The Ferrari 308GTB the greatest Ferrari driving experience?


The affordable and satisfying sports cars of the late ’60s and early ’70s had become somewhat lacklustre by the end of the ’70s. Alfa had introduced the GTV, which only came good as soon as the fantastic V6 engine was fitted after 1980. BMW had retired its 2002 Turbo and American muscle cars were thoroughly unattractive, neutered by emission controls and safety concerns. Ferrari’s less than perfect 308 Dino, introduced in 1973 and styled by Bertone, was an ugly duckling; and the ultimate sports car, the classic Porsche 911 first seen in 1964, had pretty much completely lost its way. Putting on weight and now sporting large bumpers, the US variant of the 911 could only muster some 160bhp. Not nearly enough.

But in 1976 Ferrari introduced its stunningly attractive, Pininfarina-designed 308GTB. Boasting a 3.0L V8 engine mounted amidships, this was a proper 250bhp sports car that rekindled the passion at Maranello. The 308GTB was an instantaneous hit. It just looked so damn quick and gorgeous, every car aficionado desired it.

Built by Scaglietti, the initial run of 712 specimens were of fibreglass construction and weighed a lot less than the earlier 308. Indeed the GTB weighed 1050kg, almost identical to the diminutive 246 Dino, so overall performance was always going to be crisp. The open-topped GTS arrived in 1997.

As with most Ferraris, the driving is a sensual automotive experience. This 308GTB really is one of the most gorgeous sports cars of its time. And driving the 308 is like wearing a sharply cut and smartly tailored suit. The driving position is low-slung, for that genuine racing car feel but the slim windscreen pillars and all-round visibility give a sensible view for a supercar.

Once you’re going, as you flick the gear lever into 3rd, then press the throttle down to the floor, you start to appreciate that this is a real thorough-bred.

The V8 engine takes a deep breath and starts to sing. The power delivery is smooth and linear and as the revs increase the sound builds to a growl and then a shriek. The gearing is proper sports car in that it is short and slick.

Ferrari driving days are all about taking on twisting back roads, exactly where the 308 reveals its superbly well-balanced chassis. The steering tightens as the speed rises, the brakes seem to be easily up to the task and the dart-like Ferrari tackles bends with precision and commitment, all of the while accompanied by the exuberant soundtrack of its rev-hungry V8 motor.

As pointed out at the beginning, most sports cars from the late ’70s are, well, poor.

But what’s particularly striking about this Ferrari experience day is how entertaining it is to drive and how effective the car is. The car is small by today’s standards. It is slim and feels light. The steering is pin-sharp and not numbed by power assistance. The gearshift is manual, which is becoming increasingly rare in today’s sports cars, and it has sharp, efficient gearing. The brakes are potent €” a rare concession to driver comfort is the fitment of a servo €” and the handling is fun even at road speeds.

The Ferrari 308GTB shows just how fulfilling classic sports cars can be. The Ferrari driving experience is so tactile and personal. You feel and hear the engine working just behind your ear. The thin steering wheel transmits the road surfaces and it feels its way around the corners, whilst the car’s each and every movement and shift of direction are immediately transmitted through the seat of your pants.

Not surprisingly, modern day sports cars are swifter and more capable but they’re heavy, slow-witted and numb in comparison.

Driving a contemporary supercar is like getting the bus into town whereas driving a classic Ferrari is much more like riding a thorough-bred stallion across the countryside. Both will get you there, but the feeling of intimacy and excitement is just considerably more natural and physical using the 308GTB €” and consequently more rewarding.