That the Ferrari 308 is an icon not only of the Maranello brand but of automobile design is something everyone knows. And not only for its great aesthetics and sensual waist line that many compare to the shape of a Coca-Cola bottle, but because it was a TV star and a sensation on the roads worldwide. The paring Tom Selleck and Ferrari 308 in the Magnum PI series can be considered one of the most famous small screen couples, and an image that we all have engraved in our history and the collective imaginary. Gilles Villeneuve’s history and his eagerness to run behind the wheel on and off track are also well known. Good old Villeneuve, who lived in Monaco during his F1 years, was obsessed with cutting times in any distance and that between the principality and Maranello had to be reduced each time he had a meeting with el “Commendatore”. At the wheel of his 308 GTB he covered the 435km in 2h and 25 minutes. Absolute madness if you know the Italian roads and highways; especially the first segment in the Ventimiglia area.
The 308 GTB was presented at the Paris Exhibition in 1975. The first models (the most sought after today) were manufactured with a glass fibre body.* The GTS came out in 1977 and became a true “best-seller”. However, like with more mundane cars, sports cars also age and after 10 years the 308 needed to pass on the baton. That is when the 328 was born. An improved version of the iconic 308.
At plain sight, the two models may seem very similar but when focusing on the details, the improvements are evident both in and out. The mechanics were practically the same as the 308 Quattrovalvole but increased to 3185cc. Hence its name 328; 3.2 litres and 8 cylinders. Power was increased to 270BHP, which today is not very eloquent; but at the time it was considerable considering its Porsche rival (911 3.2) only had 207BHP.
Its wedge profile aesthetics were softened and rounded the front along with the sides using integrated bumpers and a radiator grill and headlamp design similar to the Mondial 3.2 in order to give a similar aspect to the entire V8 range of the brand.
The tubular chassis had disc brakes on all four wheels as well as oscillating triangle independent suspension, helicoidal springs and hydraulic shock absorbers with stabiliser bars in various axis. Ultimately, a homogenously sporty package that even today transmits great sensations. In a present where automatic gearboxes and super assisted steering are the major comfort standards in our vehicles, to experience the brusque grill change in a Ferrari and firmly and decidedly hold its steering wheel are high intense and fun experiences.
It is a car that transmits a lot. In fact, I continue to not understand two things, why the Porsche of the same era continue to have more followers and why they have increased in value when they were sold like hot cakes. I may be a little more of a Ferrari follower, although only for its layout and car design, as I always believed the success of the 911 was more the result of Teutonic perseverance than a good initial design. Although it is more in line with Porsche followers that are not as ostentatious or garish as the Maranello “tifosi”. Having said this, the 328 is a highly balanced vehicle and relatively affordable in terms of maintenance.
When sitting at the wheel, one enters a Spartan but functional leather-trimmed interior that even after the years produces that nice warmth and quality smell. The iconic Ferrari manual gearbox is highlighted among other elements such as the minimalistic 3-spoke steering wheel and the so 80s aesthetics of the dashboard. On starting it abuses the starter motor a little allowing the injection system to act and the V8 starts after two or three dabs on the accelerator pedal. Obviously, the orchestra is not the Maranello V12 philharmonic but the music from the Ferrari 8 cylinders is more than pleasurable. On gearing into first, you notice the clutch pedal and the gear lever are not made of butter. Metal friction with the iconic grille is even exciting. Steering, as already mentioned is hard but precise, very direct. The driving position is not bad but is far from what we would consider ergonomic in today’s terms; however one adapts quickly and after a few moments you feel comfortable to dry and confidence to have a little fun, which is the ultimate goal.
The engine is sufficiently elastic to play with the accelerator pedal, although as I said, such an iconic gear change encourages using it more than is required. Furthermore, after 7000 rpm the music I mentioned earlier turns into rock and roll. The 328 is much more than a fun car. It is also a true Ferrari.
*I remember as if it were today, and it was probably mid-80s, when I saw, in one of those travelling circuses going from village to village for their show, a Ferrari in the middle of the caravans and animal cages. I walked up to have a closer look and noticed a ramshackle front end with holes showing the fibre and missing the Ferrari emblem. I then doubted, looked at my friend and said: I think it is a replica. I suppose I did not know the 308 had been made from that material but I realise I did not want to have an encounter with my mythical Ferrari looking like that.
** The 328 was one of the first models to include ABS as an option after 1988. Wheel rims had to be redesigned to fit this system with a convex section to fit the new suspension geometry.