Road Test

The Ferrari Dino 308 GT4 2+2

The Ferrari Dino 308 GT4, introduced last Autumn, is more than a big brother to the familiar, beautiful little 246GT. It is an entirely new car, the few things in common being restricted to the steering wheel and alloy road wheels and it is particularly significant in Ferrari folklore in being the first Maranello production car to adopt a V8 engine. British journalists have been waiting eagerly and frustratedly for the opportunity to try this 156 m.p.h. Dino, so we are especially grateful to David Grayson, the Managing Director of Maranello Concessionaires Ltd., for ending our personal frustrations by loaning us his one and only 308 demonstrator for an afternoon.

Power unit and performance apart, the 308 will be welcomed by Ferrari customers, particularly those whose families have outgrown their 246 GTs, for having a very genuine 2+2 seating configuration within almost as compact a total area as the definitely two-seater 246 GT. In addition the tail area behind the mid-mounted, transversely-directed, all-aluminium V8 contains a thoroughly practical luggage boot (wide enough and deep enough for several sets of golf clubs!) to obviate the holdall and toothbrush image of the 246.

As with the 246 (2.4 litres, 6-cylinders), the 308 title indicates the capacity and number of cylinders. The former’s 65 degree V6 engine has very little in common with the new 3-litre V8 which has its ancestry in the 4.4-litre V12 engine contemporarily best known in its Daytona application. However, whereas the V12 is of the usual 60 degree vee-slant, the arrow has been broadened in the new engine to the 90 degrees most suitable for a V8. Bore and stroke dimensions are identical to those of the V12 at 81 mm. x 71 mm. (92.5 mm. x 60 mm. are the even more violently oversquare dimensions of the V6), presenting a capacity of 2,926.9 c.c. Wet liners are used in the alloy cylinder block, the crankshaft runs in five main bearings and is lubricated from a wet sump system, while the transaxle upon which the engine is mounted contains five forward and one reverse gears, a limited slip differential and its own lubricant.

Cylinder head design follows similar practice to the V12, each head carrying two overhead camshafts operating two valves (vee-slanted at 46 degrees) per hemispherical combustion chamber via thimble tappets. Rubber, toothed timing belts received the ultimate blessing when Ferrari adopted them instead of his usual chains for the Berlinetta Boxer flat-12 engine and the 308’s four camshafts are similarly driven to eradicate the familiar Ferrari valve-gear thrash. Ignition is by a separate Marelli distributor on each bank, driven by the uppermost (in terms of the angled heads) camshafts, and twin coils. A modest 8.8:1 compression ratio is used and 98 to 100 octane rating fuel specified, fed to the engine via a single Corona fuel pump and four, twin-choke, downdraught Weber 40 DCNF carburetters from a 17.3 gallon (including 3.3 gallon reserve) tank.

Undoubtedly the 308 must have gained weight in comparison with the 246, but I cannot believe the pound and kilogramme figures quoted in the respective official Ferrari handbooks I have in front of me, which when converted make the former a real heavyweight at 26 cwt. 97 lb., against 21 cwt. for the latter. As this would give the 308 a poorer power-to-weight ratio than the 246 and would consequently remove the credibility of Ferrari’s claimed performance figures, I am inclined to prefer the Maranello Concessionaires’ brief specification sheet claims of 23 cwt. for the new model and 21 1/2 cwt. for the old. All the foregoing refer to dry weight. Similarly I have various power output claims in front of me: 255 b.h.p. at 7,600 r.p.m.; 255 b.h.p. at 7,700 r.p.m.; 250 b.h.p. at 7,600 r.p.m.; 250 b.h.p. at 7,700 r.p.m.; quoted as DIN, SAE, net or gross in all the permutations. I leave the reader to take his pick, for any of these figures is outstanding and compares with the 195 b.h.p. (DIN or SAE?) at 7,600 b.h.p. of the smaller V6. Torque figures for the new engine are equally impressive: 209.76 lb. ft. at 5,000 r.p.m., against the V6’s 165.5 lb. ft. at 5,500 r.p.m., both figures quoted from the Ferrari handbooks and probably gross.

