‘It’s a real driver’s car but you can push hard and keep your licence’
Graham Brooks currently drives a TVR Chimaera, with a ‘stump puller of an engine conversion’, but he asked us if he could drive a Ferrari 308 GTS QV. Will it prove a bit too delicate for him?
Words: Ross Alkureishi Photography: George F Williams
Meet that lucky reader
Graham Brooks loves variety, as proved by his motoring CV: an early Mini, two Alfasuds, a pair of VW Golf GTi MkIIs, a Triumph Stag and a TR6. Prior to his London-based job, he commuted daily to Gatwick in a TVR Chimaera 400 before upgrading to his current 530.
Standing outside Simon Furlonger Specialist Cars in Ashford, Graham is rubbing his hands together like a naughty boy in a sweet shop. We’re about to put him in one of his top ten dream cars. ‘I’ve never sat in a Ferrari, can you believe that?’ he says. Beside him is his son, Michael – at 17 he’s roughly the same age his father was when Ferrari released the 308 GTS.
As all manner of exotics are manoeuvred around the yard, father and son involve themselves in a game of I-spy, while V-configuration engines of all sizes rumble around us – a 430 Scuderia, C63 Black Series, Countach 5000QV, Khamsin and Jaguar XJ220.
I’m not sure Graham can take the mounting excitement much more, so thankfully the next car to emerge into the heady morning air is his Ferrari. It’s a 1983 Quattrovalvole – the variant that, thanks to four-valve heads, restored the 308’s power output after the dip caused by the introduction of fuel injection. It’s the colour of the Ferraris in all young boys’ dreams, Rosso Red with a lovely contrasting tan leather interior and (purely cosmetic) roof spoiler.
‘Stunning,’ says Michael. ‘It is,’ agrees Graham, as sales director Matt Honeysett hands over the keys with the word ‘Enjoy’. Surrounded by a host of modern supercars and a smattering of larger classics, the QV looks diminutive, but Leonardo Fioravanti’s sensual lines still have the power to seduce. ‘It was the car to have when I was growing up,’ says Graham, as he walks around savouring every angle. ‘I couldn’t afford one when new, but did look to buy one about two years ago, although the specialist didn’t take me seriously turning up in a TVR.’
‘I love the targa effect and it’s much better built than I expected. But I’d have to see what I could do to make that exhaust noisier’
Ah, the Chimaera – all 330bhp and 365lb ft of it. Graham admits he’s more than a bit spoiled for power, so what’s he looking forward to? ‘Well, the gearchange – the slotty bit, as I call it – the handling and rev-ability of the engine. I’m hoping it’s a bit less primitive than my car.’ He pops the door and slides down into the cabin. ‘I love it, love the switches,’ he says of an interior that’s widely acknowledged to be classier than that of the parts-bin-heavy 328 that superseded it. ‘Seating position is good. Outside it looks really low, but that’s an illusion; it’s a bit like an MGB in terms of where the screen sits.’
Firing up the V8 and blipping the throttle dispels any further comparisons with Abingdon’s output. Graham looks moderately apprehensive and admits as much, saying it’s down to knowing that it’s such an expensive car; but a few miles down the road he seems to be settling into the drive. I ask him about the pedal offset. ‘It’s there,’ he replies. ‘And there’s a lot of transmission noise; I’m not accustomed to having it behind me. The dogleg gearbox takes a bit of concentration; talking and shifting isn’t really possible yet.’ So I fall silent, giving him the chance to get acquainted with the controls.
As we snake up through Ashford my driver’s brow is no longer furrowed and the gearlever is slotting home with ease. ‘I’m getting used to it and the cabin; I don’t feel so high any more. The steering is quite low-geared, but it’s not a surprise and it’s what I’m used to.’ We head out on to the M20, south toward the coast. By now the engine is fully warmed up, but Graham’s still pootling along almost reverentially. ‘You can give it some if you want,’ I offer. He hits the throttle and the QV’s exhaust note hardens, quad tailpipes singing.
