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Ferrari 308 Magnum PI

Magnum P.I.-Era Ferrraris Are Red-Hot on the Classic Car Market

(Bloomberg) -- “Five years ago, you and I should have taken all of our liquid assets combined and purchased every 308 we could get our hands on to sell today.”

This is how Hagerty’s Jonathan Klinger described the Ferrari 308 to me the other day on the phone. I had asked him what he thought of buying the Pininfarina-styled coupes and convertibles made in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.

He was enthusiastic on the prospect. Today the current average value across the 308 range is $71,000, up 190 percent since 2011, according to Hagerty data. For the rare fiberglass 308s made in 1976, the increase is more than 200 percent. And earlier this year, a 1976 Ferrari 308 GTB Vetroresina set a world record for its type when it took $357,500 at a Gooding & Co. auction in Scottsdale, Ariz.

“The racing Ferraris were the ones that grabbed headlines and were highly sought-after—at that point, 308s kind of were in that used-car phase in their life,” Klinger said. “But now you’ve got the generation that had these cars as posters. They’re starting to buy cars. So the older collector used to think of ‘real’ Ferraris as the racing Ferraris from the '50s and '60s, but the younger collectors are changing that.”

Post-Dino, a Real Modern Ferrari

This is the car Tom Selleck made famous in the television show Magnum, P.I., driving it around Hawaii from 1980 to 1989.

Ferrari introduced it at the Paris Auto Show in 1975. It came just after the brand had made a Bertone-designed 308 GT4 2+2 seater, which was disparaged in some circles as a “budget Ferrari” and which closely followed the discontinuation of the popular Dino 246. (Those will likely always have more upward potential than the Ferrari 308s, Klinger says.) Critics thought it felt rushed; some Ferrari acolytes didn’t accept the 308 GT4 2+2 as a true Dino successor at all. So when the brand tapped Pininfarina to style a full-fledged, stand-alone 308 GTB, enthusiasts everywhere breathed a sigh of relief.

In fact, this was a new 308, which Ferrari made from 1976 to 1985, when it was updated to a Ferrari 328. It was a true two-seat, mid-engine V8 coupe—and just over 12,000 were produced; a quarter of those are likely still left in the United States, according to Hagerty. Initial models came with a tube frame, a separate shell body, a five-speed manual transmission, and many of the same components as the Dino before it. Power varied from just over 200 horsepower to closer to 250hp in later years. GTS models included a removable black satin roof panel that could be stowed behind the seats. It was also, blessedly, eight inches shorter than the GT4. And with such a light (2,400-pound) body, it quickly earned a reputation as something immensely fun, if less than mind-numbingly fast, to drive. (I’ll get to the speed part in a second.)

“For a car from the ‘80s, it is a nimble, high-revving engine with a great sound,” Klinger said. “It is plenty peppy and powerful to drive, and the gaited shifter makes it really fun.” The fact that the 308 isn’t weighed down by such extras as power steering, power brakes, or an enormous engine certainly helps, too.

What to Look For

If you are in the market to buy one, expect to pay anywhere from $50,000 to $300,000, depending on what you value in your car. The value is expected to level out and stabilize over the next few years. For instance, is the one you’re considering in perfect, original-condition form? Do you want one you’ll have to restore? Do you want one already restored? Those things determine how much you’ll have to pay.

Versions with rebuilt engines, for instance, routinely cost more than six figures: The current average sale price for all 308s at North American auctions is $110,000, according to Hagerty. (That is an increase of 58 percent over the past 12 months). For the biggest bargain, look closely at the two-valve injected versions made from 1980 to 1982. They have only 205 horsepower but are reliable drivers and more affordable than the others.

If you want to maximize the return on your investment, start looking toward versions from the early years. During the 308 production run, Ferrari introduced several variants: a 308 GTS Targa in 1977, plus GTBi and GTSi variants with improved fuel-injection from 1980 to 1982. (Fiberglass bodies had converted over to steel bodies by 1977; only 712 of those super-light ones made it through production.) By 1983 it was making the 308 GTBs and 308 GTS Quattrovalvole with even more engine refinement and power.

The carbureted 308s from 1976 and 1977 are especially good on the road, thanks to aggressive cams and lack of emissions equipment, which made them light and nimble, even though they have less power than in later years. (Only 1,000 of the fiberglass-body cars from that year were made; they are among the lightest and most fun-to-drive cars from the era.) You can find some like that on websites such as the Du Pont Registry and Hemmings.

Also, counter-intuitively, if you’re thinking of it as an investment, go for the coupe rather than the convertible.

“This is one of those few cases where the coupe version is more valuable than the spyder version,” Klinger said. “It’s not a huge difference, but the average value for a coupe is 16 percent higher than for a spyder.” (Why? Seems to be a matter of personal taste.)

There’s a big price spread at auction. Last year in Monterey, Mecum sold one estimated at $150,000. Gooding sells them for as little as $74,800 for a Ferrari-red one from 1979, though most there fall in the $100,000 to $200,000 range.

What to Watch For

The main thing to know if you do buy one is that it’ll cost a lot—more than your run-of-the-mill muscle car or sportster—to repair. Ferrari 308s have been known to suffer from unreliable camshaft belts, head gaskets, fuel systems, cooling systems, and electrical systems. Parts for 308s are plentiful but expensive.

“There are examples when cars like this get purchased by someone who can afford the car but they don’t necessarily have the appetite or ability to pay to maintain it, so the cars just get driven and discarded,” Klinger said. “You need to know what you’re doing when you purchase it. If a timing belt breaks, you’ve got a very expensive repair ahead of it. The same goes for a very low mileage example that has been sitting for many years: It’s going to need some maintenance before you start driving it.”

Once you get behind the wheel, the expense will have been worth it. Yes, the 308 can seem embarrassingly plodding in the context of how aggressive its sharp, short nose and gaping side air vents are. There was even a bit on some car show or other where the 308 was beaten in a head-to-head race with a Toyota Camry. But Klinger recently drove a friend’s silver-with-red-interior ’83 Ferrari 308 GTS Quattrovalvole from Michigan to Ohio—and he approved. The car has real personality, he said. That’s something no 0-60mph split time can ever measure.

“If you asked me which car I wanted to drive across the country, while something like the Lamborghini Countach is certainly more flashy, I would rather drive the 308,” Klinger said. “I had a great time. After driving, it I can absolutely see why people buy them.”

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