Even after several years of familiarity (and to date 700 have been sold in Britain) there are people who positively drool over the curvaceous, sensual lines of the Dino 246, a modern day classic and undoubtedly one of the most beautiful designs to be put into production in the history of the motor car. Alongside this Pininfarina masterpiece, Bertone’s efforts on the 308 are slightly disappointing, the smooth, delicate mouldings having given way to the harsher, more acute, sharply-edged contours which seem to identify all designers’ thoughts for the 70s. Nevertheless, the outcome is attractively, excitingly exotic, and those who regard it as an ugly duckling alongside its older stablemate can always console themselves with the thought that any attempt to adapt the lines of the 246 into a 2+2 would probably have been disastrous. On this subject of the Italian design war, it is interesting to note that Bertone was responsible for the sharp-edged 186 m.p.h. Lamborghini Countach, while Ferrari chose Pininfarina to shape the more rounded features of the 188 m.p.h. Berlinetta Boxer, these two cars disputing the war for the World’s fastest production car.

The slab sides make the 308 look much wider than the 246 and present a comparatively vast amount of elbow room inside, yet the overall width is only 0.12 in. greater at 5 ft. 7.32 in. Those two rear seats have been accommodated by building the 308 with an 8 in. longer wheelbase, yet the sharply cropped nose and tail have kept down the overall length, at just over 14 ft., to 2 1/2 in. more than the 246. Of necessity, for rear seat headroom, the 308 is some 3 in. higher, while the front and rear tracks have been increased by almost 2 in. to improve stability with the longer wheelbase. The suspension layout is identical to that of the 246 though there are detail changes in geometry and none of the parts appear to be interchangeable. In brief, both ends gain their impeccable handling and roadholding characteristics from pressed-steel wishbone arrangements, with coil springs/Koni telescopic damper units and anti-roll bars. The model was so new to the Concessionaires that there was uncertainty as to what improvements might have been made to the brakes on the 308, for those who regularly drive both models agree that those on the heavier 308 are much better. No disc sizes or swept areas have been published by Ferrari for the 308, though they have done so for the 246. However, ventilated outboard discs are fitted all round, a tandem master cylinder and vacuum servo-unit are mounted on the front bulkhead and the rear circuit incorporates a pressure limiting valve. The central handbrake lever operates on the normal rear pads, so is self-adjusting. Maranello Concessionaires seems to have become a haven for retired racing drivers, for with such a high performance marque it is essential that the sales staff’s driving ability and technical knowledge should be of impeccable calibre. Thus they have Mike Salmon as Sales Director (who this season has come out of retirement on several occasions to race the historic Aston Martin Project 212) and Mark Konig, he of Nomad sports-racing car fame, as Assistant Sales Manager. The latter gave me a brief introduction to the car along the Egham by-pass before handing over to me for an acclimatising canter round the lanes. There is no such thing as being let loose with one of Maranello’s demonstrator Ferraris, if only because of insurance technicalities, so with Mark Konig returning to the sales room, Sue the receptionist had to be persuaded into the passenger seat to validate Maranello’s policy, whilst we searched Surrey for photographic locations. (I might add that Motor Sport has its own test car policy in any case). Unfortunately, such an arrangement isn’t conducive to learning the car properly nor driving it in accustomed fashion to get a positive idea of how such a high performance car behaves when it is “performing highly”. Impressions thus gained might be improved upon or, highly unlikely in this instance, made worse with longer acquaintance.

