They call this an entry-level Ferrari, so why we haven’t all got a 308? Ferrari introduced the 308 GTB at the 1975 Paris Show partly as a face-saving operation. Its first car with the 3.0-litre V8 engine, the Bertone-styled 308 GT4, hadn’t sold too well, and so Ferrari asked Pininfarina to deliver a stunning two-seater around a mid-engined space-frame chassis.
The Italian studio did exactly as asked, and the Ferrari 308 GTB styled by Leonardo Fioravanti (the man behind the Daytona, among others) was probably one of the prettiest Ferraris ever. To save time getting the car into production, the first examples had GRP bodies, although builder Scaglietti switched to steel from June 1977.The GTB was joined by a targa-roofed 308 GTS in 1977, and then in 1980 the carburettors were replaced by fuel injection, mainly to meet US emissions regulations. The 308 GTBi and 308 GTSi were down on power, and so Ferrari set about developing a Quattrovalvole (four-valve) version of the engine with a higher compression. This arrived in 1982 and brought power and performance back up to scratch.
The GT4’s 2+2 layout makes this a very practical and comfortable Ferrari, with longer front-seat adjustment than the two seaters. By placing the
front seats well forward, Bertone made room for two children (or one sideways-seated adult) in the rear, while the compact engine/transaxle package left space behind the engine bay for a luggage compartment. Four twin-choke Webers make starting unforgettable too. Well it is a Ferrari, after all. As Ferraris go, then, the 308 GT4 is surprisingly practical, while its classic status is growing and you’d have to be mad to argue with that 3.0-litre, quad-cam, all-alloy V8 punching out 250bhp. It gives this 1326kg four-seater a fair turn of speed and handling on the all-independent suspension is perfectly respectable, with a longer wheelbase than two-seater cars calming the potential for those scary mid-engined, mid-corner moments. Whatever your views on the looks, you can’t argue with the power, the noise, the handling or the heritage.
1973 308 GT4
Power (bhp@rpm) 250bhp@7700rpm
Torque (lb ft@rpm) 210lb ft@5000rpm
Top speed 154mph
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
BODYWORK & CHASSIS
Start by opening the bonnet, doors and boot, looking carefully at all the panel edges and establishing whether they have begun to corrode. The bonnet and bootlid are made of aluminium, but the rest of the panels are steel over a stretched 246GT chassis (also prone to corrosion), so check that thoroughly too. Rear wheelarches rot, along with most of the lower panels such as the sills, valances and quarter panels. Likewise the lower edges of the doors, especially if the drain holes have become clogged, meaning they rot from the inside out.
308 engines are known to be strong and usually last well. The compact and powerful motor can sit at the redline all day long and love it. As long as there’s plenty of quality oil in it, it won’t let you down. The two-valve engines had sodium-filled exhaust valves to dissipate heat. As they get old the valves can become brittle. Some owners have had issues with these valves breaking, leading to the need for an engine re-build in the worst cases.
Carburettor-fed cars are known for their relatively weak spark due to the points-based ignition system, meaning plug fouling is common. Many owners run a hotter plug than the owner’s manual recommends – NGK BP5ES is the most popular – to cut down on this. Other use a hotter coil, though this can be hard on the points. Fitting electronic ignition is the best way to address the issue – no fouling, better combustion, a more solid idle and lower emissions.
Radiators can become silted up if the system isn’t flushed often enough, made worse when the fans do not come on because of electrical issues, so check both. Another very common problem is that the cooling system has not been bled properly and this almost always results in a car that runs too hot or overheats completely. Because the engine is in the back and the radiator in the front, the system has to be bled at both ends.
The electric windows on these cars are terrible, thanks to a combination of a lousy design involving cables and pulleys, a weak motor and wear and tear. Most operate extremely slowly. Many people attempt to fix it by lubing the window tracks or even replacing the motors, but neither usually works. The problem is grease in the gearbox that connects the electric motor to the cable system. Over time it hardens and the resistance makes it almost impossible for the motor to turn the mechanism. The solution is to take it all apart, clean out the old hardened grease with a solvent, and replace it with fresh lithium grease. A time consuming job, but it works wonders.
The 308’s transmission is notoriously notchy and can be especially reluctant to go into second gear when cold. The gated shifter can be tricky to get used to, but it’s pleasingly positive once warmed though. Clutches don’t last very long – perhaps 20,000 miles.
Suspension bushings are a common wear item on 308s. After 30 years, the original rubber bushings will be either cracked and shredded, or horribly perished. Fortunately polyurethane versions are now available, which are much better than the originals.
The electrical systems are notoriously weak, but this seems to be mostly due to the badly designed fusebox, which can be replaced or upgraded to an improved aftermarket version.
Low mileage is a major selling point, but a lack of use can cause the brake calipers to seize. Check that the tyres all match and show good tread. The original factory 16" Speedline wheels are highly favoured. Similar aftermarket wheels can be tricky to balance. Larger wheels are a no-no. Some 308s used Metric rim and tyres. At £250 a tyre, it makes more sense to store the metric wheels and buy imperial replacements.
Replacement column stalks are very hard to find, so make sure they operate correctly. Check the interior for wear. If the car has low mileage, check the state of the top of the dashboard binnacle. This can get caught by the driver's fingernails so will often be raggy on higher mileage examples, or those that have been driven hard. Seat bolsters wear. The GTS (from 1977 and so always steel-bodied) has a very good Targa top that should not allow water in. However, the panel can be damaged in storage – it goes behind the front seats. It can then hamper an already unusual driving position, so make sure you can actually get comfortable behind the wheel.
There are two reasons why the GT4 has always been seen as a lesser Ferrari: those opinion-polarising Bertone lines; and the fact that it’s a four-seater. ‘Proper’ Ferraris should not have space for four and must be designed by Pininfarina – or that’s what the infamous ‘they’ would have you believe. But don’t believe the hype – this car looks great, handles brilliantly and is as fast as you are ever going to need. Yet a decent one will cost you no more than a two-year-old repmobile, which will continue to shed value faster than yesterday’s newspapers. It is imperative to get an expert to look over a prospective purchase to ensure it’s as good as it seems. If it is, snap it up and enjoy before prices start to follow the 308 and 328 GTB/GTS.
Most classic car enthusiasts have fantasised about owning a Ferrari at some point in their life. The 308 GT4 offers a lusty V8 engine, housed in an exotic mid-mounted fashion, yet it’s a machine that’s frequently scoffed at. As a result, you can pick one up for less than £15,000 – and there’s even space in the back to bring the kids along for the ride. Well, as long as they’re very small.
The 308 GT4 was both the debut mid-engined V8 from Ferrari and a slap in the face for Pininfarina, which previously assumed it had the Maranello design gig sewn up. The Bertone-styled 308 was badged as a Dino for the first three years of its life and the 2+2 layout and wedge profile were controversial to say the least. Trim is typically Seventies, including Fiat X1/9 door handles, but the dashboard, with its toggles and sliders, is like a Blaxploitation movie mixing desk. The 308 GT4 is sneered at by Ferrari snobs, but pay them no heed: it’s actually a pretty cool car.