A smile spreads across his face, and he starts seriously toying with the levels of thrust available. Performance was strong, if not truly scintillating for the time, because Ferrari ensured considerable distance remained between its junior and senior varieties – the 512BB had another 120bhp. ‘It does shift and the steering doesn’t lighten up too much at speed. I like that characteristic,’ says Graham. ‘It’s refined, such a good car for cruising, too, but I wouldn’t like to reverse it in Bromley multi-storey car park.’
Close to Folkestone we turn off for some B-road action. As he attacks each corner, it’s clear his confidence is building and he’s started working those cogs hard; although there’s a wide power band he drops down a gear to keep those revs high; I don’t blame him, as that’s where the fuel-injected engine comes alive aurally. ‘That gearchange is definitely slotty, perhaps even more clicky than
I was expecting, but it’s a real part of its character,’ he offers.
The level of grip is also to his liking; he’s fast into corners and quick on the throttle as he powers through. Only the brakes come as a slight disappointment. ‘There’s a fair bit of travel; I prefer a high pedal, so they’re not too confidence-inspiring.’
‘That gearchange is definitely slotty, perhaps even more clicky than I was expecting, but it’s a real part of its character’
After a good run on motorways, in town and now in the countryside, what’s the verdict? ‘To be honest, it’s everything you think a top-priced sports car will be. But if I had one, I’d have to see what I could do to make that exhaust noisier.’
So far, son Michael has been following in the photographer’s car. ‘Do you know I’ve assumed the Italian approach to driving,’ he says, laughing. ‘I forgot he was there. Is it in The Gumball Rally, where they get in the Italian car and throw away the rear-view mirror?’ I can’t blame him; the QV driving experience consumes your full attention.
After a couple of roars up and down the road in the passenger seat, Michael’s smile matches that of his father’s. Parked up on the Folkestone seafront, we pop the engine cover and Graham elicits a gasp of surprise. ‘It’s transverse-mounted? I assumed it was longitudinal. Remarkable that it’s sideways for such a large powerplant. I thought that was just for Minis and suchlike.’
Not so – its Dino predecessor being the game-changer. The V12 Lamborghini Miura had already demonstrated that innovative engine packaging wasn’t purely the reserve of small family cars. The shock was that Ferrari followed suit, given Enzo’s seemingly rigid attachment to convention.
It’s time for a swap and I pop into the driver’s seat. Even though the cabin’s quite tight, there’s more than adequate room for both of us 6ft-plus gentlemen and there’s no intrusive wind buffeting as we blast along the south coast. Visibility for a mid-engined sports car isn’t too shabby; I might just challenge Graham to that multi-storey park-off, although the limited 3.3-turn lock is a recipe for multiple-point manoeuvres. On the positive side, the steering is so full of feel on the road. Get past the initial low-speed restlessness of the suspension and there’s a high level of communication to the fingertips. In sweeping corners, it allows you to judge how quickly you can tuck in that delicately tapered nose to devour apexes.
Everything feels nicely weighted, particularly the ‘slotty’ bit, as Graham calls it. Today’s Ferraris, with their flippy-flappy gearshifts, have lost this essential element of the prancing horse soul; it doesn’t allow for lighting quick changes, but by god that chrome-gated action is satisfying.
We’re coming to the end of our drive, so what does Graham think? ‘It’s so much more solid and well-built than I expected,’ he says. Is it too slow, though? ‘No, you can push hard but still keep your licence.’ Unlike a certain TVR? He smiles. ‘And that targa effect, I just love it.’ Purists prefer the aesthetic balance of a Berlinetta’s lines, but on a day like today why would you want anything else?
But does it live up to the dream? ‘Oh yes, it’s a real driver’s car.’
SPECIFICATIONS 1983 Ferrari 308 GTS QV
Engine 2926cc all alloy dohc-per-bank mid-mounted, transverse V8 with Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection Power and torque 240bhp @ 6600rpm; 192lb ft @ 5000rpm Transmission Five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive Brakes Ventilated discs with servo Suspension Independent, double wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers and anti-roll bar, front and rear Steering Rack and pinion Weight 3220lb (1460kg) Performance Top speed: 154.5mph; 0-60mph: 6.1sec; Fuel consumption 20mpg Cost new £26,181 Values £17,500 (rough) to £50,000 (concours)
Thanks to: Furlonger Specialist Cars