The Ferrari 348 GTB Brings Tropical, Testarossa-Inspired Imagination To Life In London
Photography by Virgiliu Andone
It’s not even sunny. Granted, we are not about to be submerged by torrential rain, but we are in no danger of being swamped by flamingos either. It’s far from T-shirt weather, but the piercing cold is powerless against the sensation that we were Florida. We’re far from gator country here, but the presence of this fun-size Ferrari is enough to conjure a bit of Miami in London.
The tune of the 3405cc V8 is beautifully exotic, refreshingly free of today’s dual-clutch interruptions; no lightning fast shifts that sound like high-performance flatulence here, a gated five-speed is infinitely more fun, and much better at conducting the eight-cylinder symphony. The bodywork recalls the even-more-Miami Testarossa this car takes its cues from, and the 348’s sound and its strakes bring us on a journey to more a hedonistically defined time.
Instead of the grey sky and brisk end of the thermometer that make up our reality, we’re imagining a pristine beach underneath a high sun beating on us from a cloudless blue dome, our icy margaritas sweating in the sand next to us in the shadow of a lazily rocking palm. Some cars seem to carry around their own weather systems, and despite its less than universe warping power figure, this Blu Sera Ferrari has innate latitude-shifting capabilities.
The 348 can easily be dismissed as just a smaller, cheaper version of the Testarossa, and that’s not an unfounded opinion. The aesthetics of both cars are clearly from the same sketchbook. The parallel strakes covering the side intakes, pop-up headlights, square nose, and the slatted grille that runs over the taillights are clear evidence of the shared genetics. What’s not to like? It’s like a list of top singles distilled from a discography into a greatest hits album—nothing new, but all good.
It’s no surprise that the Testarossa had a substantial impact on the vision of an ideal supercar in the 1980s. Almost every tuner felt obliged to create a Testarossa-aping wide body offering graced by their cadged version of the Pininfarina paradigm-shifter. I can’t think of any third parties that pulled off the look as cleanly as the original, although the monstrous Mercedes-Benzes or the over the top Porsches certainly tried, perhaps much harder than they ever should have—looking at you, Gemballa. Even the Countach eventually received some slatted augmentations, which were no doubt influenced by their rivals in Maranello. In a world simply obsessed by the look, you can’t blame Ferrari for not jumping off the bandwagon. They kept updating the Testarossa deep into the 1990s, and they translated the same design to Ferrari’s smaller, more practical sports car: the 348.
The overall look of the 348 is a clear reinterpretation of the Testarossa, but it’s also clearly molded by the new decade it was born into. While the Testarossa was a quintessential early ’80s car, the 348 announced the advent of the ’90s with an update of the older design—tense, taut, with the corners chamfered more, so that the intersecting major planes connect better and the eyes playfully slide from one side to the other rather than bounce off of hard angles. It’s no surprise that its successor, the 355, continued to look fresh for another decade, by essentially just ditching the by then out of fashion side strakes. And I have a strong suspicion that it was not the aging of the Testarossa design that made those strakes less desirable, but more so the myriad wannabes tainting the look that created Ferrari’s desire to finally move on. And even when the derivative design of a Testarossa-inspired kit was relatively successful, the exclusivity was quickly lost. The world had seen enough metallic purple wide bodied Dimma-kitted Peugeot 205s, and Ferrari would have been silly to continue down that road.
The car shown here is a 348 GTB, the last iteration of the 348 formula. Out of the 252 ever made of this variant, just 14 were UK-market RHD cars. This one is believed to be the only Blu Sera example in the UK, making it that much rarer. If they would have made more, perhaps the weather patterns here would have started to change, oh well. The Crema leather interior is the color that every grain of sand dreams to become one day, and it helps create your very own seaside landscape from the driver seat; just look up from the dash to the blue horizon on the bonnet. Further back, under the louvered metal canopy, the business end of the car provides its own spectacle. Built in 1994, this mid-engined car has a classically Ferrari manual gearbox with a gated shifter. Power was also up compared to the launch versions of the 348, reaching 316hp in the GTB by way of increasing the engine’s compression ratio and revising the camshaft profiles.
Seeing the car in blue, not in the typical Rosso Corsa, is a refreshing detachment from today’s abundance of “synthwave” album covers featuring neon-soaked red Ferraris. It’s a chance to appreciate the design from a different perspective, at least. The 348 was never going to be as wild as the Countach, as trendsetting as the Testarossa, or as easy to use as the NSX, but the people who made it never tried to do any of that. What the car did achieve, though, was conveying a sense of exoticism in a more entry-level package. While the tuners tried to overdo the excesses of the Testarossa, Pininfarina went the other way when Leonardo Fioravanti and his team designed the 348.
They created a car that somehow feels appropriate even in the most inappropriate of circumstances. It’s not that it feels at home on any street, so much so as every street seems to be trying hard to become a suitable backdrop for it. And most really achieve that. Maybe it’s because those design-defining strakes never really fell out of fashion in architecture, and for good reason. It’s a classic look that predates any automobile. As an entry-level Ferrari, the 348 had to keep a low profile in the presence of its bigger siblings. It did that, in its day, but that didn’t stop it from keeping a connection to them. In a sense, all of the usual criticisms that get thrown at this car are also what makes it uniquely enjoyable. Is it a slower, cheaper, less-wild version of a big brother defined by being hyperbolic? It surely is, but the result of watering down the Testarossa’s overly stiff drink is pretty delicious in its own right.