Two weeks ago, while perusing Instagram I came across the words “world’s first all-electric Ferrari.” I immediately halted whatever Internet rabbit hole I was bound to head down (it’s not procrastinating if it’s your lunch break). Feelings of giddy intrigue and frustration cropped up, and I was soon ranting at my computer monitor: “Who’d dare? Ferrari would never. Not Maranello. Long live the V12!” Which was quickly followed by the thought: “Wait, think of the torque… Oh man, all that torque — and from zero RPM? Burnouts.” After some quick digging I calmed down and found it: an all-electric 1978 Ferrari 308, the first of its kind. The brainchild of Eric Hutchinson at ElectricGT. But what was an electric motor doing in a Ferrari?
Though Hutchinson’s ‘78 308 GTE (a clever rebadging) may be the first Ferrari to ever fill up entirely on electricity, it’s not the first classic to get a full resto-mod electric-swap. Rock West Racing does an electric-swap kit for Porsche 356 Speedsters and EV West will do electric conversions on anything from old VW Buses and Beetles to ‘51 Chevy pickups, although they’re more known for their all-electric DeLorean. It’s by no coincidence, though, that the muse for the electric 308 is the owner of EV West, Michael Bream, Hutchinson’s neighbor and friend of 20 years.
But the idea to convert a 308 didn’t come overnight in a dream or a “eureka!” moment, Hutchinson says. “Michael has always been badgering me to do a project. And I’ve always wanted a split-windshield VW bus, but those are a dime a dozen in the electric business.” The idea for the electric 308 actually came in August of 2014, when the two were, as Hutchinson says, “sittin’ there having beers at Michael’s house, thinking about a project, and actually we were joking about Magnum P.I. — so then we get on Copart.com and that car just pops up, literally that day.”
That’s exactly what gives people chills of heresy when they first hear about a Ferrari 308 getting an all-electric conversion: the image and name of that iconic car, that mid-mounted Maranello opera house, Selleck’s iconic mustache — all tainted with eco-friendly technology. And, with the classic car market stronger than ever, with Ferraris dominating the list of most expensive cars ever to go to auction, why not do a faithful restoration and bring the car back to its former glory?
Enzo Ferrari is turning in his grave — but only because Hutchinson’s electric Ferrari nearly doubles the original 308’s stats at 400 horsepower and 330 lb-ft. That’s why the 308 made the perfect candidate, according to Hutchinson. “If you’re going to do an electric conversion for the purpose of performance and not for the environment, what’s the perfect car? The 308 is an underpowered, 250 horsepower car, but has a Ferrari racing frame with double wishbone suspension at every corner. The thing was meant to really have some power.” But Hutchinson wasn’t after clean air and a lower fuel bill: “We wouldn’t change a car to electric unless it was a massive upgrade to the performance.” And, thanks to Hutchinson taking off as much weight as possible to curb the heft of the 48 lithium ion batteries and three Ac-51 HPEVS electric motors, the 308 GTE is only 150 pounds heavier than when it left Marinello in ‘78. And because there is no need for a gas tank or exhaust system, the electric motor sits lower than the old V8, giving it a better center of gravity, and thus better handling.
I wanted a car I could drive every day, has great image, and isn’t a Nissan Leaf.
Before you damn him for chopping up a classic for the pursuit of performance, know that Hutchinson is a car guy, through and through. He admits, “We had no intention of ruining a perfectly good car, so that’s why we started with a salvage title.” The Ferrari 308 he won at auction, for $10,000, was the victim of an
Italian sportscar cliché engine fire that burned all the belts off, blew out the back window and left the interior with melt damage — not to mention the fact that the fire department destroyed the hood with crow bars. You can say this Ferrari 308 was, quite literally, reborn from its own ashes.
This electrified Ferrari, on paper, really can’t be argued with. Wherever performance, reliability and annual maintenance costs are concerned, there’s no contest; Hutchinson’s 308 GTE beats the original every time. Sure, the Italian symphony pumping from the mid-mounted 2.9-liter V8 is gone, but the style from the 308 has been wrapped around modern EV technology for daily driving. Hutchinson said that he wanted a car he can “drive every day, has great image, and isn’t a Nissan Leaf” — and so, the GTE claims another victory. With battery weight and power in a constant inverse relationship, and donor classics like Hutchinson’s 308 and his next project, a 1980 Fiat 124 Spider, readily available, there are certainly opportunities for electric conversions to best their original counterparts. As powerful as batteries get, they may never replace 2JZ swaps or stop people from dropping LS crate engines in pretty much anything. But if the industry continues on this path, the future of hot rodding looks a little more green.