Creating The V8 Ferrari Legend
The 308 was introduced in 1975 to replace the aging Dino-badged 246, and was sold alongside the 308 GT4, which was also marketed under the Dino name until the sub-brand’s 1976 demise. Significant as Ferrari’s first non-twelve-cylinder road car, the V8-powered 308 opened the brand to an entirely new segment of individuals—they were certainly wealthy but perhaps not wealthy enough to have previously afforded one of Maranello’s finest.
Styled by Fioravanti, the 308 heavily expanded on a new corporate design language partially introduced in his 1973 512 BB. Utilizing forms that combined the emerging fashion for sharp, geometric angles with more traditional, organically-inspired Ferrari styling cues, it embedded a new public mental image of what a “Ferrari” looked like and set the design tone for the company’s next two generations of cars.
Powered by a 2.9 liter DOHC V8, initially with carburetors and two valves per cylinder, later versions saw the introduction of fuel injection and then four valve heads. Early cars featured fiberglass bodywork and weighed as little as 2,300 lbs.; from June of 1977 panels were made of steel. Utilizing double wishbones and large disc brakes at all four corners, the 308 was thoroughly modern in its approach and really redefined the idea of contemporary sports car handling. It cornered flatly and with a mostly neutral balance and provided tons of accuracy and feedback through a steering wheel mounted at an angle immediately familiar to anyone who’s ever driven a bus… for all its relative modernity it remained a 1970s Italian automobile, full of idiosyncratic charm.
Here’s the part where we’re supposed to mention Magnum P.I., but don’t worry, we won’t. Instead, we’ll focus on the car’s success among the throng of the newly rich, their fortunes earned quick and loose during the stock market boom of the early 1980s, a group typified by conspicuous consumption of jackets with shoulder pads, gold jewelry, and hair gel. The 308 (and its broadly-similar replacement, 1985’s 328) and Porsche 911 were their sports cars of choice, and to this day remain seriously desirable icons of the decade that taste otherwise forgot.