Ferrari 308 GTS
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 5
A Magic, Priceless Masterpiece
Noise is both difficult and expensive to engineer out of a car - it is inherent in the engine and gearbox. But when a manufacturer creates the perfect balance of mechanical noise, it can only be enhanced when such a car is available sans roof. Even with the wind charging over the top of the windscreen of the Ferrari 308 GTS at high speed every sound was to be enjoyed, savoured - it is a symphony to the ears not to be spoilt by any stereo system. Perhaps that is why Ferrari car audio systems from this era were always pretty much crap.
You had to stump up extra coin to go the GTS in preference to the coupe 308GTB, so wind in the hair and that fabulous soundtrack were obviously things that appealed. The engine and gearbox sounds may have been muted a little by the wind, but they were never overwhelmed. Even changing up at 3000 rpm - both possible and enjoyable in its own subdued way - on the way to fifth gear produced a whine from the gears and a subtle background accompaniment. Lower the driver's window and floor the throttle in fourth or fifth gear produced a deep sucking sound that could only come from a V8 breathing through four massive Weber carburettors.
An Intoxicating Sound
Best of all, of course, was the intoxicating sound produced when the car was run right out through the gears, and in every gear, to fifth. The gears whined, the engine howled, the exhaust built up from a deep, unmistakably V8 sound to a high-pitched flute-like whistle that was deliberately produced and came from a small hole on the bottom edge of each of the four large exhaust pipes.
The flutes only played deep into the engine's rev range and with the throttle hard up against the fire-wall. It was the sign, the signal, that the 308GTS was being driven with purpose. It was also and always that moment, that time, when the Ferrari became a magic, priceless masterpiece. Once achieved it was impossible to retreat from believing it was anything less.
Behind The Wheel
Inseparable from the sound was the feel of the car. And the feel was most pleasing through a long, slender, chrome gear lever with a large round black plastic knob. At its base was a small chrome plate with six slots and it was through these slots that the chrome gear lever worked in precise, short, sharp movements, and yet it retained so much feel you believed you could count the individual teeth on each cog. Initially, you tended to look down at the gate to make sure you had placed the lever in the correct position but it didn't take long before the spring loading on the second/third plane helped make both the upward and downward changes an automatic function.
There was also a spontaneous reaction to give the throttle a blip during the split second that the lever paused in neutral on the way between ratios. It happened on the way up as well as on the way down. The clutch was firm, perhaps it would become heavy if you were forced to creep the Ferrari through city traffic (you can let us know in the comments field below), and its action was smooth even though it engaged over a relatively short distance. Supporting the sweetness of the actual change was a matchless set of ratios - every gear from second up asked to be used frequently - but each change was a joy. It was only when running the Ferrari very hard (and illegally) in fifth on a freeway that second became redundant. Such was the spread of power from the V8 and the pleasure that came from winding the engine
out through the gears that it became wasteful not to drop back, ratio by ratio, to second gear in order to pass a truck or a slow moving grey-nomad.
Winding Up Like A Precision Clock
Large capacity production V8s of the type that Ford and Holden were then using in their Australian cars provided huge amounts of torque but had a relatively short rev range. The Ferrari V8, of course, with its much smaller capacity, was engineered to rev out to a much higher figure and it lacked the brutal thump in the back of the Detroit V8 powered cars. Rather the Ferrari would wind up like a precision clock, from a low 1000 rpm all the way to the redline of 7700 rpm. For the uninitiated, it would take just one full-blooded start to 7000+ on the tacho in first, the flute whistle from the exhaust, the whine from the gears, then the joy of repeating it all again in second, third, and fourth to convert even the biggest disbeliever.
