Written by Eric Becker
There’s no mistaking a red car from Maranello. The low-slung, ultra-wide hipped exotic-car look has been the stuff of classroom fantasies and daydreams for generations. Ferraris have been plastered on garage and bedroom walls for decades, allowing people to think, “Maybe, maybe … some day.” The company forged its legacy dominating the circuit, funding its racing efforts with peerless road-going 12-cylinders. But in many respects, over the last four decades the “junior” Ferraris ‒ particularly those with mid-mounted V8 Berlinettas ‒ have been equally important.
There have been nine incarnations of Ferrari’s midship V8 Berlinettas, the most recent of which was unveiled only last year. Each iteration improves on the last, bringing forward its own character, its own quirks, its own unique driving experience. But all share that same intoxicating mechanical orchestra and the Prancing Horse badge.
Waxing poetic about those Ferraris has long been an easy muscle for writers and journalists to flex and show off their prowess of hyperbole. But what exactly is the reason? What gives a Ferrari V8 that unique cadenced snarl, when compared to a V8 from Chevy or Mercedes? The answer lies in a flat-plane crank. More commonly a staple of motorsport applications, the 180-degree flat-plane features an alternating firing order between cylinder banks in a left-right-left-right-left-right manner. By contrast, the more common 90-degree cross-plane crank fires left-left-right-left-right-right. The result is a much sharper timbre for the Italian flat-plane, when compared to the burbles and pulsations of the cross-plane crank.
For years we’ve talked at length about the battle at Le Mans between Ford and Ferrari: How Ford ‒ with a crack team of the sharpest engineers, most skilled drivers and fervent hot-rodders ‒ bested the Scuderia at the Circuit De La Sarthe. But what if we flip that story? A multinational billion-dollar corporation pouring millions into a campaign against a small, boutique Italian manufacturer over a business deal gone sour. Perspective is a funny thing. The rivalry is one of the best in automotive lore, akin to the feud between college football rivals Michigan and Ohio State. Undoubtedly, we’re fans of the Blue Oval, but we’re certainly fans of the Prancing Horse as well. The Barrett-Jackson headquarters has more than a small share of team members that border on the fanatical – if you will, North America-based “Tifosi,” as supporters of Scuderia Ferrari in Formula One are known. Because of this, we thought we’d delve into the evolution of Ferrari’s most esteemed “Berlinettas” and highlight a few that have crossed the block.
Ferrari 308 (1975-85)
The 308 GTB is where the modern Ferrari Berlinetta bloodline truly begins, though it wasn’t the first. That honor belongs to the 308 GT4, but as that started life as a Dino and it’s more of 2+2, we’re omitting it. The 308 GTB expanded on the geometric and angular design language introduced with the 1973 512 BB. Early cars – called Vetroresina – featured fiberglass bodywork and weighed as little as 2,300 pounds. Still, by modern standards it could hardly be called fast. The car arrived at 60 mph in 7.3 seconds, and the 90-degree DOHC 2.9-liter V8 only produced a hair over 200 horsepower even in top-performing Quattrovalvole guise. Nonetheless the car was a star; it was most famously the ride of choice for Thomas Magnum in the TV series “Magnum P.I.” and embedded a new public mental image of what a Ferrari looked like.
Ferrari 328 (1985-89)
The 328 was more evolution than revolution. The 308 was getting on in years, and Ferrari needed an update to the aging model. The transversely mounted engine received a minor bump in power and displacement, 270 horsepower from 3.2 liters ‒ not a huge number by today’s standards, but still good for a 5.5-second sprint to 60 mph. Ferrari made small modifications to the angular bodywork, softening the angular lines with more rounded features, and revising the nose.
Ferrari 348 (1989-94)
The Ferrari 348 has a much-maligned reputation. This was the Ferrari bested by the GMC Cyclone in a now infamous 1991 test run by Car and Driver and upended by the then all-new upstart, the Acura NSX. To say it had a rough go of it might be an understatement. The styling drew direct inspiration from the Testarossa, with its side-mounted air intakes and strakes galore. The engine’s orientation was changed and longitudinally mounted. The gearbox, however, remained transverse – odd, but fitting as at the time, as Ferrari’s F1 cars sported transversely mounted gearboxes for handling reasons. The 3.4-liter DOHC V8 made 312 horsepower and propelled the car from 0 to 60 mph in 5.6 seconds, with a top speed of 171 mph.
Ferrari F355 (1994-99)
The Ferrari F355 was a turning point for the Ferrari Berlinetta. It marked the end of the quaint mid-engined V8 sporting specials and the beginning of cutting-edge technology and ethos of a supercar. When the F355 was launched at the 1994 Geneva Motor Show, Luca di Montezemolo had recently taken the helm of the company. Keen to reaffirm Ferrari as the preeminent “auto manufacture di Montezemolo,” he borrowed from the marque’s pioneering work in F1. The 348’s 3.4-liter mill was enlarged to 3.5 liters and fitted with new 5-valve-per-cylinder heads – the reason for the last 5 in “355.” The result was 375 horsepower and an obscene 8,500 rpm redline. When launched, it was available only with a six-speed manual gearbox, but by 1997 the F1 – a single-clutch automated manual gearbox – had arrived.
