Originally published in DRIVENWORLD, Ferrari Market Letter, and Sempre Ferrari
Oct 16, 2015
Early October 1975 must have been an exciting time in Maranello. Ferrari had just reclaimed the F1 Constructors and Driving Championships at Monza in September. Scarcely three weeks later, Leonardo Fioravanti’s stunningly beautiful take on Ferrari’s first 8-cylinder was unveiled at the Paris Auto Salon.
Tifosi spirit rekindled, Ferrari’s bleak finances would almost certainly benefit from the world’s insatiable reception of the Pininfarina 308. It would be the first Maranello chassis to move Ferrari toward anything remotely resembling mass production. A misnomer, but Fioravanti’s homage to the 246 Dino opened Ferrari to a wider audience, and sales exploded once the car was cast as the star attraction on the hit TV show, “Magnum, P.I.”
On occasion of the model’s 30th Anniversary, owner Carlos Amato relayed Ferrari’s own thoughts; “The 308 provided Pininfarina with an opportunity to flex its design and styling muscle. The company responded by redefining the public’s collective impression of what a Ferrari, and indeed what a sportscar, should look like. Few could have expected the Turin designer to respond with such a tour de force.”
I don’t recall the moment that I became aware of the 308. Avidly ingesting each issue of Road & Track as I approached my 16th birthday, ripe with anticipation for the freedom that day would bring, it was most likely my instant captivation with the deep blue GTB that graced the cover of the December 1976 issue, driven at 10/10ths by Bob Bondurant.
The accompanying article had an enormous impression on me. Bondurant’s observations read like a fascinating new language. His insights, writer John Lamm’s prose and images of a car that never before appeared so stunning, burrowed deep into my juvenile mind, catalyzing dramatic curiosity.
Finally 16 and licensed to drive, I ventured to expand my horizons. I wondered as to where such a car might be found, and through some forgotten process long before data connectivity, I discovered FaF Motorcars . . . ironically only a stone’s throw from home in Atlanta’s NE suburbs.
So one dark, rainy, late fall afternoon, I found my way over railroad tracks, past a concrete mixing company, and down a short industrial spur into FaF’s makeshift garage showroom. Not exactly where most would imagine a Ferrari dealership, even in those days.
I guess FaF was boutique before boutique was chic. I’ve since realized, however, that much of FaF’s persona was in many ways derivative of Ferrari itself. FaF as it appeared then would look almost right at home in Maranello or Modena today, quite a contrast to the ultra clean, ultra modern, ultra identical corporate brand approach that dictates every car dealership today.
Certain memories of that moment are vague. A sole GTB, parked just inside a partially opened roll-up door. Red? Not sure. An L-shaped counter, much like a parts dept. desk, wrapped a perimeter around the front of the car. It was dusk, a result of the weather, the season, and being close to the end of the business day. And it was dark inside, too. I recall the specular brightness of the sparse interior lighting against an otherwise dim and shadowy room.
What I do more precisely recall, however, is the impression that 308 GTB left on my psyche. Despite my youth, and relative lack of driving experience, the car simply felt perfect. The seating position, the gauge cluster, the slope upon which the dash gave way to the door pulls, the smell of the leather.
With but a handful of experiences ogling European GT cars, I was impressionable as wet clay, and this impression set the mold of a clear goal (dream, if you like) that would never leave me.
Therefore, when I was fortunate to finally realize the objective just three short years ago, it was only natural that I would immerse myself into everything related to owning a 308. And as SoCal is car enthusiast mecca, it was inevitable that I would meet fellow 308 owners Mike Tuason and Clint Camamot. After staging a rather successful gathering of 308 and 328 (3X8) chassis last year, we decided to organize another such event in honor of the 40th Anniversary. Fittingly, we set the goal of attracting forty 308 or 328 chassis, and “Forty For Forty” was born.
Could we do it? For certain 40 cars reside in and around LA, but getting them to one location at the same time? We canvased sportscar dealers, Ferrari service shops, and benefitted from the FCA SW’s and FOC’s email blasts in getting the word out. We hoped to draw some special examples from every era of the 308/328 run. With 28 cars at last year’s meet, we almost certainly expected to top that number this time around.
However, despite enduring one of the worst droughts in recent memory, the day arrived under rainy skies. As I arose to light drizzle and wet streets of October 4th’s pre-dawn hours, there could be no doubt the spare precipitation would play it’s hand in our celebratory proceedings.
Yet, we had a great turnout after all. Twenty-two passionate 308/328 owners braved the elements, including Eric Hutchison’s torque-monster 308 GTE, an EV conversion of a salvage title, burned out ’78 GTS.
Brian Harper, who drove his ’83 Quattrovalvole down from San Jose for the event, observed, “Modern cars are so isolating from both the world around and the machinery doing the work. The 308 is none of that. It is very mechanical, very direct. I hear the drop gears and transmission quietly whine, the cams and valves clatter, the heat shields and aluminum panels rattle, the sucking of the intake and the roar of air over the top of the car. In the way a Lexus tries to remove all of this experience, the 308 aggressively beats it into you.“
We even had an original owner on hand, Rex Parker, who brought out his rare, all original ’79 Oro Chiaro (light gold) GTS for the morning. “Long-neglected 308s are finally coming into their own, and those that are nicely done are showing — and aging — remarkably well,” Rex noted. “308s are sufficiently drivable; to be driven, and driven great distances.”
328 GTS owner Frank Bryan offered his thoughts on the day, “What really strikes me about the Ferrari 308 and 328 community is the camaraderie and diversity of the owners. It is a great mix of young and old, long time owners and recent converts. The same can be said for the cars. No car was the same, each sported it’s own character, modifications, and patina. The show was an intimate and meaningful way to celebrate such an iconic vehicle.”
Ultimately, the weather paid benefits, too. The cool cloud cover arrested September’s wretched heat, and we enjoyed coffee and camaraderie under a soft light that did not pound us into the asphalt.
The Pininfarina 8-cylinder’s legacy may never fully escape detractors of the era who disdained the idea of any Ferrari shy of 12 cylinders and never respected the model because of its significant production run. The model may also fail to captivate younger enthusiasts intoxicated by the stunning performance of the 8-cylinder models since introduced. However, it’s impossible to ignore what might have become without Fioravanti’s creation.
As Carlos (on hand with his 1980 GTSi) noted, “The 308 is the car against which every subsequent sports car has been measured, and the car that brought Ferrari from the pinnacle of elite car-culture recognition into the minds of the general public. Years later, the shape and sound of the 308 is still “Ferrari” in the minds of many people.”
Forty years ago the 308/328 line arrived in time to save Ferrari from extinction, and that is an anniversary every Ferrarista can cherish.