Magnum Opus: Ferrari 308 GTSi Review

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People are loving the Eighties again. The music, style and popular culture has come full circle, and the same can be said for sports cars of the era. This means the band of extravagant low slung wedge shapes from exotic car makers, which became etched in our math books and plastered all over our bedroom walls, are on their comeback tour with young and old alike. A prime example is the Ferrari 308.

One look at this Ferrari, and one tends to think of a certain moustachioed, Hawaiian shirt wearing fictional Private Investigator. Magnum PI, made Tom Selleck a household name, and his (sorry, his employer Robin Master’s) Ferrari 308 GTS for many, became the coolest toy in the automotive toy box. However, the Ferrari 308 was already a legend long before the silver screen.

The 308 was Ferrari’s true successor to the original baby in Ferrari’s range, the Dino 246 GT, though it was not the first Ferrari to feature the 308-model designation. That honour went to the extremely underrated four-seater Bertone designed Dino 308 GT4. However, the new Dino branched off into a different market segment and Ferrari was left to revamp the 246 GT, give it more power, two more cylinders and a fresh new do. Enter the 308 GTB.

Launched at the 1975 Paris Motor Show, the stunning wedge shaped 308 was designed by Pininfarina’s Leonardo Fioravanti, famous for his work on the Dino and Ferrari’s gorgeous 365 GTB/4 Daytona. Initially only available in hard top GTB form, an open top GTS with targa top was introduced in 1977.

Under the bonnet lay a carburetted its 3L V8 was mated to a five-speed manual box, producing 255 hp at 6,600rpm. The bodies of earlier cars were made of glass-reinforced plastic or GRP, which meant the whole car weighed in at 1,050kg. This was replaced by steel construction in 1977 which meant an extra 150kg in weight.

The 1980 GTSi featured here incorporated BOSCH K-Tronic mechanical fuel injection, the first Ferrari to do so. As a result, power went down initially to 211hp and the news that Ferrari had gone down the path of fuel injection was received with mixed views by the Tifosi. Some thought that since Fiat held the controlling stake in Ferrari road car production since 1968, which allowed Enzo to focus solely on running the racing side of the business, that the Italian giant was slowly removing what made Ferraris truly unique. However, I am happy to report this was not the case.

Inside, the driving position is classic Italian, leaving you man-splaying your legs and stretching your arms to grab the wheel. The buttock hugging leather chairs hold you tight and rear visibility is ok-ish for a Fezza. Ahead the long wedge nose seems to stretch quite far ahead and you become aware of it’s front and rear haunches. Plus, pop up headlights are still just so cool!

As it was a sunny day, naturally I insisted we have the roof off. A few moments later, the targa top was stowed away behind the seats. Even today, taller folk may find the 308 a squeeze and the small pedal box means only thin loafers will do. That said, the interior itself is a gorgeous place to be. Ahead of you sits a simple yet classic white on black dial cluster containing speedometer, rev counter, fuel gauge, engine temperature and oil pressure.

This particular 308 came with an aftermarket CD player, but c’mon, who would want to listen to music when the best operatic ballad comes when giving that beautiful V8 some stick. Give the key a sharp twist and seconds later, your surroundings are engulfed by the 308’s V8 baritone burble.

Blip the throttle and this burble becomes a bark, press down hard on the gas and this bark becomes a bellow. With the sun beating down and my bare arms becoming considerably redder, it was time to select first gear via the dog-leg gearbox and begin the hunt for some bendy bitumen.

On the move with the top off, the 308 begins an all-out assault on the senses. The noise and the feeling of heat from the V8 directly behind your spine, leaves you feeling part of the machine itself. The classic Ferrari open gated five-speed-box is a joy to use, with every change accompanied by a snick-snick sound common among manual Ferraris. The pedal box and wheel feel slightly offset, but this is nothing new in Italians of this era.

Despite being 37 years old, the 308 can still perform, though with a zero to 100km/h time of 6.6 seconds and a top speed of 255km/h, don’t expect neck snapping acceleration. However, despite being down on power compared to its carburetted predecessor and later four valve Quattrovalvole models, I couldn’t really see the big deal. If you drive the GTSi briskly and not aggressively hard, you get a real rewarding and pleasant drive, though by today’s standards, a modern-day Golf GTi would leave it for dead.

Tackling twists and turns in the Ferrari is real giggle. Drop down into third, grip the wheel left or right, plant boot and you eat them up with relative ease. Sharp throttle response and instant steering feedback as you hug each bend, riding a wave of torque and exhaust noise, leaving you grinning from ear to ear. While the Ferrari doesn’t corner completely flat, the ride itself is a lot softer than I was expecting. Braking does require a firm foot, definitely leave some time to set yourself up before the next hairpin bend.

Naturally when driving a bright red open top Ferrari, every intersection and inner-city driving leads to plenty of passers by with their eyes on stalks. Even if they have never seen a 308 GTS, before, they instinctively know it’s a Fezza.

Prices of many classic Ferraris, are continuing to climb. Therefore, if you have been looking at 308’s, now would be the time to buy. In my opinion, the earlier cars are the more desirable option and if you can get a GTB or GTS at the right price and condition then by all means do it, but there is something to be said about the GTBi and GTSi models. Today they are rarer, with 1749 being built, and are just as much fun to drive.

The 308 represents an iconic era of sublime Italian design and engineering, making it one of the most popular Ferraris ever, and a great investment for the future. Hawaiian shirts however, do not come as standard.

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