How to Buy a Vintage Ferrari

You may only get to do this once, so be sure to do it right.

Mallory Short / The Drive

For the price of a boring new car, why not buy a vintage Ferrari?

Did you know the average transaction price of a brand new car in the US is $33,652? Call it $35,000 with applicable taxes. That’ll get you a nicely-equipped Hyundai Genesis, Chevy Malibu or Nissan Maxima four-door sedan or even a stripper 3-Series BMW. But everybody’s got one of those, and they won’t turn heads or cause a stir when you roll up to the valet.

So think out of the box.  Why not buy a used Ferrari for that same $35 grand?

Now we’re talking.

OK, you can’t get a classic Ferrari V-12 berlinetta for even close to $35K, but there are vintage Ferrari two-seaters and 2+2’s, with V-8’s and V-12’s, that you can snatch up for about as much as you’d pay for a new car that starts depreciating the minute you shake the salesman’s hand.

And it’s a Ferrari, so one of these bargains could even appreciate over time.

We combed the exotic car sites, and with the help of price guides from Hagerty’s and Cavallino magazines, we can help you find a much more exciting ride for your money.

The Ferraris we recommend, for the most part, are 2+2’s, so there’s actually room for a couple of passengers and/or enough luggage for a sexy weekend getaway.

Ferrari’s 1960-to-1963 250GTE 2+2 was the marque’s first real volume passenger model, but you can’t get one of those today for buppkes, because they share nearly the same driveline as a multi-million dollar 250GTO. But in 1973, Ferrari replaced the racy, mid-engine 246GT “Dino” with a sharp little 2+2 that previewed the GTB-to-come’s lusty 3-liter, 4-cam V-8. Then the magicians in Maranello, knowing that some clients wanted a front-engine GT car for everyday driving, introduced the 365GT 2+2.

And it gets even better. There really are affordable Ferrari’s right up to the 1990’s. So follow along while we take a quick trip through the byzantine world of used Ferrari’s, complete with some of the challenges of owning a bargain Italian stallion.

Dino 308 GT4: 1974-1980        

Wikimedia Commons

The Dino 308 GT4 bowed at the 1973 Paris Salon. Replacing the curvaceous Dino 246GT, this angular little coupe was designed by Carrozzeria Bertone, not Pininfarina. The original 246 Dino’s 2.4-liter V-6 had been replaced with a 3-liter, 4-cam V-8 packing four Weber carburetors. It developed 205-bhp at a screaming 7700-rpm. It was really a 2+2 (with tiny rear seats), but that was never part of its official name, nor was there a Ferrari badge anywhere, at first. But by 1976, Ferrari owned up and all 308 GT4’s sported prancing horse badges. The 308 GT4 is fun to drive; its 5-speed shifts crisply and when you nail it, you get all those wonderful Ferrari sounds. Those tiny back seats are best used for luggage, as there’s no rear legroom. 308 GT4’s are still under the radar pricewise. If you can find a USA-legal Euro-spec version, (and quite a few were imported) you’ll get 240-to-255-bhp.

208 GT4: 1975-1980       

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Here’s a tip to get an even cheaper GT4. Ferrari made 840 208 GT4’s with a smaller bore 2-liter, 153-bhp version of the 308’s 3-liter V-8. This tamer, but visually nearly identical 2.0 version came about because Italian tax laws heavily taxed 3-liter cars. Since you couldn’t use the 308’s 155-mph top speed anyway, even on the autostrada let alone on Highway 101, Ferrari S.p.A. offered a milder 208 for the home market, and they are stone bargains – especially because you can bore out the 4-cam V-8 to 3-liter specs and have all the goodies. 208 GT4’s aren’t common, so check the Ferrari Market Letter classifieds for one of these. And don’t tell the Italian IRS!

