I’ve been slowly but surely cleaning and organizing my garage, in hopes of restarting my 1:1 projects as the kids get older. In that process, I’ve unearthed some great memories.

I’m of an age whereby the Ferrari 308 was a formative car of my youth, and holds a special place in my heart, but not because of Magnum P.I., as you may have suspected. In fact, I can’t remember ever having actually watched the show. Dukes of Hazzard? Yes. Knight Rider? Yes. Airwolf? Yes. Max Headroom? Yes. Magnum P.I.? No. Weird, huh? No, the reason for my 308 love is a couple named Bob & Donna, from Sacramento, CA.

Bob and his partner Donna (my mom’s close friend from childhood) were good family friends. Though they lived modestly in a small Sacramento home, its garage held the key to my developing automotive enthusiasm. You see, Bob appreciated great cars and fine cigars. His dream car, as I recall, was the Bugatti 57SC Atlantic coupe, and he had models and posters to that effect. I learned about that car from him, and have appreciated it ever since. Appreciate it now.

Ralph Lauren’s 57SC, image from Wikipedia

Of course, those have long been the playthings of the obscenely rich (that’s Ralph Lauren’s car above), so that wasn’t the car in the garage. This was:

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A 1978 Ferrari 308GTS. Heaven to a young, impressionable car lad. This and the following picture (you know what I miss? Polaroids.) were taken in our driveway when I was around 5 or 6, I think. Sometime in the mid-80's. We’d visit them in Sacramento periodically, when I’d get to go admire the car in the garage, but on a couple of occasions that I’ll never forget, they drove the 5 hours south to visit us. I don’t smoke but for the very occasional cigar, but I remember fondly the smell of Bob’s cigars permeating the interior. Something about Italian leather and the scent of fine tobacco works for me to this day. It seems to me that’s how exotic car interiors should smell.

My mom took the pictures. Me in the car, of course. Where else would I be? Bob on the right, Donna center, and dad holding my sister on the left. That’s his 4.9L ‘82 F150 that served us well into the late 90's. I learned to drive in that and my mom’s ‘82 Vanagon, which I still have. But I digress... have you seen the Ferrari? That’s the Ferrari. I’m in that Ferrari. Me, there. My young mind and nascent enthusiasm couldn’t process things like this. 180mph speedometers meant the car would go 180mph, dammit! They wouldn’t lie about that! I remember Bob telling me, as I poked around the car endlessly, that there were only 6" of ground clearance. This was incredible, since my world contained cars with double that, cars that I could crawl under. On one visit, Bob picked me up from my friend Clayton’s birthday party in the car. Do you know what a Ferrari does to small-town boys at a birthday party? Catnip. Cindy Crawford in somebody’s contraband Playboy.

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Now, to my lasting legacy of those visits, the Matchbox 308s. These gems are from a time when Matchboxes still came in boxes, as they’ve finally just started doing again. Bob bought as many of these as he could find, and kept them in the car to hand out to kids like me. To this day, I believe this is a wonderful way to hook kids on cars, and is the reason I’m hoarding Hot Wheels BMW 2002s, for when my own ‘68 is back on the road.

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Bob & Donna also generously sent me every copy of Cavallino, the excellent and very high quality Ferrari magazine, for many years. I still have them all, well preserved in shoeboxes. They were an irreplaceable fountain of Ferrari knowledge as my young mind absorbed everything it could find on the red cars from Maranello, and turning their heavy pages to find stories not told in this internet age remains a great pleasure.

So I love these things. I have a connection with these toys that I feel with no other, because of the people and machine that brought them to me. They’re now playworn, but that’s history I gave them, and they gave me, and I wouldn’t change a thing. For all of modern corporate Ferrari’s Machiavellian posturing, and though I've not so much as sat in one of their cars since, I still love the gifts the company has given us, perhaps because of these toys and the connection they provided. These little 308s are my piece of il Commendatore’s Ferrari, before it became the polished marketing machine it is now.

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Visits from Bob & Donna were special not just for the car, but because they were good people to be around, and though I didn’t realize it at the time, their generosity to a little boy who was hopelessly in love with their car helped shape his life. Ferraris, to me, were race cars. I don’t care if it had license plates. Ferrari=racecar. So I’ve striven to be a good mechanic, to work on race cars, my whole life, and I’ve achieved that goal. It’s one still in progress. So in a way, I feel I owe a debt of gratitude to Bob, Donna, and the little toy Ferraris they gave me.

Bob succumbed to cancer many years ago. The last time I’d seen he and Donna was probably my mid to late teens, the last time I saw the car sometime before that, on jack stands, dusty and under cover in the garage. I was asked how best to sell the car, all the while thinking of things I could sell or do to come up with the funds myself. But in my mid 20's there was no way, as now in my mid-30's there is no way. I kick myself now, as that was probably the only 308 I’ll ever have a shot at, and one that meant something to me. I don’t care if a Honda Odyssey can out-drag it, nor that a Camry has more grip. A Ferrari 308 matters, dammit, stands as an icon of style, speed, and grace from a decade that lacked all three. Perfectly packaged, beautiful to behold. Magical.

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I knew these pictures were somewhere, but when I uncovered them in the garage recently, my poorly pencil-scribbled notes (Ferrari=Ferorea and Frarei... I know, I’m ashamed) still intact, I had to pause as they stoked my memories. So now as I watch real 308s upshift (click-click through the gate) and accelerate ever farther from my reach, I remain thankful for the two I have, and wonder where the real one is now. I hope it’s being used properly, indoctrinating a new generation of gearheads to the lore of the Cavallino Rampante.