Brian Whalen has always been into cool European cars—a BMW 850i, a Porsche 928, and a Jaguar XJS have lived in his garage over the years—but he still doesn’t know what prompted him to bid on a 308 GTSi he spotted in an online auction. And after he won the Ferrari, which came as quite a surprise, he wasn’t quite sure what to do with it.
Whalen’s new 308 was red with a tan interior, which he thinks is perfect for the marque. Also perfect was that, with 50,000 miles on the clock, the Ferrari was far from pristine, so he could drive it without worry. He also wasn’t concerned about depreciation, having paid an amount he believed was much lower than the car’s value.
In the summer of 2020, Whalen’s father sadly passed away. Soon after, Whalen’s office closed for a couple of months due to Covid. So he grabbed the opportunity for a mind-clearing road trip, heading from his home in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to the Rocky Mountains.
At first, Whalen didn’t even think about the significance of driving the Ferrari; it just happened to be the most roadworthy car he owned at the time. But halfway to Colorado, the 308 developed a not-so-subtle ticking noise from the front of the engine. Then, 50 miles before arriving in Denver, the alternator died. After that, for good measure, the fuel pump went, as well. Such are the trials and tribulations of owning a classic car.
Whalen wasn’t discouraged, though, and when his office extended its closure, he simply continued his impromptu road trip, working remotely and driving from town to town in the Ferrari. He headed to Los Angeles to visit his brother, then, still in no rush to be anywhere in particular, bumbled slowly around New Mexico and West Texas (where he especially enjoyed a little place called Marfa and its Prada store). Afterwards, he carried on to San Antonio, just enjoying the drive and settling for a few days wherever took his fancy to catch up on work. That’s how, with his office still closed, he passed a relaxing and enjoyable autumn.
With the Covid pandemic showing no sign of letting up [and this is still 2020!—Ed.], his office remained closed all winter. What’s a man with a Ferrari and no place he needs to be to do? Go skiing, of course. Whalen reports there aren’t many roof racks available for a 308, but with the suction cup attachments from one and some parts from a hardware store, he managed to rig up a half-decent mount for his skis. Then he added a set of Hakkapeliitta winter tires, some sheep skins for the seats, and an underbody spray to protect the Ferrari from salted roads.
During this stage of his trip, Whalen discovered special places like Taos, a “spiritual” town in New Mexico, and Telluride, Colorado, an interesting Old West town nestled in a narrow canyon. In Steamboat Springs, with winter truly set in, he decided to take some ice safety driving classes with Kurt Spitzner, who runs the Bridgestone Winter Driving School. Drifting around its track all day was the perfect way to learn how to safely handle his rear-drive Ferrari in the snow. It also allowed for some great photographs.
A meandering route next took Whalen up to Wyoming, with stops in Big Sky, Montana and Sun Valley, Idaho, where he spent three weeks with his brother and a good friend from school. Still, he had no particular destination in mind, and no burning desire to decide on one.
“Driving gives you a lot of time to think,” says Whalen, a doctor of neurobiology who works for a health care marketing company. “There’s three basic thought processes. First is the calculations of the necessities, like how to get to the next place, do I have enough oil, fuel, etc. The next is work, because I like to brainstorm behind the wheel. My job is to review preclinical and clinical data and help turn it into an understandable narrative. Scientific storytelling. The last is general life stuff, such as where do I want to live? Am I enjoying this? And I’ve found I can only contemplate the last two when the car isn’t making strange noises or blowing steam.”
DESPITE ITS EARLY PROBLEMS, the 308 proved reliable throughout the winter. However, there were a few niggling things to remind him he was driving a 40-year-old Ferrari. A few examples: The engine cover release cable snapped; the latch for the spare tire carrier seized; and when one of the pop-up headlight motors burned out, Whalen had to jiggle it open and secure it with a jury-rigged knob whenever it got dark. But since all this occurred while the 308 was being used as a daily driver in the middle of winter, he doesn’t think it’s worth complaining about.
With Spring bringing ski season to a close, Whalen headed slowly through Aspen, Breckenridge, and Arapahoe Basin for the last of the snow. He next made a beeline for Denver, where a Ferrari mechanic, Ryan Chapman at Blue Chip, who’d seen some online photos of the 308 offered a free oil change. Whalen gratefully accepted, but ended up doing much more than just changing the oil.
With an eye on keeping the Ferrari running reliably, a thorough oil, filter, accessory belt, and spark plug service was performed. Then came a long list of other items, including refurbishing the rear CV joints, rebushing the rear anti-roll bar, replacing the engine mounts, and fitting new Continental all-season tires in place of the winter rubber. Whalen considered the $11,000 bill a solid investment—especially as he’d just learned his office wouldn’t be opening until September 2021 at the earliest.
This meant he had another summer to spend moseying around the country in his now freshly serviced Ferrari. Not wanting to revisit the same places, Whalen wondered where he could drive that was more of an adventure. After looking at his map, he found what he wanted at the farthest edge: Dead Horse, Alaska, right on the coast of the Arctic Ocean.
The final 450 miles would be rough and unpaved, so he pored over road trip blogs trying to find out what would be awaiting him on such a journey. Everything he found had been written by 4×4 owners—no surprise, as it wasn’t exactly sports car territory—but he did learn that proper off-road tires would be essential for the 1,000 miles of dirt road he planned to cover.