365GT4 2+2: 1972-1976      

Wikimedia Commons

Think you can’t get a V-12 Ferrari for $35 grand? Think again. The 365 GT4 2+2 shares the sporty 1971-1972 365 GTC/4’s six-carb 4.4-liter V-12 with six side-draft Webers, but a classic C/4 starts at $250K, and you can double that for a great one. So consider the 365 GT4 2+2 instead. Introduced in Paris in 1972, it’s 7.5-inches shorter than the 365 GT 2+2 “Queen Mother,” it replaced, but with a 2-inch longer wheelbase and more contemporary Pininfarina styling. This lovely coupe was the first of a series that includes the later 400GT and 400i, through 1984. With 320-bhp, knock-off alloys and fully independent suspension, they’re fast, elegant Grand Tourers. Borrani wire wheels were still an option. One caveat: they’re much quieter than their sportier brethren, but you can fix that fast with a Borla or Tubi stainless exhaust update.

400GT/400 Automatic/412: 1976-1989

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When Ferrari updated the 365 GT4 to the 400 GT at the Paris Salon in 1976, buyers could opt for a 5-speed or (gasp!) a GM-supplied THM400 4-speed Hydra-Matic.  It was a sign of the times. Well-heeled clienti wanted a Ferrari, but they didn’t want to shift for themselves. Not surprisingly, automatics soon outsold the 5-speed sticks, so be prepared to pay a $5 grand premium if you want a rare manual. Displacement rose to 4.8-liters and output was an impressive 340-bhp. Bolt-on 5-star alloy wheels replaced the original model’s knock-offs. Borrani wires were no longer offered. Sadly, to meet US emission regs, the Bosch K-Jetronic, fuel injected 400i dropped to 306-311-bhp, then 315-bhp by the end of 1982. The 412’s became lusty 5-liter cars with 340-bhp once again. They are even nicer-looking, thanks to body-colored bumpers, and a higher rear deck with a discrete spoiler. Forget the Ferrari dealer’s expensive service department: your local AAMCO can probably fix that GM-sourced tranny.

208 GTB/GTS: 1980-1982

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It’s nearly impossible to find an affordable 308 GTB, let alone a 308 GTS on our $35K budget, unless you encounter a rusty rat or a wreck. But the Italian market, Euro-spec 208 GTB, if you can find one that was legally imported, is worth considering. Like the 208 GT4’s, 208’s are rare in GTB/GTS guise. Ferrari built only 160 GTB’s and 140 GTS’s from 1980-to-1982, but a few came over, so hunt around. Like the 208GT4 2+2’s their 121-cid V-8’s developed just 153-bhp, so they look fast, but alas, they’re not!

208 Turbo (GTB and GTS): 1982-1985

Flickr

But here’s the solution: When the tax-relief special normally-aspirated 208’s for Italy were deemed too slow, Ferrari offered a turbocharged version of the coupe and the spider, from 1982 (GTB) and 1983 (GTS) until 1985. The turbo’s output is 217-bhp @ 7000 rpm; that’s a healthy 64-bhp more than the 2-liter, normally-aspirated model.

Again, these are thin on the ground over here, but you may be able to find one.

Mondial 8, QV, 3.2, t:  1980-1993

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Ferrari built 3,571 Mondial 8’s in several variations, because there were clients who wanted a more spacious, marginally less sporty 2+2 coupe or convertible with a Ferrari prancing horse badge. The wheelbase was 4-inches longer than the 308 GT4’s, so there’s really room for two passengers. Among enthusiasts, the Mondial is kind of the Rodney Dangerfield of Ferrari’s, but most civilians haven’t a clue. They simply see a handsome red coupe or convertible with a Ferrari badge and they’re impressed. Just remember, it costs just as much to repair the transversely-mounted, 4-cam V-8 in a Mondial 8 as it does in a 328 Berlinetta. Mondial 8’s, built from ’81-to-’82, and the QV (Quatrovalvole) coupes and true convertibles, offered from ’83-to-’85 , are well within our budget. Mondial 3.2’s (with 260-bhp) and later Mondial t’s in average shape make the $35K cut, but the better examples can go for as much as $10-to-$15K more. You have to do your due diligence, and be sure to inspect all existing service records. A belt replacement on one of these puppies will seriously blow the budget.

