MMR Blog

Upgrading a 1978 Ferrari 308 GTS:
Air Conditioning Part 1

Posted on July 3, 2013 Comments (0)

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

Air Conditioning – The Teardown

As mentioned in the recent Wiper Blade episode, I bought the car in Chicago and drove it home to Boston. I had read, since youth, that Ferraris don’t come with radios because “the factory believes that the sound of the engine is music.” As a result, I was surprised to find a radio in the car but not too disappointed to learn that it didn’t work.

The air conditioning was another matter. Though it blew air about the cockpit with great gusto, unfortunately, none of it was cold or even cool. It was also that point in our automotive history when the government had legislated a change in refrigerants to a more ECO friendly version. Fortunately, John Tirrell at IFS in Easton, MA had stockpiled the old refrigerant on which our system ran and once the system was properly charged it did its job quite well.

Like all older A/C systems it eventually died of a slow leak, which we learned, when we took it apart, was actually a cracked fitting. By that time John’s supply of the old refrigerant was gone and the new refrigerant was not compatible. I simply resigned myself and my lucky passengers to the joys of travelling in a warm black car. Make that a hot black car.

Once we determined that we would make changes to the cooling system and that it required taking the A/C condenser off the front of the rad, we began looking for a replacement A/C system as well.

As in all of our previous upgrades to the 308 adventures, we were far less concerned with authenticity than effectiveness. Because, most suppliers of any upgrade or replacement unit for these older cars cannot duplicate all the factory changes and upgrades over the model period, it is important to go into these projects recognizing that compromises will need to be made. We chose Retro-Air of Addison, Texas, to be our supplier. Rock Browning was a tremendous help. His company makes replacement units for Porsches, Jaguars and Ferraris. The kits are far more complete than I expected, and, while the compressor looks and is different from the original, the cosmetics in the cabin are identical. But you should be aware, and Rock will point this out, the parts going in may not be exact duplicates of the parts coming out. Though, as I said, in the WASRED 308 case, no changes were visible in the cabin.

Old and new compressors

We did the work in the MMR Garage & Art Gallery and Spencer Guder, of Spencer Restoration in Canterbury CT, did the heavy lifting. Once again I was the sometimes helpful hand. Parts of this are a two-man job. I am pleased to have someone who is familiar with the systems and unafraid to tackle a job which would require patience and ingenuity, not to mention strong forearms to hoist and place the compressor, and, small thin fingers to get in all the places you need to place washers and nuts.

In removing the system we learned where our future problems may lie. The first issue would be fitting a different confirmation of pump with a slightly different mounting system that requires shimming for alignment. The second was the removal and replacement of the hoses running from the rear of the car, through the passenger side rocker panels and to the condenser and receiver–dryer. The evaporator airbox under the dash and the blower motor needed to come out. Removing the radio was also essential. The original evaporator box is made of a brittle plastic. It was cracked and broken and no OE replacements were available. It was probably broken during one of the numerous adventures in radio installation. Spencer needed to remove it, bring it home and reconstruct it completely. He used a perforated aluminum structure to re-create the broken and missing bits and used a two part epoxy, as used in the repair of plastic bumpers, which he bonded to the aluminum substructure and then sculpted and painted it. When done, it was a far better product than new and I had no regrets that an original replacement wasn’t available.

The replacement receiver-dryer unit is both of a higher quality and far more attractive, but slightly smaller, than the original. Spencer built a spacer-collar to slip over the R/D to allow it to sit properly in the original bracket that locates it for connecting hoses.

New Receiver-dryer

As we began dismantling the old parts we discovered several things. The condenser is bolted to the radiator and the space between them is about 3/8 of an inch. A significant number of leaves had somehow found their way between both units and that could not have been helping air flow to the engine coolant in the rad. You can see from the images that the original unit is pretty tired.

Old and new condensers

So that is the background. Next week in Part 2 we will discuss installation of the things you can get to make the job a little easier: O-ring lube, two spark plugs, and split heater core hoses.

Upgrading a 1978 Ferrari 308 GTS: Ignition

Posted on May 30, 2013 Comments (0)

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

Leaving Well Enough Alone… Almost


According to my 1978 Ferrari 308 Instruction Book (Owner’s Manual) 308s came with either a standard point set ignition system or ignition with magnetic impulses. Both by Magneti Marelli.

Fortunately for me, we have the single distributor electronic system and it has been flawless. As mentioned elsewhere, I’m sure, I bought the car in the dark in Chicago and drove it home to Boston. When I first brought the car to John Tirell at IFS I asked John for a quick assessment and he told me several important and distressing things. First the car had been hit on the right front and left rear and the engine had been rebuilt. The only thing that had been upgraded was the stereo system. So he went through it, changed all the fluids, put new tires on it, checked every important component and updated what he could. I thought the car ran well when I bought it but it felt bulletproof when he was through. We used factory parts where we had no choice but we used an aftermarket oil filter and John made up a set of wires using Taylor Spiro PRO 8MM Silicone and the Ferrari resistors. Except for a few resistor failures along the way, some of which I caused through careless engine washing, the system has performed perfectly… for well over 100K miles!

308 ignition

308 ignition

At the same time John was doing all this for my car, he was also upgrading his personal GT4 for track use. Among the many things he did to improve that car, he also installed a high performance Electromotive ignition system. That car was strong and is legendary in the Northeast among Ferrari owners who did track at the time. If you are looking for someone to hotrod your 308 for street or track, he’s your guy.

Upgrading a 1978 Ferrari 308 GTS: Lights

Posted on 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

308 Upgrade: A Cautionary Tale

Posted on May 16, 2013 Comments (3)

This week’s story is not so much about an upgrade, as it is a cautionary tale.

