Upgrading a 1978 Ferrari 308 GTS: Cooling System Part 1

April 2, 2013 Comments (0)

Improved Cooling—Auto and Personal

In 1995 I bought a 1978 308 GTS Euro spec Ferrari with a rebuilt engine and 13K miles on the long non-functioning odometer. It had had a serious accident on the right front corner. This is the eighth in a series of short articles about how we repaired and updated it.

The WASRED 308 has never been a hot running car. In traffic the water temperature gauge would sometimes indicate as high as 105 degrees Centigrade. But regular highway running was generally just under the 90 degree mark. That changed last spring when I arrived to 110 degree Fahrenheit weather in Phoenix. The car was running very hot in traffic. Over 110 C. I asked my host, Bud Bourassa (no relation), all around good guy, vintage car owner, and racer and he led me to Alex Traverso’s Ferrari repair shop.

Alex is an old school Italian mechanic and very much at home with older Ferraris. He quickly diagnosed that the bottom of the radiator was plugged, one cooling fan was not working and that effective cooling was limited. I planned to leave the next day, and since I was moving to cooler temperatures, I decided to risk running it home and making repairs there. So I did and I did.

Fans and radiator removed

Fans and radiator removed

Removing the rad was not that difficult and once I had a look at it I knew there were three choices. The first was to re-core the existing unit, the second was to replace it with a new factory unit and the third was to purchase an aluminum aftermarket upgrade. The new Ferrari unit was roughly two and one half times the cost of the aftermarket all aluminum upgrade at $1200 and that unit was about twice the price of re-coring the old unit. My original 1978 unit looked pretty rough.

Old and new radiators

Old and new radiators

I spoke with Nick at Nick's Forza Ferrari and was impressed with his story about the units he designs. The radiator is larger, 3.10 inches versus 2.75 inches wide. The core tubing is oval and that allows for more efficient cooling and a greater capacity. Part of the stated purpose of changing parts on this car is to upgrade individual parts whenever possible. I had to believe that radiator technology had advanced in the 35 years since my radiator was built. Plus dealing with Nick’s Forza was a treat.

Nick knows 308s. He taught me a lot about what I was getting into and what else I should do to the cooling system, fans and A/C units to bring the whole package up to date. While his company benefitted from selling me some of the components, he also spent a great deal of time helping me understand what I was looking at from other suppliers. Nick’s site has a plethora of upgrades for 308s.

Grinding and shaping

Grinding and shaping

While getting the old radiator out was not difficult, putting the new one in was a chore. As previously mentioned, the car had been crashed in the front right corner in a previous life and the original repair left several radiator supports less than level with each other or anything else. While it worked fine, it was definitely ugly. Just as the previous radiator had been “fitted” this one also required support bracket adjustments and shimming to bring it closer to the original. Probably not perfect, but pretty damned close.

The doctor is in.

The doctor is in.

Once again, I had to call on Spencer Guder of Spencer Restorations in Canterbury, CT, for help. Spencer is originally from the Boston area and he still has a large customer base here. He is often picking up or delivering cars in the area and between my general tools and his specialty stuff, he can do almost anything of this nature in my garage. So he stops by and works on the car once I either have completed the grunt work or I am stymied.

In case you think, after reading this, that it is something anyone could do, forget it. Despite what you are reading, I am neither talented nor sufficiently competent to believe that once I have put something together it will actually work. Spencer double checks everything I have touched, tells me what I missed, then finishes the job.

I work on the car at night. Generally after 9:00 PM. This works out well for me because I love to do the work. I am not in a hurry, and I save a few bucks in the process. Spencer and I also worked out an arrangement whereby I can call him when I need information and he bills me the telephone time at shop rates. That way my calls for help can be a profitable annoyance for him rather than just an annoyance. Win-Win.

Neatly tucked in.

Neatly tucked in.

So at this point the radiator is sitting easily, properly positioned in its cradle, and no hoses have been hooked up and no accessories have been bolted to it. We have plans for the A/C system and the original fans. So stay tuned.

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