Renew vs restore: stock or not

I have  reached a decision point in the ongoing restoration of 26359. The suspension needs a further overhaul and while the plan had  always been to continue with a more modern performance oriented set up, now I am not so sure. Restore or renew… that is the question.

Ferrari 308 unrestored suspension
Unrestored Suspension

For a long time the Ferrari 308 community, here in the US at least, seemed to prefer to renew (restomod is too strong a term for what was going on) their cars, especially when it came to suspension set-ups. When the suspension needed a refresh, the zeitgeist shunned the original Konis and welcomed adjustable coilovers, uprated anti-roll bars, poly bushings and stiffer springs.

Ferrari 308 worn Koni shocks
Worn Koni shocks

The logic was reasonable. The Konis were old and heavy by modern standards (55 lbs vs 36lbs with spring). They are also not adjustable so one has to live with the almost ludicrous wheel arch gaps. The suspension is a little soft, especially at the front where the car drops its nose significantly under breaking. I had been following this logic myself. My car came with ‘Saner’ brand uprated anti-roll bars installed and 16″ three piece Etoile wheels when I bought it. Since then I have replaced the rubber a-arm bushes with polyurethane versions in order to dial out all of the wooliness from the front-end a couple of years ago. They did the trick.

Ferrari 308 wheel gap
Crazy Ferrari 308 wheel gap

Now I need to tackle the rear suspension and I am not sure I want to go further down this renewal path. I have never heard a discussion about the advantages of adjustable spring perches on the shock absorbers for a 246 Dino. Maybe that is because they ride at the correct height from the factory. But neither have I heard a discussion on spring rates, non-standard roll bars, larger wheels, modern rubber, polyurethane bushes… I’ve only heard these discussions for the 308… why is that?

My theory is that the 308 does not drive like many of their owners think a Ferrari should drive. When we think Ferrari we reminded of its unique racing heritage, Formula 1, Le Mans, perhaps, even of the ultimate sports car.

Does a Ferrari 308 feel like the ultimate sports car? No, it does not.

It’s a grand tourer, that’s why it is relatively soft and comfortable. It’s also 40 years old. Does it drive like your Dad’s 40 year old Ford? No, but it is also a long way from a modern GT car. Is it reasonable to expect it to drive like a modern car, or even like a Ferrari from the 90s? The technology, materials and manufacturing differences between a 1996 F355 and the 1976 308 GTB are gaping chasms. Why are we trying to bridge those chasms with stiffer suspension, wider rubber and lower ride height?

Modified Ferrari 308
Modified 308 (courtesy Forza Magazine)

The 308 is a wonderful classic Ferrari. Some of the last hand-built cars to roll out of Maranello. A car developed under the gaze of Enzo himself, refined by Lauda and driven by Villeneuve. It has a sense of purpose and occasion that many more modern performance cars do not. Isn’t that enough? A car cannot be all things, be it a Ferrari or a Fiat.

Initial 1975 Press Photo
Initial 1975 Press Photo

These days, the zeitgeist is in flux. Some owners are reverting their 308 modifications back to stock. Yesterday’s garbage Konis are todays restoration pieces; painstakingly disassembled and repainted. Rubber silent blocs are now superior than polyurethane bushes. Maybe the Ferrari 308 has finally come of age as a classic Ferrari, and we can stop trying to improve it.

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