Why Have We Been Ignoring The Ferrari 348 Challenge?
Photography by Ted Gushue
When a buddy of yours picks up a new car, it’s a big deal. The second you get the call, you head over to their house to inspect the goods. Kick the tires. Flex its muscles. The other day, my pal Matt Ivanhoe picked up a really special car from our friends at RM Auctions just around the corner from our offices in Culver City. Naturally, I made him wake up at the crack of dawn the next morning, drive to Malibu to photograph it, and hear a bit about the story behind the often overlooked 348 Challenge.
Ted Gushue: How does this car fit into the Challenge series?
Matthew Ivanhoe: The Challenge was, as many great car stories are, borne out of desperation. Ferrari was trying to bolster sales during a very tumultuous time in their history, so they turned to racing to energize the fan base. Cash flow was waning at Ferrari, and they needed to move 348s quickly, whilst building enthusiasm for the brand. It wasn’t like how Ferrari is today, where there are guys waiting years and years just to get a basic car. They created a limited production vehicle that was designed for the purpose of a gentleman’s race series. That’s how the 348 Challenge came to be. It spawned the Challenge series, which is still around today, and was the first of the limited production mid-engined V8 Ferrari models, along with the 348 Serie Speciale.
TG: What is the take on normal 348s vs this car? I know that when we drove the car together, you explained that the actual driving experience of a non-Challenge 348 is pretty rubbish by comparison.
MI: Oh yeah. The driving experience, it is, indeed, completely different than a regular 348 because the car itself is dramatically different from a regular 348. You have different suspension, different power, lighter weight. Everything was a little bit better about it and a little bit more evolved. It righted a lot of wrongs with the 348.
TG: Was it borrowing heavily from what would be the 355 parts bin?
MI: It was a test bed for what ultimately became the 355. In essence, they changed many things on the regular 348 for the 348 Challenge that ultimately carried over into the 355. It was a proving ground, and it fixed a lot of the regular 348’s weird diabolical handling characteristics and just made it an absolute pleasure to drive.
TG: Where do you think the market on 348s and Challenge Cars is headed now?
MI: I think you would be hard pressed to find a modern Ferrari that was as universally overlooked for as long of a time as the 348 had been, until recently. I think the only other car which is as (or more) overlooked is the Mondial, which is kind of a shame for the 348. The 348 is an interesting car from a great period in car history. People have woken up to the fact that cars from this period represent the end of a hallowed age, being the last cars which can truly be enjoyed to the extent of their limits without needing electronic intervention or power assistance, and the demand for that has driven values up, including the 348. I think that’s been the case for the last year and a half. That said, even amongst these modern driver classics, I still think the Challenge is an undiscovered gem. The prices and interest in the 348 Challenge cars have risen, but considering what the 348 Challenge represents in the history of modern Ferrari, I think it’s extremely undervalued. The 348 is the beginning of so many special things for Ferrari. It’s the granddaddy, it’s the start. Everything that came after, the 355 Serie Fiorano, the 360 Challenge Stradale, the 430 Scuderia, 458 Speciale, all of those are descendants of the 348 Challenge. This car represents something very significant and as a result, I think we can say it’s a bit of an unpolished gem right now. It’s one that I think people will continue to enjoy and appreciate as the years go on.
TG: How are you enjoying owning it, so far?
MI: It is an absolutely fantastic car. Frankly, I was expecting to enjoy it. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it as much as I am.