When I write stories about cars, the format is more or less the same: we go for a short ride together, talking about the car in between a few stops along the way for photos. When the car in question only has one seat in it this option becomes a little less viable. Rather than struggle to keep up with each other between stoplights and traffic, Florian and I decided it would be best to pick just one or two places to shoot his Ferrari—thankfully we weren’t wanting when it came to locations to choose from.
We rendezvoused just after the sun had risen over the metal hangar roofs of an older airfield near Reims, with the silence of the chilled spring morning soon broken up by the first firings of prop engines and the other attendant noises of the morning’s flights.
The sound of the warming aircraft was cut by the sound of an Italian V8 on this particular day, and I hopped out of my warm car to say hello to my friend Florian and his wonderfully ‘90s Ferrari 348. Pulling off a set of earmuffs to really complete the look as he jockeyed himself out of the rigid bucket seat and nearly bumping his head on the roll cage, he emerged from the very red cockpit with the kind of smile that always seems to follow a drive in a car like this.
You might be intrigued by what seams to be an old GT car with a license plate on it, but this is no garage-built Ferrari.
The Ferrari Challenge was a championship created by Ferrari in 1993, and one that’s still running today with the 488 Challenge. It all started with the 348 though. Standard production examples were taken from the factory and modified with a kit sold by Ferrari that included an increase of 20 hp (giving the Challenges roughly 320hp all total), a modified exhaust, upgraded brakes, less restrictive air intake systems, smaller batteries, a MOMO steering wheel with a different covering, a set of aluminum pedals, and buckets seats.
It’s commonly accepted that 32 348 TBs and 13 348 TSes were converted to Challenge models at the factory, with a few others being built at dealerships with conversion kits supplied by Ferrari. Michelotto also built a few that were said to be exceptionally quick in comparison to the rest of the field, and there are a lot of rumors about what the differences were between the factory cars and the dealer cars, but if you have to guess it’s a safe bet to assume which cars were receiving more attention!
The Challenges were all equipped with standard racing safety parts seeing as they were built to be used on the circuit: a roll cage, six-point harnesses, a fire extinguisher, a front tow hook, and an easy-access circuit breaker were all added. The cars raced until 1995 in the one-make Challenge series, before they were replaced by the 355 that seems to have largely overshadowed the 348 in Ferrari history.
As these cars were born as standard street models, they were still registered and more or less road legal when they raced. But when the Challenge championship was over in 1995 most of their owners put their cars back to standard (certainly easier to sell, or so it seemed at the time…). When Florian found his car in 2015, it was presented as standard fare, but when looking at the chassis number (#86287) it appeared that the car was indeed a Challenge car, and it had raced in the championship between 1993 and 1995! Delivered new in France, the car was raced in the hands of Jean-Louis Déglise who did 16 events in the Challenge championship.
A man with his head in the right place, Florian really wanted to honor its racing pedigree, and so he managed to put it back to its racing configuration with the Challenge kit, just as it was in the ’90s! He also deleted one seat because light is right, right? Better still, this was a car that Florian literally dreamt about as a child. The 348 was one of his 1:18 scale model cars, and he always said back then that he would have a full-size Ferrari when he grew up. Nowadays he enjoys the car to the fullest extent: it’s often taken out for drives on the street, but he makes it a point to bring it to plenty of track days too. Used as intended I’d say.
During the photoshoot we were lucky enough to meet two fighter jets at the airfield which are almost never present. It was quite a good bit of luck, and being able to park the Challenge between them was a treat. The highlight of the show was when they left their “parking” spaces to fly off in a rush of noise and shimmering heat. It seems we did well to pick this day for our shoot after all.
That was just in the morning though, and since we still had lots of light at our disposal we decided to put the car on the road again and drive over to the old GP circuit of Reims-Gueux for a few final shots. Unfortunately I had to follow (or at least tried to…) with my own car, but what a sight it was to watch the 348’s pert rear end dancing on the wet road on the drive. It’s always memorable to stop in the pit lane of this old racetrack full of visible history, moreover with a car with a racing history of its own. When Florian left, it felt very much like a pit stop.