The Prancing Clydesdale

Paul Newman and Budweiser teamed up to turn the first Ferrari 308 GTB in the U.S. into an SCCA contender.

Photo: The Prancing Clydesdale 1
March 1, 2013

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.

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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.

EVEN BEFORE THE FIRST OFFICIAL 308 GTB arrived in North America, however, Ray Ramsey, then the owner of Ferrari of San Francisco, used an exemption in U.S. law to import our featured Ferrari. Ramsey, who had purchased the 308 in May 1976 from a dealer in Rome, invited Road & Track to test the car—former sports car and Formula 1 racer Bob Bondurant did the driving—which the magazine then featured on the cover of its December 1976 issue. (The R&T story listed Rick Schrameck, one of Ramsey’s partners, as the owner of the 308.)

Bondurant was highly complimentary of the new Ferrari. “This is so much better than a Daytona,” he wrote. “That car steers heavy, sits high, and has a bag of power…You have to be careful when you’re driving fast in a Daytona, while with the 308 you can just drive and not worry about the car doing something unpredictable in the middle of a turn. The 308 is probably the best sports car I’ve ever driven…I want one.”

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By the time the magazine hit newsstands, however, the 308 had already been crashed. Ramsey had entered it in the Virginia City Hillclimb, the Ferrari Owners’ Club’s premier event, with Bill Cooper, an instructor at the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving, behind the wheel. Thanks to Cooper’s skills and the Ferrari’s virtues, the 308’s first run was the fastest of the entire day. Unfortunately, Cooper then decided to tackle the hill a second time.

On that run, Cooper lost control and flipped the Ferrari off the road and down a 30-foot embankment. He was uninjured; the same could not be said of the Ferrari. The badly damaged car was trucked back to Ferrari of San Francisco, and Ramsey had to decide what to do next.

The answer wasn’t long in coming. Ramsey had ties to both the celebrity and racing worlds. He lived on the Monterey Peninsula, where his neighbors and friends included James Garner, David Carradine and his younger brother Bobby, James Brolin, Paul Newman and Gene Hackman, all of whom were interested in racing and exotic cars. Ramsey had entered a three-car team of Ferrari Daytonas in the 24 Hours of Daytona in 1977, with Bobby Carradine and Newman among the drivers. Carradine’s car was crashed in practice and didn’t start the race, while Newman’s Ferrari finished fifth overall.

With celebrity friends, a racing team and a crashed Ferrari which could not be legally registered as a road car in the U.S., Ramsey decided to turn the 308 into a race car. Newman liked the idea, and agreed to race the Ferrari for Ramsey, initially in the SCCA’s National Series, and perhaps later in IMSA’s professional road-racing championship. And with that, the Ferrari was rebuilt for competition.

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RAMSEY’S CONNECTIONS MEANT HE WAS ABLE to obtain both parts and technical assistance from the Ferrari factory. The actual construction was farmed out to the Phoenix Organization, the company which built and raced the Shadow Formula 1 and Can-Am cars. The parts and 101 hours of labor required to repair and convert the Ferrari to a race car totaled just over $16,000—more than half the sticker price of a new 308.

During this process, little was left untouched. The Ferrari’s fiberglass bodywork, for example, was adorned with new fender flares to cover three-piece aluminum BBS racing wheels and slick tires (sized 10.5×23.0×15 in front and 11.0×25.0×15 in back). The engine received new pistons and camshafts and careful reworking of the heads; the result was a reliable 320 bhp, up from the stock car’s 243. Special transaxle parts from Ferrari, stiffer Koni shock absorbers and coil-over springs, and Lockheed racing disc brakes were installed, then the interior was gutted and re-fitted with a full roll cage, Corbeau racing seat, racing harness and a fire-suppression system.

While the car was being completed, Ramsey’s sponsorship hunters were busy finding a budget to fund the racing program. Paul Newman in a Ferrari was an attraction impossible to resist; the combination would appeal to, among others, racing fans, movie fans and women who swooned over one of the sexiest men in the United States. It was ideal for a consumer-oriented sponsor, and Budweiser signed on. (Budweiser would get somewhat less than it hoped, however; Newman had neither the time nor inclination to pitch beer—or any product—to distributors, dealers or drinkers, and the sponsorship was later renegotiated.)

Ramsey’s “Pro Celebrity Racing” was renamed “Budweiser Racing,” and the team was ready to go. Huffaker Engineering, Joe Huffaker’s well-known Southern California racing shop, was enlisted to provide support for the team, as the Phoenix Organization’s interests lay elsewhere, mostly in Formula 1.

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Ramsey purchased a Ford 350 Custom truck, equipped with a Clark Equipment box, to serve as the team’s tow and parts vehicle. It was painted in Budweiser’s red, which closely matched the Ferrari’s hue. Sponsor identification was displayed prominently on the truck, as were the names of the celebrities involved: drivers Newman, Clint Eastwood and James Brolin, and team manager Gene Hackman.

After limited testing, the car, team and lead driver were ready for the 1978 season.