The episode did serve to prove that the rear seats, or at least one of them, is suitable for adults, the photographer finding that with his knees splayed one either side of the passenger seat he was perfectly comfortable. The same would not have been true behind the driver’s seat, without the driver choosing an uncomfortably short-armed position. For children even up to young teenage size they should be ideal. Unlike the Porsche’s occasional seats, the Dino 308’s rear seats are the real thing, luxuriously shaped and trimmed, with headrests on the rear bulkhead and with lap-strap seat belts as standard, stowed away in central and side open lockers when not in use. The front seats are a big improvement on those of the 246, mainly because the absence of a bulkhead immediately behind them has enabled them to have adjustable back rests, accurately adjustable with a knurled knob, whilst a separate release lever allows them to be folded forwards for rear seat access. Adjustable headrests are included. Trimming of all the seating surfaces and the door panels is in realistic artificial suede. I found neither the seat nor the driving position quire so comfortable as the latest Porsche, the thin-rimmed, leather-covered wheel being less vertical and closer than I would have liked while having the seat adjusted to cope with the long travel of the initially heavy clutch pedal.

Dino 246 drivers will gain two immediate impressions on transferring to a 308. First the good one: the torque and flexibility of the V8 is quite wonderful. On the one hand this impressive engine will rev. to the definitive 7,700 r.p.m. red line on the Veglia tachometer, an utterly staggering number of revs. for a road-going production V8, and on the other it will crawl along and pick-up smoothly from just over 1,000 r.p.m. in fifth gear, equal to 22-25 m.p.h. The torque curve peaks at 5,000 r.p.m., but must be comparatively gentle in its shape all the way from 3,500 r.p.m., for mid-range acceleration is excellent. Thus it is not essential to stir the gear-lever incessantly for good performance in the manner one would have to do with the dynamo-like short-stroke V6. For out-and-out performance it pays to waggle the lever through its traditional Ferrari five-speed alloy gate, as maximum power doesn’t occur till round about maximum revs – and through the gears the needle hits that in a couple of blinks of an eyelid. It would be wise to keep one of those eyelids open and glued to the mirror if so doing (and the mirror, stuck to the top of the steeply-raked screen is far too close to one’s eye in any case), for even at 7,000 r.p.m. claimed speeds in the gears are 41 m.p.h., 59 m.p,h., 113 m.p.h. and 148 m.p.h. Another 400 r.p.m. are theoretically available in fifth to give the claimed 156 m.p.h.

Now for the bad impression. Ferraris of any cylinder configuration have been renowned for the beautiful noises they make, music to the ears whether in the cockpit or behind the exhausts. The ultimate example must he when Motoring News’ Editor had a letter recently from an American asking whether it would be possible for him to drop a V12 Ferrari engine into his road-going Lola T70 because, “I just love that Ferrari noise”! The 308 sounds like … well, to be polite and accurate, exactly like a twin-cam Lotus-Ford engine, but with rather more buzziness within the cockpit than a twin-cam Lotus Europa. Even at its smooth tickover there is no hint of a V8 warble and the engine continues to sound like a small, well-tuned 4-cylinder unit, not at all in keeping with a very high performance, £8,000 car.

Instrumentation is clear on the typically Ferrari aluminium facia panel, but why is there not an ammeter or voltmeter? There are gauges for fuel, oil pressure and temperature, and water temperature grouped around the 180 m.p.h. speedometer and 10,000 r.p.m. tachometer and even a clock, could have been replaced by an invaluable ammeter. Two-speed screen-wipers and washers are controlled by a stalk on the right of the steering column. A short stalk on the left controls the flashing indicators and a longer one looks after the operation of the four pop-up Halogen headlights, which rise much more rapidly than do Lotus ones and have a facility for emergency operation (with the car stationary) should the electric motors fail. Twin Carello auxiliary lamps are fitted under the radiator grille.

The gear-lever gate is contained in a slim central console. Gear-lever movement has been considerably reduced compared with the 246, though gearchanges can be notchy unless the clutch pedal is pushed right into the bulkhead. Also mounted on the console are the choke lever, cigar lighter and, in the test car’s case, controls for the optional heated rear screen, electric windows and air-conditioning equipment, a long reach within the restrictions of the fixed belts. Normal heater switches are grouped on the left of the facia panel, matched by auxiliary light, hazard warning and heater fan switches on the right, all within flicking distance. There is a useful lockable cubby-hole containing the fuse boxes and an inspection lamp and deep pockets are formed in the doors by the armrests-cum-door pulls. Each door contains a courtesy light in its central panel (there is also a central one above the rear screen) and a warning light in its trailing edge.

