Modern Classic

The 328 offers an enticing combination of timeless looks, an old-school driving experience and robust reliability.

Modern Classic 1
February 20, 2014

OVER ITS DECADE-LONG PRODUCTION RUN, the Ferrari 308 GTB/GTS became the company’s most-prolific model ever. Replacing such a beloved car wouldn’t be easy, so Ferrari chose evolution over revolution when it designed the 328.

Introduced at the 1985 Frankfurt Auto Show, the 328 looked like what it was: an updated, face-lifted 308, once again offered as a Berlinetta or a targa-top Spider. Integrated, color-coded bumpers, a new front fascia, hot-air vents in the hood and redesigned five-spoke wheels helped distinguish the new car from its predecessor. The 328 also featured a more contemporary cabin, with redesigned seats, dash and door panels.

Under the skin, the 328 utilized a slightly modified 308 chassis and Ferrari’s usual four-wheel independent suspension and disc brakes. More significant were the changes made to the car’s V8 engine, which now produced 260 horsepower in U.S. trim (a gain of 30 hp over the 308 QV), thanks to a displacement increase to 3.2 liters from 3.0, reworked heads and cams and a new electronic ignition system.

The automotive press was impressed. Road & Track, for example, reported that the “328 powerplant rewards with its enormous flexibility. This is an engine that will motor sedately around town, making soothing rumbling noises, or will wind itself up to redline with that exciting Ferrari snarl that has echoed around every major race circuit in the world.” The story continued, “On any sort of road, smooth or bumpy, this is a car that will lope through high-speed bends effortlessly” and “Certainly most drivers will rarely approach [the car’s] limits on the road, but will instead delight in the supple ride characteristics and the precise cornering ability.”

R&T did question the gearbox’s reluctance to shift into second when cold, the awkward angle of the steering wheel, the confusing HVAC system and the “devilishly well hidden” interior door releases, but concluded that “the 328 is a fine example of evolutionary improvement and a wonderful driving machine.”

That was the original 328. In March 1988, starting with s/n 76626, the model received a suspension make-over; these are sometimes called Series 2 or 1988.5 cars. The front suspension was changed to incorporate anti-drive geometry, while the steering setup was altered to allow for the addition of anti-lock brakes. At this time, ABS was optional and not available in the U.S., but in 1989 ABS became standard equipment in the U.S. The biggest visual change was to the wheels, which featured a convex face instead of the earlier concave look.

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Today, the 328 occupies an unusual position in the V8 hierarchy, costing more than both its 308 predecessor and its 348 replacement. The reason for the car’s continuing popularity is clear: It offers good looks, an involving driving experience, real refinement and impressive reliability. For these reasons, the 328 is easy to recommend. If you’re looking for a two-seat Ferrari in its price range, the 328 more than warrants a test drive.

Marketplace

INTRODUCED IN LATE 1985, the 328 was an immediate sales success. It wasn’t long before the new car took over the mantle of Maranello’s most popular model: Ferrari sold 50 percent more 328s than 308 QVs over a similar time period. By the time production ended in late 1989, 1,344 GTBs and 6,068 GTSs had been built.

The 328’s popularity wasn’t solely due to the fact it was much improved over
its predecessor; it had the additional advantage of being born at the beginning of an economic boom. New 328s initially sold in the $55,000 range, but by late 1989, the peak of the boom years, used models were selling for $110,000 or more. A quick look through the September ’89 issue of the Ferrari Market Letter reveals asking prices ranging from $115,000 to $135,000—an impressive increase over _FML_’s asking prices from just three months earlier, which generally ranged from $75,000 to $90,000. This was classic boom pricing, and once the party was over in the early 1990s, 328 values dropped toward the middle and top of today’s price range, and have remained mostly unchanged ever since.

One example: In January 1990, at the very peak of the market, FML featured a 9,000-mile 1988 328 GTS (s/n 76548) offered for sale at $133,500. In 2008, that same 328, now with 19,000 miles, was sold by Barrett-Jackson for $77,000, which was then about $10,000 above the top of the market. Today, a 19,000-mile ’88 GTS would likely sell in the $50,000 range; a perfect, ultra-low-mileage ’89 model might command $75,000.

