The Secret of the Mondial

Opening a drawer and extracting a carefully bubble-wrapped object, we see a little red Ferrari. The paint is still shiny and it has working pop-up headlights. The tiny wheels are slightly worn from many journeys along the carpet. This is Steve Sandalls’ first model car as a young boy, growing up in Crawley. This particular toy was the seed that was sown long ago to eventually grow into a life changing obsession. Today, owning a car as alluring as the Mondial, it seems that Steve’s dream has become a reality. 

 
 

Steve’s current model collection is only a small window into his true love of Ferraris. His office is full of immaculately boxed cars from the early examples right up to the latest editions, all in exquisite detail, most being 1:18 scale. A vast collection like this one is a way of owning a part of the famous motoring heritage that has infested Steve’s brain. “I’m trawling eBay most nights trying to find the next one”. We go upstairs; another room of models is revealed. Steve reckons he has about 900 pieces in total and owns every road car Ferrari has ever made, in various scales and colours. Glass cabinets line the walls, other boxes and cupboards of models surround them. They are arranged into Ferraris and then groups of Alfas, Lancias and Fiats, organised in scale and immaculately presented. It’s safe to say when I had a few 1:18 models, I couldn’t get them out the box fast enough. Goodness knows where they are now. “They’re all going up in price now because you can’t get them, and if they’re boxed and in good order people want them”.

On the drive sits an Alfa 147 along with a black Giulietta. The garage door goes up and we are greeted by the soft, full red of the Mondial’s nose. The car starts first time and eases out of the garage. It sits on the drive humming lively as we chat, warming. We discuss the flat 12 of the Testarossa to the evolution of the 599 line, or Norman Cooke’s FF, accompanied by a bit of head scratching from us when trying to remember the most obscure names and numbers, we truly come to understand Steve’s knowledge. What’s clear is this love of Ferarris has certainly earned him the keys to his first one. Steve’s car is the Mondial from 1992, out of the 89-93 period when they made the later ‘T’ version. It was a variant of the car that emerged after Ferrari’s typical method of bringing out a model, mucking it up a bit, then endlessly tweaking it until it’s right before moving on to the next. “I think being the last incarnation, they got the T right”. The shape is just a little subtler than the original Mondial 8 - less wedge, less plastic. The engine is also a little beefier. It’s definitely a Ferrari, but built with extra seats. It’s got ABS, power steering, air-con and its windows, mirrors, sunroof and aerial are all electric. The care and craftsmanship that went in to this car even though it was never meant to be the show-pony makes it a recipe for greatness, regardless of intention. Do note: the electric mirrors do like to shout loudly about the fact that, despite being Italian and electronic, they do work. 

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The party piece of this car has to be the engine (what else… it’s a Ferrari). There’s a proper 3.4 litre V8 in there. Some V8s burble, giving a sharp clear of the throat as they head off, others are raw, loud and aggressive. This one sings. Pulling away you hear the refined vocal chords of the exhaust eating away at your motoring giblets, but unlike a normal car that reaches its rev limit fairly soon, you feel surprised as the tone gets higher and higher all the while sweeter: catapulting the chiselled rear lines of the car into the distance. Standing at the side of the road and hearing this car pass raises the hairs on the back of your neck.

The lack of computer systems in the engine make it relatively simple to work on. “The quirk in it is until it’s warm it’s quite difficult to drive, you don’t get second gear for about 20mins”. Steve tells us the power steering is the perfect weight to enjoy the car without it being too heavy to manoeuvre. Servicing costs aren’t extortionate, especially compared to the likes of a 458. It’s also practical in the sense that it has four seats and a boot. “I’ve promised my boy I’ll pick him up from school in it… I haven’t done that yet. I’m just too scared of the school run mums”.

When you’ve wanted a Ferrari for as long as you can remember, not just because you fancy it, but because of a deep burning passion, a car like the Mondial T becomes the centre of your attention. Steve even had the front of his house moved by two bricks to ensure that it could be kept in the garage. That’s commitment. But it’s not all shammy leathers and microfibre cloths, this car is driven properly. “Someone said to me: use it, keep it in good nick and it will look after you. If it just lock it up and never start it, it will go wrong”. This example has all its original paint, all panels are original; it’s never been damaged, it’s never been repaired. We soak in the quality interior. The leather is rich in colour. The dials are tastefully sharp but minimal, the wheel perfectly sized. The driving position and gated gear stick reminds you what you’re sitting in. You feel low and focussed on the road - aware of the engine being directly behind you. It’s tasteful, it’s refined. The Mondial is the car Ferrari built to say “hey, you’ve got to start somewhere, but here’s a car you can drive” and it’s true. Unfortunately, branded the ugly duckling, the Mondial 8 received bad reviews when it came out, deemed to have meek performance and looks that didn’t quite match the top dogs at the time. It’s a sad outcome because whilst not a 308, the drop top version was in fact the only mid engined four seater convertible ever built. Niche. A troubled past and its age means a dwindling price tag until recently, making it affordable (‘cough’, relatively). Steve explained that even in the brief time he has owned it, the price has doubled. “It’s possibly going to be the best investment I’ve ever made”.

I’ve been rather gushy so far, but what’s this car really like? The Mondial is an enigma. It’s a bit like cheese on toast but cooked at a Michelin Star restaurant; still a product of genius but without the fuss; a quick raid of Ferrari’s cupboard for some staple Ferrari bits (like that gorgeous engine, or a side vent from a Testarossa) and you end up with something like never before. You wouldn’t order it, but it’s not until you try it that you realise it’s exactly what you always wanted. It’s a lesson in learning to appreciate something only when you know what it is about and what it can do. There’s no denying that it’s pretty, the ‘T’ variant ensures that. The perfect combination of engine, tone, style with a bit of mild practicality and enough mod-cons to keep things comfortable, you would be hard pressed not to drive it most days if you could. I say could because most of England isn’t exactly a ribbon of perfect unused tarmac in the hot sun. Plus, thinking hard about this car, I’ve finally found what its problem is. Would I own one? No. I couldn’t trust myself. Visiting Steve has shown that it’s not about just wanting a car like this, it has to complete you. Most wouldn’t be able to give what he can to ensure this car is cared for properly. The previous owner was carful who he sold it to, “I will do the same, it has to go to the right collector”. I guess it’s flaw then is the heavy sense of responsibility to preserve it that haunts you if you use it. Not because it’s particularly rare, but because once you discover the secret to the Mondial, it’s honesty, you want to show that it really is one of Ferrari’s gems.

Steve could have bought any Ferrari. He’s Ferrari mad. But would he swap his Mondial now?  “I was expecting to get it and think, this is great but I want a 308, but I got it and I have fallen hook, line and sinker in love with it; the way it sounds, the way it feels, and way it looks; I'm absolutely head over heels in love with it”.

 

Words - Tom Aiton // Photography - Tom Duke

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