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Hot sun, cool cars - Driven: Ferrari 308GTB vs 328GTS

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Comparing the 308GTB and 328GTS on the perfect roads of Cape Town, South Africa...

Beach Road. Now that’s a Ferrari-sounding destination. This particular Beach Road happens to be in Cape Town, in an area called Moullie Point. You would never guess it is Africa because this smart beach-front location resembles Miami Beach, with its gleaming white apartment buildings, chi-chi sushi restaurants and trendy bagel and cappuccino bars lining the wide boulevard which runs along the crisp and bright Atlantic Ocean seaboard.

Enjoying the sharp, salty aroma of the kelp-filled ocean 
as the harsh African sun begins to dip towards the horizon and the light turns creamy, photographer Ian McLaren and I hear the far-off wail of an engine enjoying the upper reaches of its rev range. The yowl closes fast as the driver snaps 
the gearchanges up through the closely stacked ratios, 
and soon a red dart comes into view, spearing down the boulevard.

Small, sharp and sounding full of energy, the red 308GTB swings into the 
car park, the engine is killed and the wall of sound stops with a deafening silence. 
Film-maker and historic racer Anton Rollino hops deftly out of the cockpit and chuckles at the attention the delicious noise of the bright red Ferrari has generated among the joggers, roller-bladers and surfers. Aftermarket Tubi exhausts are not for the shy and retiring. But then, neither are Ferraris.

Rollino has owned this 1978 308 for some years, and at one point it was fitted with 
a race-specification engine. He says: ‘It was just too hairy, so I had the local Ferrari 
agent, Viglietti, return it to standard spec. It now produces 255bhp and is great fun to drive.’ The car is shod with 16-inch Speedline rims which allow for lower-profile 255/55 and 50-section tyres. Apparently these make a big difference to the car’s handling. Also, this tyre size is more readily available than for the original 14-inch rims.

The rubber 
looks well scrubbed, but that’s what track day exuberance does – and that’s the whole point of a sports car from Maranello.

Anton has to take a phone call, so he tosses the keys over to me and disappears into the photo car. The 308 driver’s door opens via a delicate and unusual little satin black lever. This Ferrari is diminutive on the outside and diminutive on the inside as well. No Tardis, the two-seater best suits slim types such as its owner. Ingress is not helped by 
the unforgiving racing seat and full harness, but once ensconced the lovely steering wheel is just where you want it, even though the pedals are a bit offset. Encumbered by his lensed-up Nikon, our strapping photographer has trouble squeezing his athletic frame into the passenger seat.

The transversely mounted, DOHC, Weber carburettor-fed 3-litre V8 fires up with a typically Ferrari whirr of the starter motor, and then settles to a steady idle. The throttle response is razor-sharp, which is amazing considering the car has four twin-choke carbs – that’s eight butterflies working in perfect harmony. Meanwhile, the clutch is 
firm and the long gearlever requires muscle to select first ratio. The 308 lunges off the mark and immediately exhibits the quick responses that are so uniquely Ferrari.

It isn’t happy to lug like a 911 – it wants sturdy inputs and plenty of throttle. As the road opens up you hang onto the revs and allow the Tubi snaps to sing. The change is mechanical but fast, and the ratios are perfectly placed. Gearing is taut and soon you are in fifth, the little Ferrari building speed with intent.

The ride is firm but pliant, and the car reacts to all inputs with alacrity. Being mid-engined it seems to move from the hips, and this seat-of-the-pants connection is enhanced by the tight-fitting, hard, racing seat. This Ferrari is like a flyweight boxer: 
it bobs and weaves with lightning reflexes.

Weighing just 1065kg, it carries no flab. But the amazing impression is that this machine of the 1970s, all old tech with carbs and mechanical controls, is superbly reactive and communicative. You don’t really drive it, you think it. There is no modern car numbness at all, no dampening cushion between 
you and the controls.

You feel the 308 working with you, you feel it on the road and can place it with millimeter accuracy. Being narrow and low, the Ferrari can nip through gaps in the traffic and wind its way up a mountainside road with precision. Every change in camber or road surface is telegraphed back to you, and with this sort of immediate communication you soon find yourself really pushing things. What a fabulous driver’s car this is. It is raw and visceral, but also obedient and just plain good fun thanks to its tremendous dynamic ability. 
The brakes are strong and Rollino talks about hanging the tail out at race circuits, which is entirely understandable.

Returning to our rendezvous point, we discover that psychoanalyst Martin Miller has arrived in his gleaming 1989 Giallo Fly 328GTS. Parked next to its stablemate, the 328’s subtle bodywork evolution is easy to observe. The Pininfarina styling has been softened and integrated to give the impression of a bigger car. The front grille and spoiler arrangement confers a chunkier look, losing the 308’s lithesome pointyness.

In locations such as Beach Road the Spider’s open roof is an attraction, and stowing it is cleverly resolved, with the black-painted lid fitting neatly behind the seats. The interior trim has moved up a level, and the Quattrovalvole engine (now with four valves per cylinder) looks very different, with the K-Jetronic fuel-injection plenum chamber located atop the cam covers.

Says Miller: ‘The 328 has done 103,000 klicks, which is quite high for a Ferrari, but I use it as much as possible and can’t understand some owners who don’t actually drive their cars.’ Good for him. Sixty thousand miles is not actually that much, and the car boasts a full service history and looks immaculate.

The driver’s seat is markedly more comfortable than the previous racing chair. Starting the 328 you notice the different engine note, which is deeper and quieter than the Tubi’d 308. More refined, too, yet still emitting that special Ferrari crackle.

The throttle response is the first mechanical difference you feel. It’s not as sharp as in the 308 and is a bit sticky mid-position, but that might just need an adjustment. Snicking up through the gears it does feel smoother than the earlier car, and it certainly has more grunt, pushing out 270bhp. The increased capacity to 3185cc adds a fat dollop of torque just where you need it, giving the 328 a more relaxed nature. And this suits the Spider because, with its open roof, the body does not seem as rigid as the Berlinetta’s. There is a little scuttle movement and a bit of flex felt through the steering wheel: something you wouldn’t notice had you not just climbed out of the tight-as-a-drum 308.

These cars are surprisingly different on the road. The 308GTB is raw and tight, with hair-trigger reactions. The 328GTS is faster and more refined, but you probably wouldn’t drive it as quickly because of its more relaxed demeanour. While the former is a road racer, the latter is a fast boulevardier. It’s your choice.

Thanks to Anton Rollino and Martin Miller.


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