MMR Blog

Upgrading a 1978 Ferrari 308 GTS:
Wiper Blades

Posted on July 24, 2013 Comments (2)

For Want of a Blade a Horse Was Almost Lost

I bought the WASRED 308 in Chicago and drove it 850 miles to Boston in a day and a half. The spare wheel and tire were in the passenger seat, it had a slow leaking front tire, an expired Texas vanity plate that didn't belong to me and a non functioning radio. Ah! But I was driving a Ferrari! And the combined fear of speeding in a strange car, heightened by the anticipation of being caught and then having to explain my total lack of proper documentation was intoxicating. Life on the edge. I loved every minute of it. 

Once I had driven the car for a few days, I realized I didn't have an Owner’s Manual and I had questions that it might address. My local Ferrari dealer seemed the logical place to find a manual and some answers. As I introduced myself to the parts man, I saw tears well in his eyes. I proudly spoke of my recent purchase, confessed my complete ignorance of all things Ferrari, told him how much I had in the bank and that I counted on his assistance to fill the list of parts that I gave him. He hugged me and kissed my hand before I left. I could tell that God hadn’t sent him an idiot like me for a long time.

On a warm sunny day, Targa top safely stowed, there is nothing more exhilarating than driving a 308 with the carburetor intake sound in your right ear and the mechanical engine and transmission sound coming in over your left shoulder and the Ansa exhaust bludgeoning them both. And all that happened at 40MPH in second gear! I remember cruising back to Boston alone from Lime Rock late on a warm summer’s night with all this and the Eagles and Steely Dan competing for my attention at 90 – 100 MPH for very long stretches. Bliss… like slow dancing with a strong woman.

However, on a cold rainy night, on a two lane road, when the defroster isn’t working, rain is leaking in on your now quiet passenger, the headlights useless, people are going by you honking their horns, and the wipers are smearing road grime across where you think the road might be, a Camry seems like a good idea—a suggestion that may have come from the passenger seat… several times. That was before things got wet and quiet. Strong women can be hell at times.

308 Wiper Blades

A note about wiper blades: Several years ago, in preparation for one if my trips to Amelia Island in Florida, I installed a set of newer-design wiper blades. I believe they were Bosch units. Instead of the conventional light spring blade with holes along the arching support, this was the single solid unit plastic blade with a rubber contact insert. Though they looked different, in light rain they seemed to work fine. On the way back, on Rte. 95, at night, in a heavy rainstorm, a side gust of wind ripped the whole arm off the driver's side. That was exciting! It broke at the base and I could have stopped to look for it but I would have been killed. The arm was probably 30 years old and who really knows what shape it was in, but it did cause me to think that maybe these newer style blades, with a design that doesn’t permit air to flow through them, put undue stress on the arm. 

The 308 wiper system is hardly the equivalent of the systems on newer cars but I have found that it works well enough. I bought a used wiper arm from Fred Petroske at Mostly British in Chaumont NY, returned to conventional styled blades, and all is well.

Upgrading a 1978 Ferrari 308 GTS: Mirrors

Posted on July 18, 2013 Comments (3)

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

The Car Designer’s Curse

Upgrading a 1978 Ferrari 308 GTS Mirrors

Upgrading a 1978 Ferrari 308 GTS Mirrors

Though the process was at times humiliating, I still remember the amazing sense of wellbeing that always accompanied the wearing of my first tailor made suit.

The salesman said I had a perfect body. It would complement the fabric, he said. The tailor’s notes indicated my back was hunched, one shoulder was higher than the other, same with the hip on the opposite side, and my knees were bowed (three fingers). Almost perfect.

Though far better, few automobiles today are a custom fit. In 1978, owners were expected to fit Ferraris. Ferraris were not made to fit owners. Elsewhere on the site I have discussed the minor adjustments made to steering wheel and pedals to better accommodate my body and driving style, now let’s talk about mirrors.