Early in the very late stages of the past century, my wife and I drove the WASRED 308 to Cavallino, an annual Ferrari fest held every January in West Palm Beach, Florida. We used the front tire well and rear trunk for luggage and even took along a set of golf clubs.

We stayed at the Colony Hotel in downtown West Palm Beach. “West Palm” is what we habitués call it. The Colony was, and probably still is, a well kept monument to the glory days of West Palm and nearby, still swishy, Worth Avenue. A number of its occupants are permanent residents whose presence reminds other patrons, and possibly themselves, of grander days.

Other than an ice storm in northern Virginia that forced us off Interstate 95 for a few hours, the trip was uneventful. Getting back on the highway in downtown Richmond we quickly discovered that while the sun had melted the roadway, the underpasses, where the water had been carried, remained glare ice. So the trick was to settle the car upon entry, pray the road didn’t bend and try to keep the front wheels pointed to where you wanted to go if you once again gained traction. Though slightly harrowing at first, it did add a measure of excitement to what is otherwise a thoroughly boring drive. It didn’t last forever but it was quite exciting while it did. At least for me.

Upon arrival at our hotel, I opened the rear boot (trunk) for the bellman to remove the luggage and when I came back it was closed and I parked the car. The next morning I opened the rear hatch to find that the mechanism which allows the lid to remain open had been disconnected and was broken. The doorman, not understanding the proper procedure had simply taken it apart and in the process broken it. The hotel was, as you might expect, mortified, but was immediately forthcoming and offered to pay all repair costs. This was, after all, a Ferrari. I don’t recall the exact costs but it will surprise no one that it was well north of $1,000. I learned a valuable lesson about leaving rear hatch operations to strangers.

Fast Forward fifteen years and some of you may have noticed in earlier pictures that the hatch lid is being supported by a yellow broom handle and may be wondering why. The rear hatch on a 1978 308 is steel. Later models appear to be much lighter and are probably made of aluminum. Later models are also supported by hydraulic struts on either side. My model has a rather ingenious mechanism that supports the hatch in a fixed upright position, the opening height is limited by the length of the supporting rod. The top of the rod is affixed to the hatch by a tough plastic knuckle, or universal joint, which allows the top of the rod to bend and fold down lengthways when the hatch is being closed. Ingenious but unnecessarily complex. The positive side is that it is strong and, being mechanical, not hydraulic, it should never need replacement. Uninformed hotel doormen aside, the only problem with the design is that upon reaching the top of its arc, the momentum of this heavy hatch being lifted is stopped, often suddenly, by it having reached the end of its travel. This sudden stop puts a shock on that little knuckle and it sometimes breaks. This is not uncommon.

Not surprising, Ferrari’s solution is to replace the whole unit.

Enter the MMR Goods and Services Directory and under the heading of Ferrari Parts is listed a small company called Unobtainium Supply Co. Verell Boaen is a retired electronic engineer who has a passion for Ferraris and has dedicated his talents to providing the no longer available (NLA) parts that classic and vintage Ferrari owners might require at reasonable prices.

The plastic cover for one of my seat belt housings is broken; Unobtainium Supply Co. has them. Unscratchable switch plate sets? Unobtainium Supply Co. has them. The part I want is the “latch housing” for the “boot.” Considering the fact that someone had to cast the part and the cost of its original alternative, $97 is a fair price and I have ordered one. It is companies such as Unobtainium Supply Co. that keep the ownership of vintage cars like the 308 fun and affordable and MMR urges you to visit their site and others in the MMR Goods and Services Directory, to purchase their products and to support their efforts. That is what MMR is all about!

Unobtainium Supply Co. created custom molds for, and supplied, these tail light lenses for the 1952 Ferrari 212 Pininfarina Cabriolet—one of the first two Ferraris built by Pininfarina. It is now being restored by Ferrari Classiche. If you watch closely you can see it at the back of the shop in this video.

You can download a catalog with contact information from the Unobtainium Supply web site.

Upgrading a 1978 Ferrari 308 GTS: Cooling System Part 5

Posted on May 9, 2013 Comments (4)

Improved Cooling –Aesthetics

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

What Meets the Eye

We have pretty much completed the Cooling System Upgrade from a hardware point of view and we are satisfied with the outcome. There remain only two things to do. One is cosmetic and the other requires a little more research on our part before we share it. Stay tuned.

Let’s talk about “The Look” of what we have done. Beginning at the front, we changed the black radiator, the black AC condenser and the two black fans for a shiny aluminum radiator, a shiny aluminum AC condenser and a skinny black “spider web” style fan. Before we made the changes, looking at the front of our Black 308 we saw the aluminum vertical and horizontal bar grill against a dark background. Now, the new AC condenser and radiator are visible through the grill. Doing this again, I would find a way to make them invisible. Probably with high heat spray paint on the front surfaces. Neatly done, of course.

308 cooling system aesthetics

The bigger clamps are neither original nor as elegant, in some people’s opinions, as the originals. I like them better but that is a subjective call. The hoses themselves, in bright blue, don’t really go with anything unless Paul Newman (RIP) were driving the car. Doing it again, I would probably go with black hoses. I am not necessarily a traditionalist, but I think it looks neater against all the aluminum in the engine and the radiator. And I did find silicone far easier to work with.

308 cooling system aesthetics

308 cooling system aesthetics

We removed the Radiator overflow tank, sanded off the rust and spray painted the unit with a black semi-gloss. That now looks much better. And we changed the radiator cap which was looking pretty tired. We bought it from Geoff Ohland at Partsource.

More next week…