NEWMAN’S FIRST RACE IN THE BUDWEISER FERRARI was at Willow Springs, a track in the high desert of Southern California. The race was an SCCA National event; points were awarded toward the SCCA’s “Runoffs,” which determine its national champions. Newman qualified on the B-Production pole, and was easily leading the race until all four tires began losing air, the result of the them having been improperly mounted on the BBS wheels. Still, Newman scored a podium finish, in third place.

The next race was at Summit Point, West Virginia. Newman again was quick in practice, but then the engine failed. With no spare V8 on hand, it was a long trip for nothing.

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Huffaker Engineering built up a new engine, and Budweiser Racing soon made another trip east, to Nelson Ledges, Ohio for an SCCA National event. (This journey was probably one of the strangest in racing history: At one point, during a promotional event, the Ferrari was attacked by the Budweiser Clydesdales!) It was raining—hard—in Ohio, and the crew and very unhappy driver realized the Ferrari no longer had windshield wipers, part of its weight-reduction process. Nonetheless, Newman scored a fifth-place finish. By this time, however, he, Ramsey and Huffaker were barely speaking to each other.

One more race, at St. Louis’ Mid-America Raceway, would end the Ferrari’s season. This was an important event: St. Louis is home to Budweiser Brewing, and the company’s employees turned out to see “their” Ferrari—and Paul Newman—race and win.

It didn’t happen. Again, Newman qualified on the B/P pole. Again, Newman was easily leading the race. And, again, the car let the driver down; this time, the clutch failed. Newman was quoted afterward as saying that the Ferrari was “junk.” It wasn’t, of course, but the team’s preparation and racing luck were both rather less than expected.

After an extensive rebuild, the Ferrari was tested at Riverside Raceway in preparation for the 1979 season. Too many outside factors intervened, though, and the 308’s racing career abruptly ended. But its story certainly did not.

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For one thing, the Ferrari had long overstayed its welcome in the United States. Ramsey had imported the car on a six-month exemption, a period which had expired several years earlier, and U.S. Customs agents arrived to seize the 308 at the worst possible moment—at a major sponsor party with the Ferrari holding center stage.

It then turned out that the Ferrari may not have been Ramsey’s after all. Ramsey had at least one partner in Pro Celebrity Racing, and that partner had sold his interest in the 308 to a leasing company. Others claimed they too had ownership interests in the car, or team, or something, and it all ended up in court. Eventually there were more than 20 parties—individuals and companies—involved in the claims and counterclaims. At this point, the 308’s story becomes more suitable for a law journal than a car magazine, but the result was that the Ferrari was left to sit in a garage, deteriorating on its trailer, for almost ten years.

IN 1988, A SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA ENTHUSIAST and racer named Doug Mockett was able to purchase the Budweiser Ferrari. Because it had been locked up, the 308, unlike so many old race cars, had never been modified to meet newer rules, or to become something different, so it was complete, if a bit run down. Mockett had the Ferrari fully restored to its condition as raced by Newman. He never raced it, though, instead offering the car for sale.

After some time, the Ferrari finally found a home with John Goodman, a Seattle businessman. Goodman was a Corvette collector and racer, but he also had a small collection of unusual Ferraris [including the “Golden Car,” which we examined in FORZA #65’s “Drogo A Go Go!”—Ed.], and the Newman/Budweiser car was the perfect addition.

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He also had his own race preparation and restoration shop. Goodman Racing is managed by Walter Gerber, a Swiss expat who, as a crew chief, had won the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1987 and ’88. After Mockett’s work, the 308 didn’t need to be restored, but Gerber and his crew prepared the car for racing in Ferrari’s own Shell Historic Challenge series.

Then Goodman and Gerber added one final, perfect touch: the original Ford 350 hauler. The truck was found in Los Angeles, where it was hidden under a blue tarp, purchased and taken back to Seattle, where Goodman Racing completed a Ferrari-quality restoration on it. The Ford now looks just as it did in 1978, with all the same names and logos on the box. This isn’t just a restored race car—it’s a restored race team.

The Ferrari saw limited action in the Shell Historic Challenge, since Goodman had several other Ferraris available. In 2005, though, Goodman and the Budweiser Ferrari attained the success Newman never did: victory on the racetrack. Goodman began the season with a second place at the Cavallino Classic, then scored five consecutive class wins at the California Speedway in Fontana, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Le Circuit at Mont Tremblant in Quebec, Lime Rock Park in Connecticut and Road America in Wisconsin, albeit against light competition.

The Budweiser Ferrari may never have achieved the success envisioned by Ramsey and Newman, but it was never a failure either. Today the car is fully restored, in the hands of an appreciative owner and finally recognized for its interesting and important history.

Also from Issue 125

  • FF vs 365 GT 2+2 face-off
  • 40 years with a 250 GT 2+2
  • Rediscovering a Monza’s lost racing years
  • Ferrari-racing playboy Porfirio Rubirosa
  • Ferrari’s Grand-Am title defense for 2013
  • F1: Ferrari unveils the F138
  • Market Update: Vintage up, modern down
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