The cars we loved.
The 308 series Ferrari might be most remembered as the UN-credited co-star of the Magnum P.I. show from the 80’s. A few years later, Americans would become widely acquainted with other Ferrari like the Daytona and the Testarossa thanks to another cop show, Miami Vice. For most people (of a certain age) it’s the 308 that comes to mind as the official shape of Ferrari. That’s fitting because the 308 represented a few important firsts for Ferrari that would increase its appeal by becoming more accessible price wise. First, there was the engine, a V8 – the first time one was ever used in a car with a Ferrari badge. All previously badged Ferrari had been using V12s. Secondly, it was the first fiberglass bodied Ferrari, drawing comparisons to the Corvette (to the dismay of some Ferrariphiles).
First shown at the 1975 Paris Auto Salon, the Pinninfararina designed 308 would eventually replace the less than loved Dino 246GT as a kind of entry-level Ferrari. The 308 was a kind of family of cars with the four passenger 308 GT4 out first followed by the two seaters: GTB (Berlinetta) and GTS (removable targa top). The look was inspired by the Dino 246GT and the new Berlinetta Boxer. Unlike the boxy and awkward looking GT4, the new GTS/GTB would have sleek Coke bottle styling. The curvy wedge shape would be the basis for future Ferrari cars for years to come. As a rear mid-engine exotic, the 308 would shore up Ferrari’s entry to the lower end of the sports car market.
As a strictly two passenger car, the GTB/GTS had a slightly shorter wheel base than the GT4. It also had the same 2926cc V8 engine and was 200 pounds lighter. Part of the lower weight came from the fiberglass body, although it was still close to 3,000 pounds. Many Ferrari owners, being the purists that they were, were dismayed by comparisons to the lowly Corvette. After two years (Fiberglass cars were replaced by steel after 712 were made. Corvette comparisons ended with the body as the 308 in European trim produced 255 hp. American bound cars were choked by emissions equipment that brought power down to 240, still an impressive figure considering how small the engine was compared to a typical American V8. Other small changes would distinguish US bound cars like the use of a standard oil pan vs. the more race car like European dry stump system. Although never intended for export, Ferrari built a V6 powered version of the 308 called the 208, mostly for the Italian market. Ferrari took no chances at diluting its image by exporting V6 powered cars in the US that might not keep up with the common Camaro or Mustang.
The 308 caused a sensation first for its looks and later for its performance. Although not to Daytona standards, a 0 to 60 time of 5.8 seconds was impressive. Unfortunately American bound cars could only manage 7.9, making comparisons to the Corvette more likely (all over again). Top speed was enthusiastically stated as 150 mph by the manufacturer, but was actually lower. In fact many of the factory specs were a bit more optimistic than actual road tests revealed. Although the folks in Maranello might have oversold the 308, it was almost practical as Ferraris went. The 308 was an attempt at making a versatile exotic that could be driven every day. The message was reinforced every week as Americans watched Magnum drive his 308 around town and on curvy tropical roads (with no problems). The occasional chase scene would reveal squealing tires from Magnum’s car just like the big Ford sedan chasing it. Might it have been a function of the 308’s little 14in wheels?
By today’s standards, it’s difficult to imagine a Ferrari with 14in wheels, but the 308 was offered with 205/70 VR14 tires. Some later variations came with 15 and 16s by the end. Regardless of wheel/tire size, the 308 was stable and comfortable at speed, thanks to its and 4-wheeldouble wishbone independent suspension. Inside, like any Ferrari, it was very business like. The cabin had plenty of wood, chrome and hand stitched leather. A full array of gauges and instruments along with creature comforts rounded out the luxuries expected in a car costing anywhere from 60 to 110 when new. All 308’s came with a standard 5 speed manual.
For all its merits, the 308 was not perfect. Many complained of it being hard to shift until the engine warmed up. Carburetted cars were unsurprisingly hard to start in some conditions, but Ferrari rectified that with the introduction of fuel injection in 1981 (just in time for Magnum P.I.). With each new innovation, drivability and comfort would increase at the expense of horsepower. 81-82 models with the Bosch K Jetronic fuel metering systems produced a low of 205 hp. The switch from two valves per cylinder to four in the 308 GTB QV/GTS QV in 1982 increased horse power to 235. The 308 was replaced by the similar looking 328 in 1985. A little more than 12,000 308s were sold worldwide over a ten-year period.
As a used car the typical 308 can represent an initial investment equal or less than the cost of a new Honda Accord. Unfortunately, the cost to maintain a 308 is expensive. Some owners may have been skipped or neglected scheduled service, so prices can vary wildly. In addition to the officially federalized cars available from Ferrari dealerships, some cars were imported by individuals often claimed as Euro Spec. These cars may or may not meet emissions standards in certain parts of the county. The 308 established that Ferrari could build a V8 powered car that was fast, stable and reasonably reliable. As such the 308 occupies the middle ground between the V12 fire-breathing Ferrari that was mechanically fussy, and the modern technically sophisticated (reliable) cars.