You have, let’s say, up to £100,000 available. You fancy a classic supercar, one with a rarefied badge for the requisite prestige. What are your options? I can think of three cars that fit the budget and brief, and they were the same three rivals that would’ve been vying for your money when new, at the tail-end of the ‘80s. Back then you would’ve needed £40,000 at your disposal, and the three cars were the Lotus Esprit, which was the cheapest, the Lamborghini Jalpa and the Ferrari 328 GTB. Any of the three would be something special to own, then or today, but I reckon the Ferrari would still pip it.
At that time, Lotus was under the ownership of GM, and the X180 emerged in 1988 as the replacement for the original. The design was an elegant evolution and no doubt handsome, and inside it was a big improvement over the earlier cars, but still left wanting in some of the details, like the switchgear. And while its 2.2-litre turbo four was making a respectable 215hp, it was a) still a four and b) down on power compared with the other two. And while having a lighter engine did wonders for weight distribution – it was the most balanced of the three at 49:51 – don’t think the power-to-weight ratio would be its saviour. Yes, it was glassfibre over a steel backbone and, yes, it was lighter than the Jalpa, but it wasn’t spectacularly light. At 1,386kg it was around 60kg heavier than the 328, despite Maranello’s use of steel for the spaceframe and the body.
The Jalpa had the right number of cylinders to satisfy the supercar purists. Eight of them in a vee, creating a capacity of 3.5 litres filled by four twin-choke downdraught Webers. It wasn’t as powerful as the 328’s smaller 3.2-litre, though. That breathed more easily through 32 valves (double the Jalpa’s tally) and sipped fuel more precisely from its Bosch K-Jetronic injection. But the Lamborghini had a smidge more torque that, crucially, peaked a substantial 2,000rpm lower down in the rev range. Unsurprisingly, then, the Jalpa was the most responsive of the three. While you were waiting for the 328 to come on song and the Esprit’s Garrett T3 turbo to wind itself up, the Jalpa would be gone, even if the others’ stronger pace would eventually catch it up.
Of the three, the Jalpa has the look of something trying a bit too hard, though. You could argue this was the ‘80s and that was the zeitgeist, although equally you could say it was trying to make up for its shortcomings. Lamborghini was the least well-funded of the three companies at the time, and while it produced a car with decent balance and a fine ride, its slow steering, awkward pedals and low gearing, which tempered its road-trip credentials, were notable issues. Its mini-Countach design, mixed with hints of De Tomaso Pantera, was eye catching, no doubt about that, but lacked the elegance of the other two. The rear wing, for instance, was originally going to be more subdued, but was later raised high up over the rear deck in a look-at-me manner, precisely because Lamborghini was desperate for buyers to notice its products.
The Ferrari 328 wasn’t as handsome as the 308 but it’s still a pretty car. Not just a pretty car, mind, a pretty Ferrari. But the reason I’d argue it was the one to buy then and now, is not just because of its illustrious badge. The 328 was a fantastically engineered car. Sure, Enzo’s reign over the company he’d created was coming to an end at this point in time, but Ferrari was in full swing in terms of its road cars. Just look at the numbers of 328s made as proof of that. Ferrari made 7,500 over the four years it was in production. That compared with 2,281 X180 Esprits over five years, while the Jalpa, despite being on the market the longest, never breached 500. 410 was the final number. And Ferrari had been honing its mid-engined V8 offering for over a decade, which showed in the quality of the product. The high-revving, highly tuned spirit of the flat-plane-crank engine, the quick, precise steering, and the nimble handling that could shade even those early X180s.
So that’s why I reckon a 328, like this one, is where your money should go. And if you happen to agree with me let’s face it, you’ll struggle to find a better example than this. It’s in the right colour combination, has covered just 27,000 miles, and has the right provenance, including all-important Classiche certification.
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