When new, the 328 GTS proved to be the overwhelming favorite with buyers, outselling the GTB by roughly 5:1. That preference continues today, with GTSs selling for significantly more than the much rarer GTBs, a very unusual state of affairs. —Michael Sheehan

Model Low High
328 GTS $35,000 $75,000
328 GTB $35,000 $55,000

These prices are for fully serviced cars in good condition.

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On the Road

The 328 isn’t particularly fast by the standards of modern Ferraris, but it remains a very involving car to drive. Here’s some of what we’ve said about the 328 experience over the years.

THE DOORS OPEN EASILY, the cozy interior looking inviting and thoroughly modern compared to the 308’s—although, after sliding in under the low-slung targa roof, and moving the supportive but hard seat all the way back, I discover that my
6-foot-3 frame just barely fits.

My first miles are racked up in rush-hour traffic—both on and off the freeway. Visibility, both straight ahead and to the sides, is excellent, but the rear view is somewhat blocked by the third brake light’s intrusion on the back window. Initially more disconcerting will be the pedals’ severe center offset, causing my size-12 clutch foot to occasionally brush the dead pedal.

Regardless, what makes this Ferrari so endearing and easy to drive is its size; this is an intimate car. The cockpit is cozy, and all exterior dimensions are close, not way out there s-o-m-e-w-h-e-r-e, as is the case with, for instance, a Boxer. Couple this compactness with lightning-fast controls, and you have the perfect car to squeeze through holes in traffic with—or better yet, rip up your favorite back road. Push it through fast or slow turns, and the steering communicates the road surface wonderfully, doing a light dance in your hands.

—Winston Goodfellow
“The 328: A Great Place to Start!” FORZA #15

HEADING SOUTHBOUND onto the West Side Highway, I pushed the Ferrari harder. The engine finally could breathe deeply, and it came alive; the 328 darted down the road as though it had been waiting all day for an open stretch of asphalt. The power delivery was very fluid, with no sudden surge or drop off in momentum as the tach needle spun around the dial. As it did at lower speeds, the Ferrari felt quick, not fast, yet [its] nimbleness gave the car a wonderful quality of seeming faster than it really was. Triple-digit speeds were not a prerequisite for having fun.

With wind swirling around the cabin, the growl of the mid-mounted V8 increased another octave. The sound was not the banshee wail of today’s Ferrari V8s. Instead, the note was more mechanical, but still totally different from the grumblings of eight-cylinder engines from Germany or America.

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—Nick Kurczewski
“The Real World,” FORZA #111

Peak torque arrives at 5,500 rpm, but knowing the full 270 hp awaits at 7,000 rpm encourages me to keep my foot in it. The engine howls contentedly at higher revs, and the clickety-clack shift action becomes smoother and easier the faster I drive.

The Ferrari’s steering lightens as speeds increase, and while the relatively soft suspension allows noticeable body roll through the turns, there’s plenty of grip from the tires. The balance and nimble handling err towards neutrality, though there’s a noticeable whiff of understeer on initial turn-in. When the rear tires do exceed their purchase on the road, the 328’s chassis breaks away in a controllable, predictable manner; the car delivers no surprises as cornering speeds increase. On the stopping end of things, the brake pedal is on the hard side and lacks feedback, but leaning on it slows the car quickly enough.

Overall, the Ferrari offers a polished and cohesive driving experience that only gets better the harder you drive it. It also feels incredibly special, from the view through the windshield to the feel
of the interior.

—Zachary Mayne
“Flashback Face-Off,” FORZA #117

The Garage

DURING ITS LONG PRODUCTION RUN, the Ferrari 308 evolved a great deal as its shortcomings were fixed and various adaptations made to accommodate new regulations and technology. In 1986, this ongoing evolution led to a 200cc increase in engine displacement that, consistent with Ferrari’s model nomenclature, required a new name: 328.

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The 308 had always been well thought of in the U.S. dealer network, but from the very beginning we knew the 328 represented a bigger improvement and a better car than its on-paper specifications conveyed. This is not to say the new model was perfect—it did have a couple of teething problems—but the 328 quickly earned a reputation as being the most reliable, user- and mechanic-friendly car Ferrari built. (Advanced “Do It Yourselfers” can do most, if not all, repairs and maintenance themselves.) We even had a joke that popped up whenever a 328 arrived on the service lot: “It must be here for an oil change, because we know it’s not broken.”