This turned out to be a serious challenge. The only suitable rubber that would physically fit in the wheel wells was the Pirelli Scorpion K4, sized 205/65-15 and normally found on rally cars, but Whalen couldn’t find 15-inch Ferrari wheels to mount them on. Eventually, he turned to a company called Fifteen52, which drilled one of its blank wheels with the 308’s 5×108 bolt pattern and Whalen’s desired zero offset.
Now he needed a serious roof rack, one able to carry a spare tire. Once again, Whalen had to make one himself with parts from a hardware store. He was also advised to fit a CB radio so he could contact truckers in case he needed help, as there would be almost no cell phone coverage during the four-day journey from Fairbanks to Dead Horse and back. The eight-and-a-half-foot-long antenna looks quite unusual on a Ferrari, but it perfectly matches the radio signal’s wavelength and therefore doesn’t need to be tuned—one less thing to worry about.
Whalen took his time heading up to Alaska, following a slow and winding route across the Rockies to the West Coast, turning north along the Pacific, then heading northwest through the endless forests of British Columbia, Canada. He arrived in Fairbanks in mid-August, ready to collect his new wheels, but discovered the fronts didn’t fit.
“Of course the 308 has different hub diameters front and rear, because why would they be same?” he says with a shrug.
Watching his expensive new front wheels being bored out on a machine more often used for logging equipment was a strange sight, but at 4:30 p.m. on a Friday, sometimes you have to make concessions.
THE 450-MILE DALTON HIGHWAY is an oil pipeline service road. Used primarily by big trucks, it’s 90-percent dirt and gravel, and in various states of disrepair. About halfway comes the one and only stop for fuel and food: Coldfoot, which has a grand total of two permanent residents.
The 308 has a fuel range of roughly 250 miles when cruising down the highway. Having to drive slowly around the Ferrari-swallowing potholes, and overcoming the extra drag created by the dirt, would reduce that range significantly. So Whalen strapped two plastic jerry cans of gasoline to the roof rack.
After renting a place to store all the things he didn’t need for the trip, Whalen headed towards Dead Horse—and straight away the alternator belt, which also drives the water pump, started squeaking. He hoped it was due to the cold weather, but after 60 miles he realized, heart sinking, that steam was blowing out of the back of the car.
Whalen knew by now how to change the belt himself, but he couldn’t lift the car to get at it because the scissor jack kept sinking into the soft dirt. Making a little platform from sticks and stones certainly wasn’t going to be safe enough for him to lie under the car, so eventually he had to call a tow truck—which, on the desolate Dalton Highway, was not cheap. But once the 308 was up on the flatbed and he had borrowed the driver’s heavy-duty jack, Whalen managed to replace the belt. The tow truck driver watched, bemused, as the Ferrari drove off.
After a quick stop to fill the fuel tank from the jerry cans, Whalen pulled into Coldfoot. One of the two residents had seen a picture of the 308 on the tow truck on the local area’s Facebook page, and asked Whalen if he’d seen the idiot with the Ferrari at the side of the road. When the guy found out that was Whalen, half the population of the town wanted to be his friend. His name was Mike.
The next day, as Whalen cleared the Brooks mountain range, the immense forest he’d been driving through for weeks turned into barren tundra, the stark and desolate landscape populated only by caribou and giant musk ox. In the final 30 or so miles before Dead Horse, the road surface changed to fresh tarmac; after listening to everything in the car vibrate for 400 miles, the relief was amazing.
There was no gold at the end of the rainbow, however, as Dead Horse is no place for tourists; it’s just a forlorn collection of temporary houses for seasonal oil workers and small businesses supporting the drilling operation dotted around an estuary at the end of the world. But, as the saying goes, it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey itself.
As Whalen headed back through the mountains toward civilization, it started to snow. The locals call it “Termination Dust,” and this first fall is the signal that summer is over and the real snows will soon arrive. Even with its Scorpion tires, the 308 struggled in the slushy mud, and drifting is not as fun as it sounds in the middle of nowhere. Plus, by the time he made it back to Coldfoot, the belt was squealing again.
Luckily, Whalen now had a nearby friend. He called Mike and used a patch of concrete outside his house to jack up the car. Afterward, Mike gifted him a big square of metal to use as a base in case the belt needed to be changed again on the 200-mile stretch back to Fairbanks. It was duly strapped in place on the homemade roof rack.
The next day, Whalen met a pair of motorcyclists who had started their trip at the Arctic Circle and were going to end in Patagonia, the southern-most part of Argentina. It seems there’s always someone going longer and further than you, which got Whalen thinking about his future plans.
After a slow journey back through British Columbia and Alberta, where he spent a few days at Lake Louise relaxing for his birthday, Whalen drove all the way south to Austin for the 2021 Formula 1 Grand Prix. Then he returned once more to Denver so his trusted mechanic could perform a major service. It was due, the 308 having covered 26,000 miles since first leaving Philadelphia some 14 months earlier.
Today, Whalen finds himself at a crossroads. His office will allow him to work remotely from now on, which has left him wondering where to settle down. Or whether, perhaps, to embark on another epic Ferrari road trip, possibly to Central and South America.
To be continued!