Through The Gears
First gear went to 71 km/h (at 7700 rpm), second to 104, third 145, fourth 192 and fifth 245. The degree of acceleration was entirely dependent upon the gear selected. Such was the spread of torque that it was possible to leave the 308 GTS in fifth and accelerate past the aforementioned truck or caravan-towing grey-nomad. Going down to fourth reduced overtaking time, third lowers it even more and second would see you blistering past the pedestrian traffic. It was of course possible to leave out a ratio going up or down but why spoil the fun? In European tune - without the affliction of ADR27A - the 308GTS developsed 162 (DIN) kW at 660 rpm and 275 Nm at 4600 rpm. For Australia the engine was fitted with an air pump and other minor modifications which we assume detracted from its output.
In ultimate terms the 308GTS wasn't a supercar but nonetheless it had enough performance to satisfy all but those who had driven a Porsche Turbo or Ferrari Boxer. Consider that the 308GTS was capable of 15.3 seconds over the standing 400 metres and of 0-160 km/h in exactly 20 seconds. Ferraris have a reputation for delicate clutches but time would prove the 308 GTS had a fairly reliable unit - all things considered given the performance at hand. Some may disagree, but we would suggest these were later owners on a car that had a few kilometres, and more than a few hard runs under its belt. Perhaps even more impressive than the through-the-gears figures were the times in fourth gear between 40 km/h and 150 km/h. In nine 30 km/h brackets the Ferrari stopped the watches in less than seven seconds and took just 7.1 seconds to go from 130 to 160 km/h. Equally impressive were the times in second gear on the way to 100 km/h; the GTS mowed them down in under three seconds every time.
On the Road
That the Ferrari could produce such performance and driving pleasure and still return good fuel consumption was a tribute to the efficiency of the engine
. On all but ripples and sharp bumps the GTS's dynamics lived up to its performance potential. In those conditions the front suspension
could be caught out and the nose tended to bounce across the road. On smoother roads it was capable of generating staggering G-forces and its balance and poise were such that few drivers would, or could, ever really explore its upper limits. Once you understood the grip the Ferrari had, you would soon learn to steer it on the throttle almost often as by the steering wheel, such was the rhythm it achieved through the twisty stuff.
There was an inch of freeplay at the straight-ahead on the rack and pinion steering
but once through the slack the steering
had all the feel you would have expected. Perhaps too much, as sometimes over bumps there was considerable shock feedback to the driver and the wheel vibrated excessively. Australian roads are partly to blame, but it was not enough to detract from the precision that was always present. We should also note, while on the subject of steering, that the turning circle was a massive 12.3 metres - which worked against the car as a city based daily drive - the then if you were buying this car today, it will likely be as a weekend cruiser so don't let that deter you.
The brakes, too, approached perfection (for the era) in their stopping power and progressiveness in most conditions - but road testers from the time noticed that, on occasion, a bump could upset their balance and a front wheel would lock up. This was not uncommon for mid-engined cars from the time, something more noticeable in the wet. Some motoring journalists also noted that the ride was a little too harsh at low speeds, but all agreed that it really came into its own above 100 km/h, when it would become remarkably supple.
On the Inside
Inside the GTS was a combination of the practical and the exotic. It couldn't ever be called luxurious but was exactly the way a Ferrari sports car needed to be - a small, soft and thick rim steering wheel between the driver and a large pod of instruments with a tacho
that read to 10,000 rpm and a speedo
that ran to 280 km/h. Oil pressure
, water temperature
and the fuel gauge
got prominent positions between the two larger gauges while a clock and oil temperature gauge
were hidden away to the right of the key where they were difficult to read. Air conditioning
was standard along with electric windows but strangely there was no glovebox. The area in front of the passenger which looked like a glovebox was actually a fuse box. However there were leather satchels on either door. The bucket seats were small and gave the impression that they lacked lumbar support but they were actually ok for long runs.
The driving position was Italian but not excessively so with just the right reach to the steering wheel and the pedals, offset to the left of the wheel arch, were perhaps slightly too close. But the driving position was much better than a contemporary Lamborghini, and a long, curving armrest swept around and across the car which was perfectly sited for resting the entire arm and not just an elbow. You sat low and the road would rush up at the car which helped create an impression of speed, but the Ferrari completely supported that impression. Simply put, it was an exquisite machine.