Tips on buying and servicing a used Ferrari:

OK, so you’re ready to find the affordable Ferrari of your dreams. Ferrari’s aren’t generally listed in local newspaper classifieds or “pennysavers,” but you will find lots of Ferrari ads in Hemmings Motor News, the Ferrari Market Letter, and the top British car mags like Octane, Classic & Sportscar and Classic Cars, and at the broad appeal auctions like Auctions America, Mecum, and Russo & Steele.

No matter how tempting the price, (unless you’re a skilled mechanic, with a stash of metric tools), if the owner/dealer doesn’t have the car’s service history, (or at least the last few years worth), simply move on. Assuming the service records check out, be sure to see what next major service is needed and make that price part of your negotiations. Ferrari’s were subject to rust, so a careful inspection of all the body panels, the chassis, etc., is mandatory. Inspect for any evidence of accident repairs. Ensure everything works, right down to the windshield wipers and back-up lights. Check the exhaust system for leaks. Nothing on a Ferrari, no matter how trivial, is cheap to do.   

Here’s the dirty little secret: Ferrari was very cavalier about service. They figured if owners could afford the car, they could afford to have it maintained. On many models, you have to remove the engine for belt and timing chain service. Spare parts aren’t cheap. Neither are tires. Michelin TRX’s on later cars may not be made much longer. Many Ferrari’s were carefully garaged and maintained, but some of the less expensive examples may have been abused or suffered flood or accident damage. If there’s a CarFax report available, by all means get it. All the customary used car buying rules apply here. Drive the car for at least 20 minutes. Watch the water temperature, Check for unusual noises or vibrations. Try not to fall in love until you’re sure it’s a worthy example. If you’re importing a car, be sure you know the requisite DOT/EPA rules (there are too many to detail here).

So why are we encouraging you?

Ferrari’s are fun, exciting, exhilarating. Chicks dig ‘em, at least until they’re trying to decide if you’re a responsible person. Owning a Ferrari taps into 70 years of wonderful prancing horse history, on the track and on the road. Unless your Ferrari’s in the shop, you’ll smile every time you see it. So go for it—but be careful and purchase wisely. Life is not a dress rehearsal. We don’t get to do this twice.  

Buona fortuna!

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Bargain Ferrari’s by the numbers….

Years made   Model name  Number Produced    Price Range

1972-1976        365 GT4 2+2               521                       $30K-$90K

1974-1980        308 GT4 2+2               2826                    $30K-$35K

1975-1980        208 GT4 2+2               840                      $30K-$33K

1976-1979        400 GT Automatic       502                      $30K-$60K

1979-1984        400i Automatic            1308                    $35K-$60K

1980-1982        Mondial 8                     703                      $25K-$30K

1980-1982        208 GTB                       160                      $25K-$30K

1980-1982        208 GTS                       140                      $30K-$35K

1982-1985        208 (GTB) Turbo          437                     $23K-$35K

1983-1985        208 (GTS) Turbo          250                     $25K-$35K

1982-1985        Mondial Coupe QV        1145                   $25K-$40K

1983-1985        Mondial Cabriolet QV    629                    $27K-$45K

1985-1989        Mondial 3.2 Coupe        987                    $30K-$40K

1985-1989        Mondial 3.2 Cabriolet    810                    $35K-$42K

1985-1989        412                                  576                   $45K-$90K

1989-1993        Modial t Coupe               858                   $35K-$55K

1989-1993        Modial t Cabriolet           1017                  $38K-$55K

(Source: Cavallino Magazine, October 2016 [Keith Bluemel/Cavallino])