The cars we loved.
Ugly is not usually synonyms with Ferrari. For die-hard Ferrari enthusiasts there really is no such thing, but even they would admit that a few models are less beautiful than others. The Dino 308 GT4 is one unfortunate design that comes to mind. Ferrari’s were usually designed by Pininfarina through the ’60s with sensuous flowing designs.
The 308 would be different. It would be a bold step into modernism with angular boxy lines from Bertone. The 308 was not just different looking it was a different kind of Ferrari altogether. It was the first Ferrari road car with a V8 and the first mid-engine design with 2+2 seating. In theory it was the best of all worlds with the balance and dynamics that come with a near 50/50 weight distribution and the practicality of a back seat (although small).
Unfortunately, the 308’s proportions could be challenging at first sight. It confused buyers and dealers alike when it arrived on American shores in 1975. Early cars did not even say Ferrari anywhere on them, instead arriving sporting Dino script badges. The Dino name might have recalled the famous Pininfarina designed Dino 246 GTS, but with the 308 there were no warm feelings for its thoroughly modern but awkward lines.
The 308 had a flying buttress design like the 246 and similar Campagnoto styled wheels. That may have been enough to label it a 246 successor, but to many it fell short simply because the Bertone design lacked the flowing grace of the older car. Ferrari might have ignored a clue to the 308’s reception when it got mixed reactions at the Paris Motor show where it debuted in 1973. Mixed reviews for any Ferrari concept aimed at production was rare and should have been a red flag. As long as the lines were flowing and they were penned at Pininfarina all was good.
It was not all Bertone’s fault. Stringent crash test regulations saw many manufacturers scrambling to make new safety bumpers. On the 308 big black bumpers did no favors to the car’s design because they appeared bolted on. This was a common problem with all exotics, especially the ones destined to be sold in America. Some cars like Maserati’s Khamsin were ruined by American safety regulations. In that regard, the 308 was spared a dramatic visual downgrade in the quest to appeal to American regulators. Despite the bumper design, the car’s best view is from the front where it resembles a line of Ferrari designs that would stretch well into the ’80s.
Dino badges or not, this was a still is a Ferrari with supercar performance. It’s 3.0 liter V8 was a dual overhead cam design that made around 240 hp. It could scoot the GT4 from 0 to 60 in the 6 second range with small kids or bags from Safeway in the back. Pretty impressive for the mid ’70s. The 308 could reach a top speed of 138 mph with passengers seated in the relative comfort of a GT car. Performance and comfort were obviously not one of the 308’s sore spots.
The long doors made it easy to get into the snug cockpit. While not the most ergonomically correct design, the dash came with the expected full complement of gauges and touches of real wood mixed with other high quality materials. Many of the cars shipped to the US came with leather seating and door surfaces.
The 308 today is seen as a sleeper investment. It was significant for its many technical details, but lacks the phanche typical of earlier Ferrari (designed by Pinninfarana). Its design might not be for everyone, but as a significant technical milestone in Ferrari history, the 308 is likely to appreciate in value. After 1976 the 308 would finally get the Ferrari badge and continue on until 1980. Badged as a Dino or a Ferrari the 308 is due for some respect either way. For about the cost of a new Accord or Camry, you can have a piece of almost forgotton Ferrari history.