ELECTRIC FERRARI 308 What do you do with a burnt-out Ferrari? Well, you could make this.
‘THE ALLOY V8 ENGINE WAS FULL OF USA FIRE BRIGADE FOAM, AND TOTALLY WRECKED’
Ferrari’s CEO Sergio Marchionne once said a Ferrari without an internal combustion engine would be ‘an obscene concept’. We all enjoy the wail of a flat plane crank V8 but modern Ferraris are expensively horrible, and classic Ferraris are horribly expensive. Eric Hutchinson has built something rather special combining classic looks and modern power, something that Signore Marchionne would find obscene, but really appeals to us at PPC HQ – a Ferrari 308 GTS, powered by electricity, and it performs even better than the original.
Subscribers to Ferrari-Felcher monthly need not panic. No garage queen was chopped up to build this machine. Eric decided, in the pub (naturally), that he wanted a classic car to house a potent new drivetrain idea he’d been tinkering with. At an auction on the west coast of the US he made the winning bid on a fire-damaged 1978 Ferrari 308GTS, a car that had suffered from a fuel leak. The Yankee fire brigade need no invitation to use all their kit and what you or I would have extinguished with a damp tea-towel they did with hydraulic spreaders, crowbars and enough foam to fill an Olympic swimming pool.
The result was a battered and burnt Pininfarina body, destroyed engine and gearbox and a damp interior. And a cheap donor for Eric’s project. Ferrari trim is ridiculously expensive so the interior was stripped and eBayed to recoup some cash. The kippered engine and box were off-loaded, the suspension dropped and put aside. The body was stripped, straightened, filled and repainted in Rosso Chiaro. Eric’s aim was to match, if not better, the original performance of the 308. That’s 151mph flat out and 6.5seconds to 60. This wasn’t going to be an eco-project with piffling performance and bumper stickers supporting the rights of Tibetan penguins.
As an added challenge Eric wanted to retain driver involvement. What’s the point of power if you’re not enjoying yourself in the corners?
Packaging was always going to be tight. For power Eric took three electric motors, type AC51 from Californian company HPEVS. These are only 8in in diameter and weigh 52Kg each, and mounted here in a V, roughly in place of the original engine block, albeit it longitudinally not transverse. These motors give a combined power of 225kw and are mated to a common output shaft. You’ll have to visualise much of this, the pictures were understandably taken in a very confined space. Perhaps the cleverest bit of engineering, electrical control system witchcraft aside, is the gearbox arrangement.
Eric could have taken an easier route with motors repositioned to drive the wheels directly, like many ‘ordinary’ EVs, but in the pursuit of driving seat enjoyment worthy of that prancing horse, butchered a Porsche G50 gearbox (more commonly found in 1980s 911s) to fit. It was mounted upside down and backwards, with a custom-machined access cover fitted and an Aassco custom clutch plate. This means three pedals and five gears, the way we like it.
All this needs some serious batteries to feed it. The advantage of lots of small batteries is that they can be packaged around the engine bay to best use the space available, and help retain a sensible weight distribution. The result is 55% front and 45% rear which compares nicely to the original. 48 batteries are used here, they are 180 amp-hour lithium ion cells with 28.5kwh capacity, running a 158 volt system. Some serious programming was required to synchronise the three mated motors, one of the biggest technical challenges on the entire build.
The charger lives in the car and the socket is located neatly behind the B pillar trim. In current trim the car has a range of about 90 miles and takes around eight hours to charge from flat, from a domestic electricity supply. You’ve seen those deserted EV charging car park spaces in supermarkets – this is the car to park in one to refuel free.
The suspension was rebuilt, re-reworked and eventually largely replaced with custom parts. Not cheap, but this was never going to be a budget build, it had to be right on the road. The kerb weight is, I’m told, just 30Kg up on the original of 1300Kg. Consider that a Tesla weighs over 2 tons and will have you looking like a very successful but very single IT expert. Eric played with the ride height a lot and found that choice of rubber made a big difference to handling characteristics, too. The kerb weight, all that torque from zero and driving it in a fashion which even Marchionne would approve of (Marchionne, in his enthusiasm, crashed his own 599 recently) means that it eats a set of Pirelli P Zeros every 2500 miles.
The cabin had a re-trim sympathetic to the original, but without the brittle Italian bits. A tidy carbonfibre console reflects the modern underpinnings, and new but analogue dials are much easier to read than digital displays. This neatly sums up the whole build; Taking the best of both eras and making something very special. There’s a regen button on the dash, this aids braking and feels like a ‘chute has been deployed, and recharges the batteries. The brakes are pretty impressive already, the original front calipers switched to the back and fitted over aluminium floating discs, the front gets similar but with double 1.75in pistons. On the outside, being picky, I’d prefer the original wheels instead of the ones lifted from a Ferrari 360 and painted black.
Eric is coy about costs, but he’s keen to stuff this electric know-how into other classics too. There’s a Fiat 124 Spider on the go, currently, for example. I am not an EV evangelist (EVangelist?). The Leaf, Tesla and that other one whose name escapes me – I cannot get excited by the bland styling, lack of driver involvement and right-on environmental credentials. They’re just not sexy. What I love about Eric’s work is that it takes the best of everything. The classic silhouette packing instant, violent power puts me in mind of ‘90s BTCC. And it does others, too; Eric is now competing in an EV race series in the US where home-builders compete with classics like his 308 and drive them hard, for fun. He has made EVs sexy, and that is perhaps a greater achievement than the build itself. You might expect that the Ferrari community, like Marchionne, would turn their noses up at an electric Ferrari, yet online and in person (and now, in print), Eric has had nothing but praise.
Did Eric achieve his goal of making his 308 quicker than the original? He did, and with a gear left to spare. It will beat the original’s top speed of 151mph in 4th alone, 5th gives a completely crackers theoretical 200mph top end. 237bhp of the original is bettered, too, those three motors give the equivalent of 415bhp and torque galore from standstill. Handling? Check the picture of it flat through Laguna Seca’s infamous corkscrew. With more batteries (and there’s space) there’s potential for even more from Eric’s electric 308. Let Signore Marchionne spit his Triple Venti No-Foam Latte out in disgust. This isn’t obscene, this is a Ferrari built better than the original.
Eric started with this wreck.
Original engine was sold on eBay.
Fire and fire brigade had made a real mess.
3-litre Ferrari V8 was toasted nicely.
Larger rims are from Ferrari 360.
Reworked interior retains Ferrari feel with upgraded parts to match powerplant.
Charging point behiond B-post.
Eric races the 308 in a series for home built electric cars in the USA.
‘GOING THROUGH LAGUNA SECA’S INFAMOUS CORKSCREW CONFIRMS THE HANDLING’S UP TO THE POWER’
Design sketch of triple motors.
Custom suspension. 48 lithium ion batteries make up the 158 volt system.
Electric races are eerily quiet. Listen… Hear that? No – see. Told you.
He probably doesn’t use the heater much in California.
Current range is 90 miles – around that of the pathetically named Nissan Leaf.
‘ERIC’S NOW BUILDING AN ELECTRIC FIAT 124 SPIDER’
Porsche 911 G50 five-speed transmission.
Bottom electric motor viewed from below.
Three motors are configured in a V.
It had to be red.
Motors and transmission in place.