Capsule Review: 1975 Ferrari 308GT4

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth
capsule review 1975 ferrari 308gt4

It was a scene straight of Miami Vice: a Ferrari flashing through a cool summer night, the wind in my Crockett-esque hair, time seeming to pass in slow motion as I looked meaningfully over to my passenger. Instead of nodding back in uber-cool Ricardo Tubbs fashion, however, he pointed to the back and window and screamed, “THE CAMBELTS!” Oh, yeah.

The familiar pattern of mid-engined, V8-powered sporting Ferrari seems set in stone nowadays– so much so that the front-engined California seems a touch heretical. ‘Twas not always so. The first production Fezza to put a V8 behind the driver was the knife-edged, ultra-modern, 308GT4 “Dino” four-seater. A Bertone design, it never found the favor accorded its Pininfarina-styled Dino 246 and 308GTB/GTS stablemates, and for the better part of the past fifteen years it’s vied with the similarly angular 400/400i 2+2 for the title of “cheapest used Ferrari.” A decent example can be found for twenty-five grand, and it’s possible to pay even less, assuming you’re willing to undertake some “deferred maintenance.”

The 1975 308GT4 I drove was due for a rather expensive cambelt service, preventing me from running the frisky small V8 up to redline in front of all the pretty club-hoppers down around Cincinnati’s Hyde Park. Even at a cautious 4500rpm, however, the Ferrari was more than willing to scoot. Contemporary road tests returned a sixteen-second quarter-mile; shorn of its emissions gear and retuned to suit, this example would have been a touch faster. The famous Ferrari gated shifter was easy to negotiate, with a “dogleg” first gear in what was once charmingly called “the competition pattern.”

Modern Ferraris, front and mid-engined, like to present a bit of visible bonnet to the driver, but the 308 GT4 has a very cab-forward feel, almost like a mid-Nineties Chrysler product. At six foot two, with short legs and long arms, I was quite comfortable behind the wheel– but couldn’t see so much as an inch of bodywork beyond the chrome windshield frame. To run a brand-new example down the autostrada at one hundred and forty miles per hour, zipping around tiny Fiat cinquecentos, nothing ahead but the flowing road – it must have been a touch daunting.

Chromed toggle switches and minimal instrumentation place the GT4 squarely in the Seventies. But it’s possible to squint a bit and see where the modern F430 cockpit obtains its inspiration. The steering was not unreasonably heavy and road feedback was close to what one would expect of a contemporaneous Porsche 911. A brief stepping-up of the pace revealed the initial understeer and midcorner body roll common to mid-engined street cars. In the context of its competitors, the GT4 offered very accessible performance and would have been a sensible choice for a gentleman in a hurry.

Perhaps that word, “sensible” was responsible for the 308 GT4’s eventual demise. Compared to a Pininfarina 308 of the same era, this four-seater isn’t much an event. It’s comfortable, rapid, stylish in its own fashion, and offers very little of the “Magnum, P.I.” bravado which would come to define the Ferrari brand in the United States. Shame, really. The gold-chain set will never know what they missed. It started life as a Dino, but the GT4 is a true Ferrari and it represents a side of the Maranello mindset that is mostly absent nowadays. Following the aforementioned cambelt service, my test car sold to a Miami “entrepreneur” for $22,500. A tifosi with taste would call it cheap at twice the money.

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  • Porschespeed Porschespeed on Jan 08, 2009

    @Robert Schwartz, I have nightmares about mercury sticks. If you really wanted the look, it's completely doable to hide it so that almost nobody would ever see it. Just costs some upfront dollars. Don't get me wrong, I understand the need to see big polished complicated looking devices. It IS cool in a way. I'm just one of those people who hates to work on them.

  • Areitu Areitu on Jan 08, 2009

    I always find myself wondering which Ferraris of today are going to end up like the 308GT4: Charming but unremembered by most. # Jack Baruth : January 7th, 2009 at 6:24 pm This was a private example… owned by the fellow who built and maintained the 190E 2.3-16 I drove in the 2005 One Lap of America. He buys and sells Ferraris for his own amusement and has recently had a 360CS, 400i, a pair of 308GTSes, and a 308GTB. Look for a few more of these reviews as time permits. Oooh, a 190E 2.3-16 capsule review would be neat.

  • Master Baiter Might as well light 50 $100 bills on fire.
  • Mike1041 At $300K per copy they may secure as much as 2 or 3 deposits of $1,000
  • Sgeffe Why on Earth can’t you just get the torque specs and do it yourself if you’re so-inclined?!
  • Sgeffe As was stated in another comment, the FAA nominee went down in flames. But the NTSB chairwoman certainly didn’t, and she’s certainly not qualified either!Lots of this kind of stuff going on both sides of the aisle—Ben Carson would have arguably made a better Surgeon General than HUD Secretary under Trump, for example.
  • Art Vandelay Interesting, the Polestar 2 I had as a rental utilized Android Automotive which is what GM said it is going to exclusively, yet it still offers Apple CarPlay according to this. Wonder if GM will do the same.