U.S. Ferrari dealers had big problems in 1975. There were no new “Ferrari”- badged cars they could legally sell, and public response to the Ferrari-built Dino 308 GT4 had been lukewarm at best. Their savior was unveiled in November at the 1975 Paris Motor Show, the Ferrari 308 GTB – a two-seat sports car that overnight redefined how a Ferrari should look. It was the first car that left the factory badged as a Ferrari that did not have a twelve-cylinder engine. Instead, power was delivered by a sweet three-liter V8 that added Ferrari-like performance to the 308 GTB’s dazzling design.
Ferrari 308 GTB – One of the most perfect car designs
Ferrari mavens in the United States in 1975 who wanted to buy a really cool new Ferrari were in a tizzy, because there were no new Ferraris to be had. The hot, twelve-cylinder 365 GT4 Boxer Berlinetta did not meet U.S. exhaust emission standards and was not approved for sale. The only new car built by the Ferrari factory that could be bought at U.S. dealers was the 308 GT4, but that wasn’t even a “Ferrari” – it was called a “Dino,” a 2+2 GT car styled unlike any other Ferrari before it and not even recognizable as a real “Ferrari.”
The Ferrari team in Maranello was aware of the situation and worked feverishly to reinforce their U.S. sales. A replacement for the Dino 246 GT, the 308 GTB, was being designed by Carrozzeria Pininfarina, who assigned the project to experienced Ferrari designer Leonardo Fioravanti. Fioravanti had previously penned the Ferrari Daytona and the 365 GT4 Boxer Berlinetta. His Ferrari 308 GTB design was unveiled at the 1975 Paris Salon to resounding applause – he had captured the essence of a Ferrari and the 308 GTB instantly defined what a Ferrari should look like. Noted designer Giorgetto Giugiaro called the 308 GTB “The most perfect car I’ve ever seen.”
308 GTB – First fiberglass production Ferrari
Production of the 308 GTB was to be handled by Scaglietti, but hand-building the metal bodies would be terribly time-consuming. Ferrari was anxious to get the 308 GTB on the market as soon as possible to give their U.S. dealers a real “Ferrari” to sell, so they decided to make the initial bodies from fiberglass, which could be produced faster than traditional metal bodies. Scaglietti made the first 712 GTB bodies from fiberglass before switching to steel bodies late in 1976. The early fiberglass-bodied 308 GTBs are highly prized today, thanks to their lighter weight and insusceptibility to rust.
Regardless of body material, all 308s were powered by a 3-liter, all-alloy, double overhead cam V8 engine producing 240 horsepower, mounted transversely behind the cockpit and ahead of the rear wheels. Although the 308’s performance was not at twelve-cylinder Ferrari level, with the car’s light weight – a little over 3,100 pounds – the V8, coupled to a five-speed, fully synchronized manual transmission could move the 308 from a standing start to 60 mph in about 6.5 seconds; cover the quarter mile in 15.8 seconds; and push it to a top speed of over 140 mph. Not too bad for the twelve-cylinder Ferrari’s “little brother.”
Ferrari adds new GTS model
Ferrari expanded the 308 line in September 1977 to include a 308 GTS having a Targa-type roof with a removable panel to keep the open-car drivers happy. The 308 GTS also included black louvered panels covering the rear quarter windows to further distinguish it from the GTB. Like the 308 GTB, the GTS had a steel body with an aluminum front trunk lid. The removable top panel was black fiberglass and could be stowed behind the seats for open-air driving. The engine in the GTS was the same three-liter V8 used in the GTB. By 1980, the GTS had taken the sales lead from the GTB, selling 3,219 cars to 2,897 units for the GTB.
The 308 continued to evolve to meet ever-changing exhaust emission regulations, adopting Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection in 1980 and redesignating the 308s as the GTBi and GTSi. The fuel-injected engines suffered a drop in output and were rated at only 205 horsepower. Ferrari went back to the drawing board and in late 1982 gave the trusty three-liter engine new cylinder heads with four valves per cylinder. Once again, the 308’s name was changed to the GTBi or GTSi Quattrovalvole (or QV). The new heads boosted the output up to 235 horsepower and recaptured most of the 308’s performance.
Magnum P.I. makes the 308 GTS a TV star
If you’re ever trying to describe the Ferrari 308 to your non-car-nut friends, don’t waste a lot of time and breath, just tell them it’s the car that “Magnum P.I.” drove. Your friend may not know the slightest thing about cars, but chances are that he or she will know exactly the car you’re talking about. A Ferrari 308 GTS was the vehicle of choice for Thomas Sullivan Magnum IV, the star character on “Magnum P.I.” played by Tom Selleck, as he pursued the bad guys through the beautiful scenery of Hawaii. Although some critics complained that the show was nothing more than a watered-down version of “The Rockford Files” using discarded props from “Hawaii Five-O,” “Magnum P.I.” ran for eight seasons and won fourteen awards, including two Emmys and two Golden Globes.
Three Ferrari 308s were used during the life of the show – a 1978 GTS in the first season; a 1980 GTSi for the second and third seasons; and a 1984 GTSi QV for the remainder of the run. For each model year used, there were three different cars for different filming purposes – a dedicated “action car” for car chases and driving sequences; another for still shots and close-ups; and a third for some of the more aggressive driving sequences (a fiberglass body that looked like a Ferrari 308 mounted on a Pontiac Fiero chassis). All of the driving cars were modified to accommodate 6’ 4” Tom Selleck by bolting down the seats as far away from the steering wheel as possible, and removing the seat padding to let Selleck sit lower in the car. Even with those changes, if you look carefully at the driving scenes, you can see that Selleck’s head is still slightly higher than the top of the windshield. He was hardly ever photographed with the top installed.
Ferrari 308 sales success rescues Ferrari’s U.S. market
The sales success of the 308 GTB/GTS not only saved Ferrari’s U.S. market for 1975, but continued until the 308 was replaced by the 328 GTB/GTS in 1985. During the ten-year run, Ferrari made 8,010 GTS versions (including GTSi and GTSi QV) and 4,139 GTB versions (including GTBi and GTBi QV) for a total production of 12,149 cars – a very large number for a traditionally small manufacturer such as Ferrari.
The popularity of the 308 extended to the media, which showered the car with praise. Road & Track said, “The 308 GTB is everything you’ve come to expect from a Ferrari and more.” Sports Car International included the 308 on its list of “Top Sports Cars of the 1970s.” The ultimate compliment, however, comes from its designer, Leonardo Fioravanti. In an interview with Classic & Sports Car magazine, Fioravanti noted that a 308 GTB is the only Ferrari in his personal car collection.
Let’s take a ride
In our video, we’ll join Hagay Farran as he drives a Ferrari 308 GTBi and tells us about the emotional experience of driving the Ferrari. Many thanks to Hagay for letting us use his superb video and for sharing his great trip with us.
Magnum Mania – http://magnum-mania.com/About/About_Show.html
Video by: Hagay Farran