Ferrari 458 Italia meets 308, 348, F355, 360 and F430 - Ferrari 308 GTS
Hi-tech 458 Italia meets its 308, 348, F355, 360 and F430 ancestors in a sonorous supercar group test
The 308 is where it all started and this GTS is a proper early ‘carb’ car with four Weber 40s. In 1981 the 308 had the hair ripped from its chest by fuel injection, which dropped power from 252 to 214bhp. It partially re-grew when the QV came along and raised power back up to 240bhp, but carburettors are where it’s at. The leather driver’s seat, smoothed and polished through years of use, seems to be only available in a reclined position, there’s no shoulder support and the headrest would be of no use in an accident. The top of the steering wheel is tilted away from you too, and as a result you feel vaguely louche just sitting in this car. I’ve got the nagging sense that I ought to have put on some white socks and slipped into a pair of loafers before getting settled.
‘Analogue’ is the first thing that springs to mind when you look at the rows of slider controls between the seats. You suddenly remember how old this car is when you see one is labelled ‘Choke’. The small key can only go in one way up and the 2927cc, flat-plane-crank, 90-degree, transversely mounted V8 (reportedly a derivative of Angelo Bellei’s 1964 F1 engine) fires with a slightly feathery edge to the exhaust note. The controls are all weighty but not quite as heavy as I feared they might be. Left and back with the delicate-looking black-topped gearlever for the dog-leg first, ease up the revs with the floor-hinged accelerator and we’re away.
The gearshift is the focus of attention in the first few miles, partly because it just feels exciting to be using a Ferrari open-gate ’box and partly because you need to concentrate to use it. Across the gate it’s quite stiff initially so you don’t rush shifts, but the clutch is accurate and matches the sensations from the gearlever so it’s an enjoyable, albeit considered, process.
Out of a small village and squeeze open the taps towards the first sweeping corners. Your speed builds smoothly and at a rate where you can enjoy the note- changes in the gruff, guttural engine. The rate of acceleration isn’t going to snap your head back, but it’s not the disappointment I’d worried it might be either. Interestingly, both Harry Metcalfe and I thought it sounded a little ‘vintage’; what definitely aren’t vintage are the brakes, which feel superbly progressive and strong under your foot all the way from the top of the pedal’s travel.
If anything, after the confidence inspired on the way into the corner, it’s then something of a shock once you start using the steering wheel in anger. The first left-hander I tackle with a bit of ambition, the front end grips… then goes alarmingly light, and then the rear end appears to be quite unconnected and unhelpful until you get on the power.
To be fair, the chassis rigidity is never going to be quite as good when you’ve chopped a section out of the roof, but it was a shock to find out how much you need to methodically set the car up early and then drive it through on a balanced throttle to keep the chassis loaded up.
Harry reckons that there are sweeter-handling 308s (particularly without this car’s slightly wider wheels) but there’s no doubt that dynamically this car is more closely related to the Dino than the 348. That’s not to say it’s not desirable, far from it. It’s just that the best bit of all arguably comes when you park up, pull back the catch hidden under the swooping door architecture, get out, walk away and then stop and look back at what is probably the prettiest shape here. Owning one of these really would make you feel pretty good about life.