Upgrading a 1978 Ferrari 308 GTS: Lights

May 23, 2013 Comments (2)

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 fourteenth in a series of short articles about how we repaired and updated it.

Let there be lights!

While driving in F1 for Lotus, Ronnie Peterson was famous for being able to take a car straight off the trailer and go fast. Upon returning to the pits the engineers would ask what they needed to do to make the car faster. He would reply: nothing, it’s fine the way it is. His teammate Mario Andretti was the opposite, his background in dirt cars and ovals made him a master at tuning suspension systems to get the most out of his cars. And he did. But he was not perceptibly quicker than Peterson. Peterson was just plain quick and he adapted his driving to whatever the car would do.

To a far lesser extent, many of us are the same. As our vehicles age and wear, they change. And we change right along with them. I remember sharing a car in a 4-hour endurance race once. We set a target time and as brake and clutch problems beset the car, we would slow down and then after a number of laps, we would be turning the target times again. We adjusted and drove differently to achieve our goal.

I bought the WASRED 308 in Chicago and drove it to Boston. When I first turned on the headlights, I thought the low beams were horrible. So I drove on the high beams and since no one asked me to dim I just always drove it that way. Once home, I tried to adjust them, but to little avail.

I have mentioned elsewhere that the car had once suffered a serious front end accident and was rather ham handedly repaired. This past winter I decided that I would upgrade my forward lighting and add auxiliary lighting. The MMR Goods and Services Directory lists a number of suppliers and in my pilgrimage to good lighting I interacted with many of them.

I began with Daniel Stern. He emailed a long and detailed response to my query and was quite familiar with my issues. I had Hella lights and Osram 100/80 watt. He supplied me a well written treatise on the subject of auxiliary lighting specifically for my car. He recommended Cibie headlamps with Narva 100/90 bulbs and suggested that since the original bulbs were 60/55s, upgrades in the wiring and relays were recommended to protect the switchgear. Communication between us was interrupted for a while and I was then helped by Dave Heupchen, an old rally driver who races Volvos. I think I got to him through Dimebank Garage. Finally, Gunther Hansele of Aardvark International was the most helpful and reliable resource. Like many other pockets of specialty vintage parts, the masters of it are slightly off the beaten track and one needs to adjust to their way or little is accomplished.

When it came to auxiliary driving lamps, I chose the Cibie Airport series 35 (H2 – 55 watt bulb) rectangular lamps. These have a clear white lens and they most resembled those fitted to the Ferrari 288 GTO.

That decided, we began our work. My mentor on this project was once again Spencer Guder of Spencer Restoration in Canterbury, CT. I felt the headlamps needed changing because the outside surfaces were pitted. Spencer suggested that the interior surfaces might also be dirty, as these were not sealed beams. When I ran a clean cloth around the interiors I was surprised at how much dirt came off. Before disassembling the old units, we made indications on the back of the garage door showing where the existing Hellas had been focused. The passenger side light, the corner of the car that had been damaged, shone across into the oncoming lane. That explained why oncoming traffic was at times annoyed. Before he could install the new lights he had to straighten out the brackets holding the light assembly and without taking the whole front end apart he was limited in what he could accomplish. But he is patient, resourceful, and diligent and he managed to get it straightened out so it would work properly.

The Airport Series 35s were fitted with a harness and relays which Spencer made up. A control switch which illuminated when the lights were in use was fitted under the dash on the driver’s side. Not an ideal location as it turns out. At some point they were briefly on and, (I think I have mentioned that I am not particularly observant) I never noticed. The lights melted the clever black/silver Cibie covers. I promptly made them completely black with the use of a Sharpie.

The important point here is that once we had the whole set-up completed, adjusted the headlights properly, and measured them against the previous markings on the wall, it was time for a test. Unfortunately it was late and I was leaving the next day for the 17 States in 20 Days and One Pair of Underwear Tour so testing was postponed.

On the first day of the tour I left Philadelphia after dinner enroute to Pittsburgh via the Turnpike. An ideal opportunity to test the lights. First I was thrilled by how well the standard light worked. “Brilliant” was the right word. The moment of truth for the auxiliary lights came on a long stretch of straight road. While more than adequate, the difference between them and my high beams was marginal. At the next stop I adjusted them to aim a little higher. By doing this, I gained a fuller view and a gain in distance.





High Auxiliary

High Auxiliary

High Auxiliary Higher

High Auxiliary Higher

Here is what I draw from this. I was upgrading a 1978 system which had already been upgraded at least 18 years earlier and poorly adjusted. Forward lighting has made quantum leaps since the car was initially built and dramatically more in the intervening years since it had been upgraded. The original car would have benefitted greatly from the addition of the 55W Airport lights. Today’s equipment doesn’t need that help. When weighed, the inconvenience of having to remove the auxiliary light covers before use vs. an actual need for the lighting they rendered diminished them to a form of entertainment. Another toy with a switch. But they do look cool, in a 1960s way.

Dark in the dark


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Comments (2)

    May 24, 2013 at 09:55 AM

    As a CIBIE ( and MARCHAL and Hella ) distributor from 1972 to 1999 I can tell you you did the right thing in talking to Daniel and Dave, but it looks like the CIBIE 35's you installed were DRIVING lights. Mounted down low there was no way they would outperform your improved headlights. What you needed was 35 FOG LIGHTS which would supplement your headlights with a wide pattern almost 180 degrees to the side. If you want to do this you can just change the lens reflectors ( use your existing housings and bulbs ). You'll be amazed how your side vision improves. As an aside driving lights need to be mounted as high as possible for maximum effectiveness. Fog light need to be as LOW as possible. I'd be happy to discuss further if you want. Enjoy the newsletter especially the mystery car feature but I'm not up early enough to be competitive. Best regards.

  2. Peter Bourassa:
    May 25, 2013 at 11:33 AM

    Thank you Brian. Sound advice. In fairness to Daniel and Dave I believe that I specified exactly what I received. I will look into getting those lenses and then update my report.

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