Other than the need to identify creeping constabulary, good drivers are constantly checking rearview mirrors to know what else might soon be a part of their immediacy. This is generally done with the centered rearview cabin mirror. The WASRED 308 center mirror is perfectly proportioned and positioned. The daytime/nighttime detent feature is controlled by pressing the mirror across a plastic strip containing a small ridge. One side of the ridge holds the mirror to deflect nighttime headlight glare, the other gives you a daytime image of everything behind you. With time the plastic detent strip wears or breaks and leaves you with only the daytime position. You cannot replace the strip. You must replace the mirror and you must then make a Ferrari ownership decision involving cost and value. A single position is fine on the WASRED 308.

The outside mirrors are where the custom suit analogy applies and since these mirrors are affixed at the factory, it doesn’t. The model for the 308 driver is 5 ft. 8 inches tall, has a 24 inch inseam, a 34 incharm length and weighs 150 pounds. An adult chimp would do fine. He can sit comfortably below the removable Targa roof and also see the two side mirrors reasonably well through the quarter windows. I am 6 feet tall with a 30 inch inseam and 31 inch sleeve length and I weigh 175 pounds. Other than the aforementioned deformities, I am reasonably well proportioned. The seat cushion has been depressed with age and use and I now have ample head room. BTW, the seats are amazingly comfortable for me. My problem is that the position of the side mirrors requires me to lean forward and down in order to use the mirrors and even then, the rear quarter outward view is very limited.

European mirrors offer a split rear view, with a partially convex portion of the mirror, allowing a view of vehicles that may be slightly behind and away from the view offered by a simple flat mirror. For some reason that is not allowed in North America.

I initially replaced the original mirrors with Vitaloni mirrors that I liked better. That was an improvement. Later, with the help of The Garage Valet, Jim Miga, we drilled new holes in the door and repositioned the mirrors lower.

It aint Pretty

Still dissatisfied, I added a small convex mirror that I purchased from Griot’s Garage to give me a hint of the action that may be taking place in an area I could otherwise not see. Perhaps, I should add another to the passenger side.

Driver’s view

Purists shudder. Then again purists don’t have 150K+ miles on their speedos either.

Upgrading a 1978 Ferrari 308 GTS:
Air Conditioning Part 2

Posted on July 11, 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 Nineteenth in a series of short articles about how we repaired and updated it.

Putting it Back Together

In Part 1 of this project, with my assistance, Spencer Guder, of Spencer Restorations of Canterbury, CT, had disassembled the entire A/C System on the 308, except for the hoses running back to front through the passenger side rocker panels. These were detached from the original components but remained in place.

In Part 2, we put it all back together.

Beginning at the front… In case I didn’t mention it, the hood needs to be off because the radiator condenser assembly needs to come out. Probably more than once. Since we were replacing the rad anyway, we killed two birds with one stone and did the rad/condenser/fan assembly all at once. Placing the condenser in the position you want requires a little fiddling. The condenser has multiple attachment holes; you can locate it with zip ties and then fasten it with bolts that come with the condenser.

Radiator and condenser

While we are taking things off, the wheel well liners on the right side and the right side fuel tank also need to be removed. This means draining all the fuel from the center plug of the crossover tube at the bottom of the tanks. After you have drained the tanks and you put the plug back, Spencer recommends coating the sealing ring with a Teflon paste. This plug is a pain to take off and tougher yet to keep from leaking when you put it all back together. The air cleaner hose and fiberglass air pick-up tube need to come off also. My steel trunk lid is too heavy for me to handle. I believe newer 308 models have an aluminum trunk lid, and of course some 308s are fiberglass, so if you can, it would make things a lot easier if it also could be removed.

Old Fan

The original fans, though similar, were not identical. Things happen in 35 years. The fan situation needed updating for several good reasons, the first was that one worked and the other didn’t. Second, they were inefficient in electrical draw and in their suspended mounting application. They each weigh 2½ lbs.

