Sunday

1982 Ferrari 308 review

The Prancing Horse is recognized around the world as belonging to an elite group of cars. It's a group of cars that inspires lust, celebrates speed, is synonymous with beautiful design, and the sales of which fund the most successful Formula 1 racing team in history. Just the word 'Ferrari' rolls off your tongue. When saying it, you can't help but be temporarily transported to a far more exotic locale than your subdivision. Ferrari is at the top of their game when it comes to producing road cars that people all over the world lust for. They're legendary.

But it wasn't always that way.

In 1982, Ferrari brought their first fuel injected 308 to US soil. Thanks to stringent emission control regulations, the 308 engine was hampered by all sorts of pollution control components. The result was inevitable - this Ferrari was seriously down on power out of its V8 engine. Power at the flywheel barely topped 200. Of course other cars of that era were similarly constricted, but by today's standards the performance figures of the 308 - on paper - are disappointing.

When I had the chance to drive this car, my expectations were frankly pretty low. On the one hand, we're talking about driving a Ferrari - something most people never get to do. On the other hand, well, let's be honest - this is one of the least desirable models and slowest ever to come out of Maranello. These days you can find one of these in acceptable condition for a price similar to that of a new Camry.

Sliding into the driver’s seat it's definitely 1980's all the way. This car was built before Ferrari fully understood that its customers might have wanted other things in their car besides an engine, transmission, and a chassis. Controls are not where one would routinely expect to find them (climate controls behind the shifter on the center console?) The driving position is......interesting. You're laid back, but the steering wheel juts up at an odd level. Pedal space is tight, but that seems appropriate.

Turning the key brings the power plant to life. At first it idles high - about 2000RPM - and after a bit settles down to a more normal level. Ah the sound is definitely Italian. This is not a normal car. Drive the car gingerly for a bit to fully warm the fluids, including the transmission oil. At first the 308 feels ponderously heavy; steering is too hard, the clutch is too hard, the transmission shifting doesn't even resemble smoothness as you clunk it through the metal gate, the engine is rough. But driving gingerly was not how it was designed by Enzo.

Interesting thing about this era of Ferrari - it virtually requires that you manhandle it. The prancing horse staring back at you from the steering wheel is almost begging you to tame it. This is where the 308 shines.

After a full warm-up, I start getting more aggressive with the inputs on the car. And the 308 LOVES it. I run the engine harder - never letting it go below 3500RPM. The higher it goes, the better it sounds and the better it feels. It's not like your family sedan that starts running out of steam in the upper rev ranges - this car LIVES for it. The engine climbs all the way through the RPM's and just becomes more urgent with every number it passes on the tach. It never sounds stressed, never stumbles, never tells you enough is enough. It just pulls all the way through the range, gear after gear, corner after corner. I start shifting it quicker. Again, the harder you work the lever the easier it is. Seems like a paradox doesn't it? I practically start jumping on and off the clutch with each shift trying to trip it up. The faster I move the lever the more accurate it becomes. This is unlike anything I've ever experienced. You become one with the car, and it rewards the work accordingly.

The 308 has a certain rawness about it that is missing from so many cars today. It's made for DRIVING . Wussies need not apply. Look elsewhere if you believe trips should be made 1/4 mile at a time. Those afraid to push a car, go buy a Toyota. It makes you feel like a hero but you have to act like one. If you're not interested in it, it's not interested in you. Despite being a 30 year old design, it still turns heads wherever it goes. Yes, this one is not fast at all by today's standards (various magazine articles of the day seem to agree on around 8 seconds 0-60). But at the same time, for precisely that reason it allows you to use all of it without breaking too many laws on the road. You can go deep in the gearbox, really wring out the engine and transmission without getting too carried away. Try using all of your normal commuting car on a public road and you'll end up disappointed, breaking the car, or having a chat with the local law.

I came in not expecting much but walked away impressed. I won't honestly say I would put it at the top of my list if I was able to purchase a dedicated sports car, but I'm thankful for the experience. It reminded me what a driver’s car should feel like, everything a sports car should be. It was a nice sample of an Italian exotic - the sounds, the feel; you could certainly feel the racing DNA that Ferrari's engineers baked into the 308. Many people think driving a Ferrari should be a transcendental experience, and many more modern models provide that sensation (the F355 and 360 Challenge Stradale come to mind). What it really impressed on me was Ferrari is first and foremost a racing company, and that is the DNA you'll find in each car that rolls out of Maranello no matter what the specs are on paper.

1 comment:

Boz said...

I agree with Chris on the drivability of the 308 - the harder the better. If you drive the car like a Caddy you risk grinding a gear, dropping the revs too low, or in some other way destroying the engine. But while you have freedom to play on common roads, remember that you are still driving a Ferrari. It will not forgive you on bumpy roads or sharp, jagged curbs and driveways. The example I drove had many a battle scar on an already-repainted front spoiler.

Additionally, given that the 308 is so accessible, I would make sure to have all of the documentation for title and servicing if choosing to buy one. Buying the papers may up the price a bit, but you are buying peace of mind. Improper usage and servicing was the plague of the "common" Ferraris - many that bought them saw them as little different from Mustangs or Vettes and treated them accordingly (this is why a good example Dino is so rare and sought after). While I would personally hold out for a good 328, the 308 will give you plenty of thrills and provide perhaps the least expensive ticket into one of the most exclusive automotive clubs.

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