As both a mechanic and a 328 owner, I can’t say enough good things about these cars. The bottom line is that, with the 328, the factory built upon an already solid, simple and successful car, seriously addressed any remaining shortcomings and significantly improved its QA process.

Thanks to all of these attributes, the 328 is also friendly when it comes to operating costs. If nothing else is needed, an annual service starts around $750 and a major service begins at roughly $5,000. In reality, however, operating costs are generally all over the place, due in part to these cars’ age (many components simply wear out over time) and to the fact that no two cars will have been maintained at the same level or to the same standard. Substandard or deferred previous care can substantially affect costs going forward. On that note, I always suggest buying the best car available, rather than looking for the best deal, since a good car will cost less in the long run. —Brian Crall

MAJOR ISSUES

PRICEY FRONT WHEEL BEARINGS

The 328’s special front wheel bearing was not intended to be serviced; when it wore out, you just threw it away and replaced it. That worked fine when the bearings were cheap, but now these bearings cost around $1,300 each, not including the labor to install them. If the bearing’s grease dries up, which is very common now that the cars are more than 20 years old, the inexpensive fix is to take the bearing apart and regrease everything before it fails. This job runs about $700.

HIGH OIL PRESSURE

The 308 engine suffered from low oil pressure at high temperatures, so Ferrari increased the oil pressure in the 328 motor. Unfortunately, this increase, particularly when the oil was still cold, was sometimes too much for the oil-cooler hoses and, less often, the cooler itself; from time to time, these components would blow up, spraying oil all over the place. Ferrari issued a Technical Service Bulletin (TSB) calling for a modification to the oil-pressure relief valve to lower the oil pressure; almost all cars will have already received this fix.

IGNITION ROTOR

The 3.2-liter engine introduced a redesigned ignition rotor and cam extension that it mounted to. The cam extension had a built-in rubber vibration damper that often delaminated, allowing oil from the pressurized camshaft to leak, sometimes profusely, from the distributors. A TSB was issued to replace the extensions with a solid-type cam extension; almost all cars will have already received this fix.

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MINOR ISSUES

On early cars, the Marelli Microplex system used a failure-prone transistor module attached to the top of the ignition coil. The supplier soon improved the part, vastly improving reliability.

It’s pretty common for the 328’s electronic heating and ventilation controls to become problematic. New parts are not available, but the electronic controls can be repaired.

The 328 is old enough that all the rubber fuel hoses will need replacement. Scuderia Rampante Innovations makes these special-sized hoses from a rubber that is tolerant of reformulated fuels. The hoses are sold as a model-specific kit, which costs around $380 for the 328. A coolant-hose kit is also available, for $650.

SIGNIFICANT 328 IMPROVEMENTS OVER THE 308

First and foremost, the 328 had a bigger engine. The increase from 3.0 to 3.2 liters was achieved by enlarging the bore and stroke, and the enlarged powerplant also received higher compression, higher-lift camshafts and an improved ignition system from Marelli Microplex.

The 328’s transmission received an additional support bearing at the lower transfer gear to handle the extra torque of the larger engine. European cars had slightly different gear ratios from the 308, but U.S. cars utilized the 308’s ratios.

The 308 QV had a reputation for very marginal cooling in hot weather. Thus, the 328 received a larger radiator that was mounted at an angle to improve airflow, along with a larger air-extraction vent on the front decklid. In addition, the air-
conditioning condenser was moved from in front of the radiator to in front of the right front wheel, and the electric cooling fans were improved. The end result was a car that could sit in an August afternoon traffic jam with the A/C going full blast without overheating.

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Different rotors and calipers gave the 328 better stopping power. In addition, the parking brake, a constant source of complaints in the 308, finally worked well. The fix was to replace the 308’s mechanical parking brake, which was built into a rear caliper, with a traditional drum-brake parking brake within the rear rotor and a totally redesigned actuation system.

