Anyone who attends track days knows what a slippery slope of car modifying it can lead to. A few laps around a track with a stock or nearly stock car has the owner quickly devising ways to get more speed, more handling, more braking and more performance in general from their vehicle of choice. It really doesn’t matter if it’s a Volkswagen GTI, or in the case of Dave Deisen, a Ferrari. Track days almost always leave you wanting more speed and control and faster lap times.
Deisen didn’t set out to build the wildly upgraded and altered 1978 308 GTB pictured here. He originally acquired the slinky Italian sportscar in 2001 for use as a daily driver in the Phoenix and Mesa, Arizona metro area as a reward for his hard work as an engineer. “I just fell in love with the lines of it,” says Diesen. The Ferrari was in pretty good shape when compared the average used car, but a little rougher in the context of most second hand Ferraris. “It was in good ‘driver’ shape,” he says.
The car impressed Deisen with its combination of looks, handling and overall driving experience. “It was an impressive car for the year,” he says. “It handled extremely well. It was down on power a little compared to more modern cars, but it was a lot of fun.”
At the suggestion of the shop that had been maintaining the car for him, Deisen decided to attend a track day. “It’s a great track car,” he says. “Vipers and faster cars like that would pass me in the faster sections of the track on the banking, but the car was really great on the infield portion. I would end up catching and even passing them in the corners.”
Three track events later and the well-used Ferrari suffered an exploding flywheel from repeated trips to the 3.0-liter V8’s lofty redline. After a search for a useable replacement flywheel left him empty handed, McLeod Racing in Placentia, CA provided him with a lighter alloy flywheel. McLeod also fabricated a billet pressure plate and a stronger dual clutch disc to go with the light flywheel.
With the Ferrari back in action, Deisen continued to attend to track days. In the process, the 308 underwent continual development with its performance and reliability reaching far beyond that of a stock 308. The engine remained in the spec it was when he acquired it, but just about every other aspect of the car has been altered, with the end goal of more speed. Though it’s never been disassembled, based on its performance, Deisen thinks the V8 may have been upgraded with a set of higher-revving camshafts.
The engine’s exhaust however was upgraded during his ownership. “The front and rear banks each have their own muffler, but the tubes are the same length from the header to the muffler on both banks using a few S-bends on the rear bank, then a crossover tube connects the two banks before the muffler to equalize the pressure,” says Diesen. The Ferrari’s quartet of Weber carbs were rebuilt to keep it reliable. “When you get in and fire it up, it takes you back a few years,” he says of the motor.
On the cooling end of the equation, Deisen ordered a larger aluminum radiator from Howe Racing. This being a relatively rare Italian car meant that he had to fabricate lower mounting brackets, which led to removing the stock cooling fans, which were replaced with better performing electric fans. Glen and Adam Neyenhuis were instrumental in handling much of the welding and fabrication that the car underwent in its transformation to dedicated track machine.
Diesen borrowed a page from Ford’s vintage racing playbook when he fabricated a custom fiberglass front trunk lid with GT40 style air intakes. The hood is fastened in place with quick release Dzus fasteners while the air intakes deliver cool air to the radiator. A sleeker Ferrari 288 GTO bumper and turn signals were installed along with a deeper European-spec front spoiler. Diesen fabricated his own custom grill and finished off the front with PIAA driving lights.
At the rear of the car, Deisen replaced the heavy, stock engine lid with a lighter engine lid he fabricated himself from hand-laid fiberglass. The historic racing 308s from Michelotto inspired the engine lid hinges that he fabricated. “Anyone who has changed the spark plug on a 308 knows how hard the plugs are to get to,” he says. “The easiest way to change them is with the engine lid off.” That’s not an easy task on a stock 308. But on Deisen’s car, all that’s needed to remove the deckled is remove the Dzus fasteners with a screwdriver and then pull two pins out of the hinges. A stock 308 wing rounded out the changes to the back of the car.
