If ever there was a Ferrari that needed no introduction, it is the 308 GTB/GTS. Other models are arguably more significant, more revered or more beautiful, but it’s hard to think of another car that introduced the magic of Maranello to a wider audience. With its stunning looks, nimble handling, relative affordability and—yes!—“Magnum, P.I.” fame, the 308 may just be the best-known Ferrari ever.
Its story begins in the late 1960s, when Ferrari decided to expand its lineup with a series of less-expensive, V6 and then V8-powered mid-engine cars. Not wanting to dilute its brand, the company marketed these machines under the Dino nameplate. By ’75, however, Maranello was ready to slap the famous Prancing Horse badge on its “small” cars. The 308 GTB debuted at that year’s Geneva Auto Show.
Mechanically, the 308 broke little new ground. Its chassis, suspension, brakes, steering and five-speed transaxle were based on that of the (Dino) 308 GT4, as was its carbureted two-valve 3-liter V8 engine, which produced 230 hp in U.S. trim. However, the new car’s bodywork was innovative; it was made of lightweight fiberglass.
Ferrari’s first use of the composite material for body panels didn’t last long. By mid-1976, after 712 cars had been built, demand exceed the company’s production capabilities, forcing a switch to steel bodies that could be stamped out more quickly. In late 1977, Ferrari unveiled the targa-top GTS model, and sales ramped up even further: more than 2,185 (steel) GTBs were produced, along with 3,219 GTSs.
Late 1980 saw the introduction of the 308 GTBi and GTSi, which utilized fuel injection to help meet more stringent emissions requirements. As was the case with many cars of the era, however, horsepower fell precipitously, to just 205 ponies in the U.S. Sales volume also fell, to 494 GTBi’s and 1,749 GTSi’s
Ferrari introduced the much-improved 308 Quattrovalvole (better known as the QV) at the Paris Auto Show in October 1982. This ultimate iteration of the 308 featured four-valve cylinder heads and an improved engine-management system that boosted U.S. output to 230 hp. Sales climbed once again, with 1,344 GTB QVs and 6,068 GTS QVs built by the time production ended in 1985.
While the QVs are far more refined than the early carbureted models, all 308s are non-temperamental and user-friendly, and can comfortably be used as daily drivers. In addition, they are reliable and easy to service by Ferrari standards. Add in the aforementioned good looks, and it’s no wonder these cars are still so popular. They’re also available at bargain prices.
The final QVs sold for $55,000-60,000 when new, and climbed to well over six figures during the Ferrari boom of the late 1980s. Today, though, the 308 is one of the least-expensive cars in the Ferrari universe, with desireable models selling for as little as $25,000. In other words, you can now buy a thoroughbred exotic for less than the price of a new Toyota Camry.