Twin, lockable levers in the driver’s door pillar release the self-supporting rear lids for the engine and fully-carpeted boot, the front “bonnet” is released by another lever under the facia and all three have separate emergency releases. Under the “bonnet” lie the radiator, from which hot air is ducted upwards through the steel panel, the emergency space-saver spare wheel, battery, servo, washer bottle and motors for the lights. I can’t say that I would wish to drive very far on the narrow spare wheel, which carries a Michelin 105 R18X tyre, while the normal 6 1/2J road-wheels are shod with Michelin 205/70 VR14 XWX tyres. A maximum speed of 90 m.p.h. is recommended when the spare wheel is fitted, though the handbook adds a disconcerting rider: “It is necessary to avoid any sharp braking because this special wheel will be the first wheel to lock or skid causing the tyre unnecessary damage”!

If the extra weight has made this new Dino marginally less agile than the 246, it has also improved its straight line and cornering stability – or at least the wider track and revised steering geometry has. As there are very few vehicles more stable than a 246 Dino it seems superfluous to add that the 308 has instantly become one the the world’s best handling and roadholding road cars. The steering feels very little different to that of the 246 – indeed, the same Cam Gears rack and pinion is used – and lock to lock takes an identical 3 1/4 turns. As those turns provide a poor turning circle of only 39.3 ft., it can be seen that the steering is not as high geared as one might expect. My own preference would be for a slightly higher ratio, more for low speed travel than for high speed work when the handling becomes neutral and less steering wheel movement is required. On the other hand the steering is superbly sensitive and responsive without becoming reactionary over bumps and is light enough to make parking easy. If the car is cornered on a trailing throttle it understeers noticeably, but any owner who complains generally about understeer should learn to drive: cornered under power, as much to compensate for the effect of the limited slip differential as to match general handling characteristics, the mild degree of understeer is exactly what is required to provide feel, stability and evasive qualities. Roadholding is phenomenal, there is minimal roll and, though suspension movement is small, the ride is surprisingly good. The improved cornering stability compared with the 246 is most noticeable on long, sweeping bends; the latter car tends to exhibit some diagonal pitching which has been eradicated on the 308.

Like Porsche, who dispense with a servo completely, Ferrari do not believe in over assisting the brakes at the expense of feel. Thus, high speed stops require a moderately heavy foot to assist the servo. The Dino then pulls up in ultra-short distances with hardly a trace of squat or nose-dive. In traffic the brakes are equally at home, braking effort being proportionally less than at speed and without any fierceness.

Ferrari claim a standing quarter-mile time of 14.4 seconds and a standing kilometre time of 26.2 seconds, with a terminal speed of 131 m.p.h., for this four-seater Dino. The kilometre figure is in fact only 0.6 seconds quicker than the Dino 246GT, but this marginal difference belies the improved ease with which the torquey V8 copes with such fierce acceleration.

This magnificent and practical new Dino, with its 3-litre V8 engine quite docile at one end of the scale and providing brilliant performance at the other, costs £8,339.76 from any of the 14 Dino dealers in Britain (including Maranello Concessionaires). The only sour note is the long list of extra-cost extras, most of which customers will regard as essential. The test car, for example, had the addition of metallic paint (£152), electric windows (£114), air-conditioning (£374), heated rear window (£30.42) and tinted glass (£44.46). A mixture of leather and cloth upholstery costs an extra £253, or all-leather upholstery £301. If the actual cost of such extras is inconsequential to a customer in this price bracket, the problem of choosing his personal permutation and awaiting the arrival from Italy of the right specification car could be annoying. It is unlikely to cause a shortage of customers, for this must be the car for which nearly every Dino 246GT owner has been waiting.