We replaced them with a single plastic 16” SPAL pusher fan. Total weight 2.9 lbs. Thickness 2.5”.

Our supplier was The Fanman, accessible through the MMR Goods and Services Directory under Radiator Fans. We had no issues mounting the product or putting the whole package in place

Radiator Condenser Fan assembly

Next, we mounted the compressor. The new set up is actually easier to mount than the original because the compressor sits on a platform which is bolted to the block. The mounting needs to be shimmed with washers to properly align the pulleys and place it within the adjustability range of the belt tensioner. That is a trial and error job which requires patience and some strength to hold the compressor up from beneath so that you can fiddle with the washers and the bolts. Spencer has the patience of a saint and he did it all by himself. I encouraged him by watching, grimacing, and drinking sympathy beers.

New mounted compressor

Next came the trickiest part of the endeavor; threading the new hoses through the rocker panels.

The replacement hoses have fittings at the compressor end and a package of loose fittings which are meant to be affixed once the hoses have gone through the rocker panels and are set to be attached to the receiver-dryer and the condenser.

There is no room to pull hoses with fittings thru the rocker panel. Undoing the old hoses from the compressor, Spencer sliced off the old fittings. Next he threaded the ceramic end of a spark plug into the end of the hose and lockwired it in place. He then forced the threaded end of the spark plug into the end of the new hose which had no fitting and was meant to go to the front of the car. He lockwired that in place also. The lockwired spark plug joined both hoses, but more importantly, was no wider that the hoses themselves. After spraying all the visible hose with silicone, and me pulling from the front and him pushing and feeding from the back, we pulled the old hose out and the new hose followed easily. It felt like we had given birth.

The new hoses were now ready to be measured, cut, and have the proper fittings attached. In a normal, well equipped shop, we would have swaged the fittings and been done. In my garage, we didn’t have the equipment to complete the job. By the same token we didn’t have the equipment to charge the system either. Enter Rick Hennessey of Natick Radiator and Auto Repair. Rick supplied us with the older style fittings that can be mounted on the hose and secured with hand tools. That done, all we had to do was reinstall the rear fuel tank, a proper pain in the butt, button everything together, and bring it round to Rick’s to be charged. We did and he did and the system makes driving the WASRED 308 a very different summer experience.

This was by far the most complex project in our upgrading process. Here are some tips I learned from watching someone who knows what they are doing.

  • You don’t really need special tools but we found lock wire pliers handy. Taking pictures before and throughout the process, making notes and diagrams, really helps.

  • Assemble all the components you believe you will need before you begin anything. You will be wrong, but try. Then try to get it done in as short a period of time as possible. There are a hell of a lot of small parts involved in this process and between that and trying to remember exactly how everything goes together, it can become a challenge. The less time you spend doing this, the easier it is.

  • Remember that the kit is not an exact replacement and that you will need to be flexible in your interpretation of the instructions. Once you accept that, you are fine because it all works. And, probably far better than it did originally.

  • If your 308 is an older car (all 308s are older cars now) that has been screwed with under the dash to fit various stereo components, there is a strong possibility that the fragile plastic evaporator is at least cracked. When you take it out, I would say, if it isn’t broken or at least cracked you are lucky. I would have it reinforced anyway once it is out.

  • New R-134 refrigerant requires green O-rings and a sufficient amount come with the kit. If you should misplace them and need more, they are available at any NAPA store. At several of the places where the hoses pass through bodywork, the hoses sit on relatively sharp edges. We slit lengths of heater hose and slipped them over those sharp edges and then tie-wrapped them in place.

  • Wherever you buy your kit, make certain you are dealing with someone who can communicate with you and has the patience to do so. RetroAir was at the end of the line on more than one occasion and they responded quickly and professionally. Only call me if you are prepared to be disappointed.

Good luck!

Thanks to the following businesses for making this possible (as listed in our MMR Goods & Services Directory):

Spencer Restorations


Natick Radiator and Auto Repair

The Fan Man -Radiator Fans

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.