There are only a few Ferrari 308s with period racing histories. NART, for example, entered a 308 GT4 at Le Mans in 1974 and ’75, while Michelotto constructed 16 308 GTB Group 4 and Group B rally and circuit racers in the late ’70s and early ’80s. But there’s another significant competition 308, constructed and raced in North America, that you might not be familiar with. This 1976 model (s/n 19595) was the first 308 GTB in the U.S. In addition, it appeared on the cover of Road & Track and was raced by Best Actor Oscar winner Paul Newman, an effort sponsored by Budweiser.
While this Ferrari checks all the boxes of historic interest, it wasn’t a particularly successful competitor in its day, nor is its story generally well-known. But it’s a tale worth telling, and begins in the early 1970s, when Ferrari was in serious trouble in the United States.
Following the demise of the Daytona, emission and safety regulations had substantially cut into Ferrari’s U.S. sales. The Daytona’s successor, the 365 GT4 BB (for Berlinetta Boxer), didn’t meet Federal requirements and was not sold here, and the new-for-1973 308 GT4, powered by Ferrari’s first road-going V8 engine and styled in a then-trendy wedge shape by Bertone, suffered from weak initial sales, no doubt due in part to it being badged as a Dino. (North American dealers were later provided with an update kit, which included Ferrari badges to replace the Dino emblems.)
What the four-seat 308 GT4 lacked in sex appeal, however, it made up for with superb handling; the new V8 was well-received, as well. If only it looked like a Ferrari, it would be a hit.
So, in 1975, Ferrari introduced the 308 GTB.
The new two-seat berlinetta was designed by Pininfarina (as had all Ferrari’s production cars since the mid-1950s aside from the 308 GT4) and carried forward some of the styling cues of the earlier Dino 246s and the Ferrari Boxer. Sergio Scaglietti’s shop, which had bodied many of Ferrari’s earlier racers and was now owned by Ferrari, clothed the first 700 or so 308 GTBs in fiberglass, then switched to metal for their coachwork. One hundred of these fiberglass cars were intended for the U. S. market.