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Ferrari 308 buyers guide

Ever since I started reporting on my experiences with a 308 GTB and a 328 GTB I've been getting a lot of mail and several questions keep coming back: Which the is best buy? (answer: see the 308 Vs 328 page) How much should I pay? (almost impossible to answer) and What should I look for. This page tries to answer the last question and give prospective 308 buyers some guidelines...

Buyer's Checklist:

1. Homework:
  • Read about the different models, the production history and try and decide which is best suited to your needs (or cravings).
  • Join a Ferrari club and seek their advice about the model you want to buy and the quality of the local (or not so local) Ferrari Mechanics.
  • Decide on a good Ferrari Mechanic/Dealer you like to work with/talk to before you need an inspection done yesterday...
  • Be wary of low-mileage cars. First, it's easy to disconnect the speedometer on 308s so that the odometer won't record the true mileage. But even if the mileage shown is accurate, a Ferrari that spends its life sitting without regular use is an unhappy car. Everything from hydraulic systems to rubber suspension pieces, from shock absorbers to gaskets and seals, will deteriorate, perish or freeze up without use. And because Ferraris tend to be weekend playthings, there are plenty of low-mileage cars around. A car with exceptionally low mileage makes a nice show car, but that's about it. The best 308 is one that has received both moderate use and regular service. A well-maintained 308 with 100,000 miles or more can still be a very strong car and a good buy.
  • Is the car a US version or Euro? Euro cars are a little faster, but can end up being a major headache for US owners if you don't do you homework first. If it's Euro, does it have EPA and DOT papers? Don't just accept that they do, ask to see them and make sure the VIN number match the prospective car. If it's a US car, make sure the emissions equipment is in tact.
2. The paperwork:
  • Look for a vehicle that comes with a complete set of repair receipts so you can judge its service history and verify its odometer mileage reading. Be wary of low-mileage cars. First, it's easy to disconnect the speedometer on 308s so that the odometer won't record the true mileage. But even if the mileage shown is accurate, a Ferrari that spends its life sitting without regular use is an unhappy car. Everything from hydraulic systems to rubber suspension pieces, from shock absorbers to gaskets and seals, will deteriorate, perish or freeze up without use. And because Ferraris tend to be weekend playthings, there are plenty of low-mileage cars around. A car with exceptionally low mileage makes a nice show car, but that's about it. The best 308 is one that has received both moderate use and regular service. A well-maintained 308 with 100,000 miles or more can still be a very strong car and a good buy.
  • Check the car's records to see that the prescribed service has been performed. The engine oil and filter should be changed every 3000 miles or six months. The factory specifies additional service procedures every 15,000 miles; this service will include a tune-up and a valve adjustment. The 30,000-mile is the big one. It will often include a valve adjustment plus replacement of the water pump, the two timing belts, ignition parts, the clutch linings, various seals and hoses. Obviously alI this is an expensive proposition, which owners too often skip. Ignoring Ferrari's prescribed service intervals can have catastrophic consequences for an owner's financial well-being. For instance, if the timing belts aren't replaced every 30,000 miles or five years, they may break and allow pistons to crash into valves, necessitating an engine rebuild - something no faint-hearted enthusiast of moderate means would ever want to face.
3. Visual inspection:
  • Visually inspect the car for cosmetic weakness. Unless this car is very unique, it will have several (or even many) cosmetic weaknesses. Other than the obvious (paint, leather), look at the following on a 308: The headliner, carpet and rear deck material, feel it. If it's in great shape, it will be clean looking and soft to the touch. The rear trunk cover tends to tear and/or have bad zippers. Is the dash vinyl straight and without knicks?
  • Does the car have factory wheels or aftermarket?
  • How clean is the engine bay? Does it look like the car has just been driven and not cared for? Well maintained cars will tend to have much cleaner and proper looking engine bays.
  • Look for rust along the lower rocker panels, door bottoms and the rear quarter panels. A little rust boil or two is not a deal killer, but you should at least be aware of what you're buying. Those little boils can get much worse if the car is to be stored/parked outdoors. It wasn't until 1980 that Ferrari offered any kind of warranty against corrosion because until then, the cars carried virtually no rust- proofing. And keep in mind that the fiberglass-bodied cars still have steel rocker panels, yet another common area for rust.
  • Check the condition of the roof and window seals with the roof out (GTS) and the doors open. The seals should be smooth and free of defects, otherwise plan on replacing the ones that need it. Close the doors, install the roof and make sure the windows seal well against the body seal (at the rear) and the roof seal (at the top).
  • Look around the underside of the car for obvious signs of oversprayed paint from poor body repair and of oil or other leakage's. Check for signs of the car having bottomed out badly. While under there, look at the brake calipers and see that there's no fluid weeping. Also, look at the shocks and make sure they're not loosing hydraulic fluid.
4. Drive the car:
  • Check for electrical problems. Overall, 308s - carburetor cars in particular - seem to have weak electrical systems. Fuse boxes melt. Power window lifts, never speedy to begin with, become agonizingly slow. And the electric motors that raise the headlights are prone to fail. On fuel-injected cars, the electronic ignition control units may go berserk; they sit in the trunk where they can get soaked if water seeps through leaky taillight seals. Though all these electrical gremlins are annoying, they aren't generally horrifically expensive to correct.
  • The car should start easily and idle reasonable well (although not as smoothly as a modern car). Can you shift into every gear? With the clutch on the floor, can you shift into every gear without any grinding? Do the brake and the clutch pedal, when released, rest at the same level? Does the car pull to the left or right? Does the car pull to the left or right under braking? At 70-80 MPH the car should be *rock solid* without any shakes or obvious rattles. There should be no "dead-spot" in the center of the steering like many other cars have. Does the car smoke when starting? Does the car produce white smoke when accelerating hard (a light tan/brown haze is normal)?
  • Don't expect too much. Yes, Ferraris are very expensive when new. And yes, they are exotic. But Ferrari has often been slow to adopt features that we take for granted even on lesser cars. The lack of rustproofing is one example. And Ferrari didn't give the 308s grease fittings in their suspensions; after 50,000 miles many 308s will need every moving part in their suspensions renewed.
5. Professional inspection:
  • Be sure to have the car inspected by a Ferrari specialist before you buy. If he is going to service the car for you in the future he will do his best to give you a thorough report on the car and point to all the bits that will need servicing in the future. He will look for problems common to all old cars - low compression, poorly repaired collision damage and so on. But Ferraris have their own peculiarities.
  • For US spec. cars carefully inspect the emissions-control equipment. The 308s came with a variety of emissions-control equipment. Until 1978, they were saddled with a thermal reactor and twin air-injection pumps. From 1978 on, they had twin catalytic converters. And all carburetor cars had dual-point ignitions. During your pre-purchase inspection, make certain the appropriate equipment for the car is in place and operating correctly. When these 308s were young and the emissions inspection rules were more lenient, many owners removed the thermal reactors, gutted the catalytic converters or replaced everything with European exhaust systems. But retrofitting this emissions-control equipment is costly. And keep in mind that getting all those Webers properly adjusted and running in synch on the early 308s is an arduous task requiring large doses of experience, patience and concentration. On the other hand, once properly set up, they'll stay that way for a long time.
  • Though in most instances you'll want to use genuine-issue Ferrari parts, the savvy mechanic knows that a set of Repco brake pads works just as well as Ferrari pads, that an electric radiator fan switch from a VW Rabbit is the equal of a Ferrari switch or that the electric mirror switch from a BMW 7-Series is the same one Ferrari uses . A good mechanic can make your dream of owning a Ferrari a little more affordable.

6. Drive and enjoy!
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