Don't pretend you've never done it. You're browsing the online classifieds, marvelling at the do-everything secondhand metal you can have for under £30,000 (2012 BMW 335i with delivery miles, anyone?) when somehow, inexplicably, you've clicked on the Ferrari tab, and discovered you could have a classic Italian thoroughbred (© every car mag, ad infinitum) for the same price as a new Golf GTI.
How to buy a Ferrari for £25,000
Yes, you can buy a second-hand, mid-engined Ferrari for the price of a hot hatch. But should you?
Well, sort of classic. The only drivable sub-£30k Ferrari you'll find is the 348, the firm's entry-level offering from 1989 to 1995. Successor to the 328, forebear to the 355, 360, 430 and 458. But still, a real Ferrari: mid-engined, rear drive, daft strakes down the side, Cavallino whatsit on the nose, red paint on at least most of the panels if you're lucky. A gentle skim will uncover a dozen or so 348s for sale in the UK for between £25,000 and £30,000, most showing under 50,000 miles and looking, if not in prime nick exactly, rather less than utterly shagged. Too good to be true?
But of course. It is fair to say the 348 is not recognised as the pinnacle of Maranello's output. Even Ferrari boss Luca di Montezemolo - who took the company helm a couple of years after the release of the 348 - considered it a dog. "With the exception of its good looks, I was utterly disappointed. This was clearly the worst product Ferrari had developed for some time," was the big man's verdict.
It's not only Luca with a low opinion of the 348, which regularly tops polls of Ferrari's worst cars of all time. Delve into ownership forums, and you'll find talk of a wandering front end at high speed, catastrophic engine failure, gearboxes that require a shot-putter's arm to find second and seals of wanton leakiness.
So, the £25,000 Ferrari: good idea, bad idea or truly, truly terrible idea? TopGear enlisted the help of John McGurk, boss of McGurk's supercar dealership and an expert on all things old and Maranello, to dish out some sane, sensible advice. Here are his five messages...
THEY'RE ON THE UP
Drive a spanking-new hot hatch off the forecourt, and it'll instantly shed a few thousand pounds in value. A 348, provided you buy a good 'un and keep it in decent nick, should go the other way. Why? Because Ferraris are appreciating like Notting Hill flats right now, with only the 348 yet to take off. "I don't think for one minute that a 348 will lose any value. Historically, if you wanted a sensibly priced Ferrari, you'd be looking at a 308 or a 328, but those cars are now above £40,000," says McGurk. "Or, if you wanted a modern car, you'd go for a 355 or a 360. But they're pushing above £50,000 now. There's only one thing that can happen with 348s. If you bought it for 30 grand now, I think next summer you'd be looking at £35,000, maybe 37..."
DON'T THINK YOU'RE BUYING A RAPID DAILY DRIVER
The current generation of Ferraris - at least the 458 and California - are cars you could realistically use every day. Not so the 348, which boasts a brutal ride, heavy steering and bicep-forming gearshift. In other words, a car for summer weekends only. And even then, it's hardly a searing, spine-tingling supercar.
"They're not particularly quick, they don't sound that great," is McGurk's honest assessment. "It's not a great driving experience. It's not a particularly wonderful car."
Ouch. In its prime, the 300bhp 348 managed the 0-62mph sprint in a little over five seconds. In a 25-year-old, less-than-pristine example, you'd be lucky to dip below seven. That's diesel-hatch pace. But hey, at least you'll look like Tom Selleck in Magnum PI as you do so. Um, except he drove a 308...
BEWARE THE SUSPICIOUSLY CHEAP ONES
OK, so any sub-£30k Ferrari should be viewed with some suspicion, but if you've found a low-mileage example way below the market rate, give it a wide berth. If it looks too good to be true, it's probably too good to be true.
"When you buy a car of that age, you become a detective," says McGurk. "Does it look right? These cars are all about honesty. Does the service history stack up? If it's been serviced by Bob down the road, you don't want to know. You want to know it's been looked after by a proper garage. Verify the history, make sure you can look right back through the ownership from new. Buy the one with all the receipts. Mileage isn't everything..."
IT SHOULDN'T COST A BOMB TO RUN
The fear with buying anything old and (especially) Italian is that it'll grenade its engine the first time you take it out, instantly rendering your £25k investment worthless. But McGurk says that, if you buy sensibly, don't drive it to death and stay on top of the routine maintenance, then that's an unlikely scenario. Beyond the big jobs - cambelt, brakes, clutch - running costs shouldn't be too crippling either.
"If you're going to do 4,000 miles a year in it, if you budget a grand in a worst case scenario, that covers you for something that needs fixing. The chances of it going mechanically very wrong are slim. If you've bought it from the right people."
If you do end up taking the plunge, the most important thing, says McGurk, is not to mothball your frayed Ferrari in the hope of safeguarding your dubious investment.
"There's no point just sticking it in the garage. Whatever you do, don't sit there and stare at it. Where the hell's the fun in that? If you're going to buy one, drive it and enjoy it. Get some memories. If it's something you've been dreaming about all your life, don't stick it under a cover. If cars sit still and don't get used, that's when things go wrong. Go out and have fun..."
This feature first appeared in Top Gear magazine