Long being one of the least loved Ferraris, the Dino 308 is just now starting to gain a new appreciation. It was a four-seat replacement for the much-admired Dino 246, but the styling was not as aggressive as the previous model and sales were slow. Although built at the Ferrari factory, it was officially called a Dino and did not sport Ferrari emblems. When the 308GT4 was introduced to the world at the Paris Salon in October 1973 it boasted just one ‘Dino’ badge on the nose and the solitary inscription ‘Dino 308GT4’ on the boot lid. That hints strongly at the mood with which Bertone’s 246 successor was received. Not only was the angular design seen by some as ill-conceived and ill-befitting the romantic Ferrari tradition but, also, the new car was not even badged properly. It was almost as if Maranello wanted to distance itself from its latest progeny.
Lackluster sales prompted many dealers to install prancing horse emblems themselves but in 1976 Ferrari began to bestow the GT4 with bona fide badging and the maligned 2÷2 was imbued with a measure of respectability. Unfortunately, it was a case of too little, too late. Bertone’s contract with Maranello was never renewed and Pininfarina’s conspicuously classical 308 GTB - also with a V8 engine amidships - stormed on to the world stage, utterly ruining the GT4’s credibility as a thoroughbred Ferrari. The GT4 limped on until 1980, when it was axed after 2,826 examples had been made.
The car was doomed from the moment Pininfarina put the finishing touches to its immediate predecessor, the immortal ‘baby Ferrari’ Dino 246GT. Bertone’s brief was to design a car that was as compact as the 246GT but with a 2+2 layout and a brand-new V8 engine squeezed in behind; a task that was hardly the envy of designers the world over. That it has been enjoying a steady renaissance over the last ten years is entirely to the Turinese designer’s credit. The stub nose, high waistline and angular roofline are all design cues with which Ferraristi have grown more sympathetic. People talk about innovation now, not embarrassment.
There was never much of a problem with the car on the road. Indeed on a pound-for-power basis you will be hard-pushed to find a more nimble, exciting and sure-footed mid-engined missile from that era. At the heart of the GT4 is Ferrari’s first ever road going V8 engine, the lineage of which can be traced back to the V8 F I engine designed by Angelo Bellei for John Surtees’ World Championship-winning car of 1964. The 3-litre GT4 unit had four overhead camshafts, four twin-choke Weber 40DCNF carburettors and a brace of Marelli distributors, and produced 255bhp at 7,700rpm. A top speed of approximately 148 mph put it in healthy competition with ‘baby supercar’ rivals, specifically the Maserati Merak and Lamborghini Urraco.
The 308GT4 still provokes the most roadside comment. It has far and away the most aggressive poise, and that purposefulness carries through to the cabin, where the V8 whistles and whines asthmatically yet fiercely behind you. It is an intrusive presence unique to this breed of Ferrari road cars, one that reflects the mood of a time when power-obsessed manufacturers were squirming in the wake of the oil crisis. Frenetic urgency and controlled release of energy are characteristics of the mid-mounted V8, compared to the happy-go-lucky V6 and the imperious V12.
The 308GT4 is probably closer to the popular notion of how a Ferrari should be than either the Dino-engined Fiat or the Ferrari 330GT. The super-heavy clutch with super- long travel, the traditional slotted chrome plate at the root of a stark, chrome-plated gearlever, the polished aluminium dash panel housing the full complement of functional-looking Veglia dials and switches: the overall impression is both seductive and intimidating, a bit like a catwalk queen with Mensa brainpower.
The 308 GT4 is an excellent choice for a budget supercar. However, unlike the Fiat Dino and even the 330GT, it doesn’t sit easily with the picture of daily runner. Limited visibility, shortage of storage space and maximum conspicuousness make journeys to the supermarket questionable ventures. Nevertheless it sits securely on its pedestal as the most economical pure-breed Ferrari to run. If you start with a good, rust-free car with a well-documented history then you could find yourself spending as little as £500 a year on running costs.