Deisen wanted the Ferrari to look like something that might have been built from a stock Ferrari back in the ‘70s. To this end, he went with eBay-sourced Koenig side skirts and rear fender flares. He also found a set of rare Koenig door mirrors. For those who aren’t familiar with the company, Koenig is based out of Germany and produced some pretty wildly modified Ferraris in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s. Many of them featured flared bodywork and high-horsepower turbocharged engines.
Father and son team Don and Scotty Barsellotti of Elwood Bodyworks repainted the Ferrari in its original shade of Rosso Corsa. Custom made Compomotive three-piece alloy wheels fill out the rear fender flares and then some. Measuring 17x8-inches up front and 17x12-inches at the back, the wheels wear Yokohama AO-32R tires sized 235/40ZR17 and 315/35ZR17.
Koni racing shocks were installed at all four corners, which required some modifications to the front suspension, including fabricating new upper a-arms and installing spacers on the lower portion of the suspension. The shocks work with 400-lb front and 350-lb rear Eibach springs. A Brembo GT brake kit was installed at the front front, and the rear was upgraded to cross-drilled Brembo discs.
Deisen’s race-inspired aesthetic continues with the interior. It’s not exactly easy to get into, considering that you have to contend with a super-low ride height and deeply-bolstered Sparco seat.
Once I’m in, my hands grasp the feel-good suede of a MOMO flat-bottomed wheel, which open up space for my legs. My feet rest on drilled pedals and behind me is a red harness bar that was fabricated for the car. Originally the 308 had a brown interior but it’s since been treated to new black carpeting and recovered black panels. Once I’ve wrestled the Scroth Profi II-6 harness on and clicked them into the center puck, the good part is finally here.
A twist of the key and a prod of the aluminum gas pedal lights up the 3.0-liter that lives just behind me. The engine turns over happily at idle, a deep burble spilling out of the custom exhaust. When I put my foot on the clutch, I could swear there is a brick lodged between the pedal the floorboard. A hefty push depresses it though and the shifter slots agreeably into the dog-leg first gear. Release the clutch, which is for all intents and purposes an on-off switch, apply a small dose of gas and we’re off to the races. Or at least the nearest windy road.
Thanks to a combination of reduced weight and additional horsepower, Diesen’s 308 boasts feel very strong in a straight line. It’s certainly one of the quicker 308’s I’ve driven that still has normally aspirated, 3.0-liter power. The mid-range has plentiful torque while horsepower continues to build to the upper reaches of the rev-range. The engine revs very quickly too, with sharp throttle response from the Weber carbs. Things get really exciting above 4,000-rpm, when the sharp howl of the exhaust is joined by a throaty induction roar from the quartet of carbs that are delivering air and fuel to the engine. When I lift off the throttle for a corner the exhaust makes a terrific popping and crackling on decel, sounding just like a proper race engine. In fact, I find myself accelerating and then lifting off just to hear the exhaust do its thing.
At slow speeds, the Ferrari’s already heavy steering is even heavier thanks to the wide front tires and smaller diameter steering wheel, so maneuvering it takes some muscle. Get it up to speed though and steering effort lightens up, allowing me to guide it through corners quickly and accurately. Given the oversized rubber, I was expecting diminished feedback, but steering feel is actually pretty good. Around corners the chassis displays very little body roll thanks to the lowered and stiffened suspension. And again, given the size of the rear tires, I was expecting the Ferrari to understeer in tighter corners, but the 308 stays admirably neutral. Even more surprising, the back end seems keen to step out a bit, which makes the car even more engaging to drive.
Overall, it feels light, responsive and surefooted, rotating nicely around tighter corners while staying stable in faster sweepers. When it comes to slowing the Ferrari, the Brembo brakes do a great job, slowing the car with authority. Diesen’s 308 may have been the result of the track day slippery slope, and would no doubt be considered borderline sacriligious by the purist Ferrari crowd. But to us, that’s what makes it so great.