you can well imagine, members of the Ferrari club are fiercely protective
about their thoroughbreds. Start pawing one of their lovelies and you’re
‘Tyson’ the Rottweiler’s lunch. So when Kenny Bahia
offered to let me have a go in his 348 GTS in Delhi, I thought I had heard
wrong. “You mean I can drive it?” I sputtered over the phone
Although I’d had a longish drive in a Ferrari 308 in Mumbai a couple
of years ago, the car was very second-handish. Not Kenny’s. Parked
in a perfectly manicured garage that looked like a shrine to Ferrari,
with huge Scuderia shields on the walls and the car draped in a red, light,
silky monogrammed cover, the 348 looked almost new. Unveiling the car
immediately imparted that surreal feel. You just don’t expect a
perfectly maintained, screaming red Ferrari with splashes of chrome to
come rolling out of a gate in Vasant Vihar.
Though Kenny drove the 348 at first and we stopped for some pictures,
it was soon my turn to take the wheel.
Of course I had the butterflies, an intoxicating cocktail of excitement
and fear. And, the moment I strapped myself into the driver’s seat,
I realised I’d got the wrong shoes on. Blame the parents, my size
11-and-a-half flippers and walking shoes meant it was a tight fit. What
I needed for the dainty and confined pedals were squash shoes, but I’d
simply have to manage.
firing up the raucous 3.4-litre longitudinal V8 feels great. Super-responsive
to even a mere dab of the accelerator, this Latin tenor sings and whoops
on command, the valvetrain adding mechanical hardness to the trumpeting
exhaust. It makes loud exhausts on more mundane machinery sound like nothing
more than a case of rather severe flatulence. Remember Ferrari went from
a transverse V8 engine, like on the 308/328 to a longitudinal one on the
348. The gearbox as a result is placed at a right angle to the engine,
similar to earlier Formula 1 cars like the flat-engined 312 T (for ‘transversale’)
of the ’70s.
the 348 once and you’ll never forget the experience. Sending almost
300bhp through right angles is no easy task, and the result on the 348
is painful gear selection. The slow-witted long-throw gearbox needs a
firm confident shove, not the ginger ‘here sir’ I was attempting,
and the 348 laughed. It unceremoniously jumped out of gear the first couple
of times, the long clutch making matters even worse. ‘Saint’
Delhi’s morning traffic with the roundabouts, rickshaws and manic
Ambassadors was not the ideal playground for a 300bhp sports car with
an attitude problem. Countless furrowed brows and ego plummeting ‘you
first’ pats on the brakes meant the Ferrari felt as confined as
a racehorse in a supermarket.
these speeds, in start-stop traffic, the Ferrari magic was all but invisible.
The steering was slow-witted and heavy and the brakes wooden, with every
one of the controls needing deliberate and conscious input.
A bit like the first time I’d driven the Mahindra Marshal! But rather
than merely prancing around, what this snorting colt needed was space.
Space to lengthen its stride, stretch its legs, to run free.
The open roads, when they finally arrived, changed the character of the
348 completely. By now I was also more familiar with the gearbox, clutch
and brakes and as a result the Ferrari suddenly started to make sense,
awakening from hibernation, transforming into a real supercar. All ‘this-surely-can’t-be-it’
questions were wiped out in an instant as the 348, imago-like, literally
felt it had sprouted wings.
Give the 348 its head and you realise why entire forests have been denuded
in praise of the Italian marque, why normally sane human beings permanently
tattoo prancing horses on strange parts of their body. Above 4000rpm and
the Ferrari unleashes serious venom, the 348 jumping to another warp entirely.