Ferrari 360 Modena (1999-2004)
When it was unveiled in 1999, the 360 Modena caused a bit of a stir, as its new curves and rounded aesthetic were quite a departure from its more angular predecessors. Despite also having the unenviable task of following the F355, which was lauded at the time as the “best Ferrari ever,” it succeeded. Modern, lightweight and sophisticated, the Modena featured Ferrari’s first aluminum space-frame chassis and carried over the F355’s 40-valve V8 – albeit with a bump in displacement. The 3.6-liter V8 now produced 400 horsepower at 8,500 rpm and could rip to 60 mph in 4.6 seconds and on to a top speed of over 180 mph.
Ferrari F430 (2005-09)
In the mid-2000s Ferrari was the all-conquering force in Formula One. The nigh unbeatable combo of driver Michael Schumacher and team principal Ross Brawn resulted in an unprecedented six consecutive Constructors’ titles. Ferrari took what it had learned from the heat of the F1 grid and transferred it to one of the most prominent supercars that came out of the 2000s – the F430. The Tipo F131 engine that had powered all prior generations was retired and a brand-new V8 was used. The new 4.3-liter power plant was seriously potent, kicking out 483 horsepower and 343 ft/lbs of torque. Enough to rear the Prancing Horse to 60 mph in 4.0 seconds and reach the cusp of 200 mph. It would also be the last of the Ferrari Berlinettas to offer the revered 6-speed gated manual transmission.
Ferrari 458 Italia (2009-15)
The Ferrari 458 Italia set a new standard by which many modern supercars are judged. The design, a svelte and lithe body, conducted the air around its inlets and curves, never forsaking style to appease aerodynamic law. The 458 proved that beauty doesn’t have to be sacrificed for performance. The triple-exit exhaust from which the 4.5-liter 562-horsepower V8 howled was an homage to the F40. The V8 revved to an atmospheric 9,000 rpm and propelled the Italia to a top speed in excess of 200 mph. The motoring press unanimously hailed its infallible handling dynamics and quantum leap in offered technology. Former “Top Gear” host and motoring personality Jeremy Clarkson proclaimed, “It’s a sharp-handling, smooth-riding, savagely fast masterpiece.” The 458 Italia was by all measures a proper supercar and a proper Ferrari.
Ferrari 488 GTB (2015-20)
Unlike its predecessors, the 488 naming convention didn’t denote an increase in total cubic capacity. Rather, 488 designated the displacement of each individual cylinder – confusing, we know. The 3.9-liter V8 marked the start of a new chapter for Ferrari’s V8 mid-engine supercars: turbochargers. Not since the Ferrari F40 had a turbocharged V8 sat in the middle in a Ferrari road car. After some 40-odd years of howling naturally aspirated engines, the switch to forced induction was made. The shift to turbocharging paid dividends. Not only did it leave the mouths of the collective motoring press agape, salivating for more, but it also silenced the naysayers who decried the addition of turbochargers would muffle the sound. Ferrari’s return to mid-engined turbocharging could only be hailed as a master class in engine design. The V8 could wind its way up to 9,000 rpm, producing 662 horsepower and 565 ft/lbs of torque. The sprint to 60 mph took just 3 seconds flat; it could reach 120 mph in 8.2 seconds, cover a quarter-mile in 10.45 seconds and max out at over 205 mph.
Ferrari F8 Tributo (2020-)
With new owners holding fast to the ninth and latest iteration of the Ferrari V8, an F8 Tributo has yet to cross the Barrett-Jackson block. Though still shrouded in speculation, rumors are circulating that the Tributo name is a “tribute” to the V8 itself, celebrating the near half-century past of the firm’s mid-engined V8 Berlinettas. The engine is a borrowed, slightly tweaked version of the 3.9-liter unit from the hardcore 488 Pista. It produces 710 horsepower at 8,000 rpm with 568 ft/lbs of torque, and is the most powerful V8 so far in a series-production Ferrari. To simply call it “fast” would do it a disservice ‒ it’s mega-fast, mind-numbingly fast. It’ll hit 60 mph in 2.8 seconds, cover a quarter-mile in the low 10s and blast well past 210 mph. To add a bit of perspective to all that statistical spew, in the same seven or so seconds it takes the ancestral 308 GTB to hit 60 mph the F8 Tributo will already be doing 130. Evolution is a wonderful thing.
Talk of a new hybridized V6 powertrain has permeated the Ferrari world. If the Tributo is the swan song of the Berlinetta V8, it’s more than worthy.