Written By: Ian P. Ford
Without a doubt, I grew up in a car family. My dad’s first car was a 1965 Chevrolet Corvair Corsa (which my mom lovingly referred to as a “car for nerds” until she found out about his 1969 E-Type Jaguar). With a dad like that, it was no surprise that my brother and I’s vocabulary included the words Ferrari, Lamborghini and Jaguar at a very young age. Try getting a two-year-old to say Lamborghini without stumbling, it’s impressive to say the least. See the interesting part about my dad is that his taste in cars has always been far different from the average car guy. Sure, he likes the normal big deal cars like the C-type Jaguar, Lusso Ferrari and the Lamborghini Miura. But, he also tends to like the cars that are historically underappreciated. Cars like the Chevy Corvair, Triumph GT-6, MGB-GT, and, his favorite Ferrari of all time, the Dino GT4.
They always say you tend to fall for the same things that your parents love. Well, that is definitely the case with the Dino GT4 and me. I have fond memories of sitting in the back seat of Dad’s 308, cruising up to Monterey Classic Car week. I admired the way my dad commanded the car and can still remember the exhilaration of his shifting through the gears. I remember listening to my mom on the CB radio trying to keep in touch with the Porsche Club caravan (who graciously let the Ferrari “tag along”). Only when I grew older did I realize the caravan was actually using the CB radios to warn of upcoming CHP units and speed traps. What a sight that must have been – a line of 20 Porsches roaring down the highway, chased by a 308 GT4 (we always were relegated to the back).
To fully understand the Dino 308 GT4, we have to revisit a bit of history on Dino cars. Dino was created to be Ferrari’s more “affordable” line of sports cars. Today, this is quite comical seeing the kind of money the 206 and the 246 are bringing. The Dino cars were an attempt to take on Porsche and the smaller cylinder market. V12 Ferrari’s were much more expensive at the time and introducing V6 and V8 cars brought in a wider range of clientele. The 308 originally wore the Dino badge because, at the time, it was customary to badge non-V12 cars as “Dino” (i.e. the 206 and the 246). The 308 GT4 was Ferrari’s first full production V8 car. Arguably, it paved the way for the success of Ferrari’s V8 market. Imagine a world without Magnum’s GTSi, the f355 in Goldeneye, the iconic 458 Italia and too many more to mention here.
I will always argue that the 308 GT4 Dino is the last truly and fully hand-built Ferrari. Yes, Ferrari engines are still hand-built – but at one time, Ferrari cars were completely hand built from the ground up. Post 1980, a large number of Ferraris were built on the derivative of a Henry-Ford-esque assembly line. The number “308” comes from the 3.0 liter, aluminum alloy, 90 degree configured V8. This V8 “first” for Ferrari shares the double overhead camshaft design of the V6 and delivered a whopping 255hp (in Europe) and 230hp (in America). The V8 is accompanied by four dual-throat Weber 40mm carburetors. Carburetors might make some cringe, but let me tell you, when tuned correctly, that hunk of metal behind you becomes an Italian symphony with Andre Bocelli singing front and center.
Many have their own theories as to why the Dino 308 GT4 received such an innovative and unique design. Some say it was Fiat’s influence, others say it was Bertone’s designer Marcello Gandini’s obsession with wedge shapes. I believe it had to do with the fact that Enzo Ferrari took great interest in developing the new Dino and wanted it to be radical in its styling and performance. Enzo Ferrari’s approval of the Bertone design arguably defined the aerodynamic shapes we see from Ferrari to this day. It also continues to showcase the brilliance of two men, Ferrari and Bertone, who were far ahead of the curve even then.
When driving the Dino, I shift through the dogleg transmission and pay close attention to how the car reacts. The dashboard wraps around me like I am sitting in the cockpit of the offspring of an Italian fighter jet. I shift back into first, up into second, doing 60 mph in third. The way the Nikki-Lauda-tuned chassis hugs corners and stays rigid on the straights, the Dino makes me feel as if I am racing through the streets of Monaco. Passing through a tunnel, I down shift and listen to the roar of the exhaust – a reverberating echo that would give the bravest lion a scare.
With failing sales in the US, Ferrari contacted the Dino dealers and instructed them to place the iconic prancing horse over the 308’s Dino badge. But, as time would tell, the badge was not the issue. While some think the radical Bertone design was the issue, it followed the popular wedge car designs of the 70’s. In my opinion, the biggest issue was the hideous U.S. spec bumpers and the ugly plastic rectangular side marker reflectors required by U.S. federal regulations. If you ever get the chance to compare a Euro-spec Dino 308 GT4 against a U.S.-spec car, you will immediately see the difference. It’s easy to fall in love with how sleek the front and rear of the car look with the streamlined and almost disappearing European bumpers.
I will admit, I am a bit biased, but I promise you that these will only become more sought-after in the years to come (after all, there were only about 2900 hand-built). My recommendation? Look around and find a good one. If it needs a bit of work, get your hands dirty and work on this unique Italian Stallion. Take time to appreciate the iconic wedge car design that is nonexistent in today’s automotive designs. Truly appreciate Enzo Ferrari’s intent for the 308 to be a 911-killer.