The 308 was and remains infamous for its slow electric window operation (we used to call them “power-assisted windows”), courtesy of a cable-and-pulley system that appears Victorian in origin. The 328 utilized a much more modern, and far more reliable, flexible shaft-drive setup.

Owners’ Take

Ed Peggs
1986 328 GTS

Purchased in 2008 with 57,000 miles for $35,000; currently has 85,000 miles

Why did you want a 328?
During my research, the 328 kept being voted as the most reliable Ferrari. It has significant mechanical updates over the 308—the cooling system, suspension, brakes and air-conditioning are all better.

What do you use your Ferrari for?
Weather permitting, I take it out about every two weeks for a 100 to 150-mile drive. I often drive with the local Ferrari Owners Group. Once a year, I drive it down Highway 1 to Santa Barbara.

What do you like most about the 328?
The driving experience. It’s very visceral. You’re looking out over the fenders, the wonderful engine is belting out a tune behind you. Plus, the lines are just so classic; it’s a great-looking car. It’s even pretty good on gas, I get 24 or 25 mph on the highway.

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Any dislikes?
It’s not that comfortable on long highways trips: There’s not a lot of room to move around, and I bring ear plugs because the engine noise, while wonderful, gets pretty tiring after a while. Sometimes I wish the air-conditioning was better on those hot summer days.

How reliable has your 328 been?
I’ve had to have it towed twice: once when a module on a control board in the trunk came unclipped, once when the fuel pump had to be replaced. It was a little tired when I bought it, so I spent a lot of time going through the car and fixing things. It’s got all new suspension bushings, new hoses, and it’s now to the point where I could drive it every day if I wanted.

It’s always passed smog easily, but this last time the hydrocarbons were right at the limit. We’ll see in two years if it needs a new catalytic converter or something. Finding parts can be tough, and service costs can be high.

Would you recommend this car to a friend?
Yeah, if the 328 really hits them when they look at it. It’s a great, old-school driving experience: manual transmission and manual steering, only the brakes are assisted.

Leslie Yuen
1989 328 GTB

Purchased in 2010 with 20,000 miles for $50,000; currently has 51,000 miles

Why did you want a 328?
I’ve had a 1979 308 GTS since 2000, and really love the body style of the 308/328. People were always debating carburetor versus fuel injection, open top versus closed, and now I have one of each.

What do you use your Ferrari for?
I drive it on the street, I take it to the track and I show it. I belong to the Ferrari Owners Group, and go on their morning drives twice a month. FOG also does an annual charity rally from San Francisco to Los Angeles. It started three years ago, and I’ve done it every year. One more thing: I take my Chinese clients out in it when they are in town. They usually have never heard of the 328, since the first Ferrari sold in China was the 348.

What do you like most about the 328?
Its classic design, along with the functional running gear, you know, the fuel-injected V8. It is the last year of the evolution, if you will, and I wanted a final-year model, with the improved suspension. I also wanted it to be a coupe, so I could drive it in the rain.

Any dislikes?
The attention it gets, honestly. It is a 20-something-year-old car, but every time I pull into a gas station people ask me how new it is, how much it cost. It’s a very distinctive car.

How reliable has your 328 been?
It has been very reliable for the four years I’ve owned it. Many people think it’s the most-reliable modern Ferrari; we joke that it’s the Toyota of Ferraris. I do the basic oil change every year, and it has never failed me.

I have it serviced at an independent shop, since it’s an older car and I don’t think the dealers have any interest. When you go to a dealer, they plug a computer into the car to diagnose it—but there are no computers in the 328! Plus, it’s so basic that any good mechanic with an understanding of how things work can service it.

How about wear and tear?
There are some rock chips on the front, mostly from my driving, and a little bit of wear on the edge of the driver’s seat, from when I get in and out. Other than that, it’s very good. It’s all-original, which is the only reason I bought it.

Would you recommend this car to a friend?
Oh, yeah. For people who like to drive their car, the 328 is very nimble and compact compared to today’s cars. It’s also well-balanced and the 260 horses are enough to get into trouble on public roads. And there’s its classic looks. Sometimes, at the end of the day, I get a glass of wine, go down to the garage and just look at it. It makes my day.

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