my-car’s-worth-more-than-yours one-upmanship that it is easy to see how the self-effacing and maybe slightly too practical Mondial has tended to be treated a bit dismissively.
I think a good one, perhaps (for me) in any colour but red, would make a lovely car.
In a world where modern Ferraris seem to be getting uglier and more offensive on a daily basis, the Mondial is looking better all the time; prices will rise, and probably are already.
Choose carefully, drive proudly, but most of all buy a Mondial because you like it, not just because you have to own a Ferrari at any price. That always looks a bit sad.
Images: Tony Baker
This was originally in our August 2018 magazine; all information was correct at the date of original publication
Ferrari Mondial family tree, 1980-1993
Mondial 8 – 1980-’82
Launched at Geneva in 1980, but production didn’t begin until 1981. Just 703 cars built, including 76 right-hookers for the UK, with Michelin TRX tyres, black bumpers and 214bhp for Europe.
The V8 has Digiplex ignition with Bosch K-Jetronic injection
Mondial QV – 1982-’85
New quattrovalvole (four valves per cylinder) F105A engine using Nimonic-alloy valve technology – a first in a production car – and giving 244bhp.
Styling was largely unchanged, bar a new centre-console design. Just 216 of the 1145 cars built were for the UK
Mondial 3.2 – 1985-’88
Colour-coded bumpers, a revised nose and convex five-spoke alloys gave a fresh look, and the engine was bored and stroked to 3185cc, with Marelli Multiplex ignition.
That meant 270bhp for the 987 cars made, including 91 in right-hand drive for the UK
Mondial t – 1988-’93
The final version got the 3.4-litre, 300bhp dry-sump V8 from the 348, now mounted longitudinally with a transverse gearbox – hence the ‘t’ – driving the diff through bevel gears.
There was power steering, ABS, adjustable suspension, and revised wheelarch and doorhandle treatments, plus smaller air intakes on the sides.
A Valeo semi-automatic clutchless manual was offered as an option, with just three (of 54) in right-hand-drive, from an 840 production run
Mondial Cabriolet QV/3.2/T – 1984-’93
There were 1449 Cabrios built, including 51 right-hand-drive 3.2s and 71 of the ‘t’ for the UK.
The manual hood was styled to mimic the coupé and it was 100Ib lighter than the tin-top. Still the only series production four-seater mid-engined convertible