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lou's garage

Columnist Lou Trottier is in the process of restoring a 1978 Ferrari 308 GTS.Lou Trottier/The Globe and Mail

They say it is all in the details. I’m not sure who “they” are, but a truer statement could not have been made when referring to restoring a classic Italian sports car. Case in point is the restoration of my 1978 Ferrari 308 GTS, which has provided a not-so-subtle lesson in patience. While I have experience repairing vintage cars, nothing could have prepared me for the incredibly finicky journey this car has taken me on. It’s as if Enzo Ferrari examined all the vehicles surrounding him, deciphered their engineering techniques and then executed the exact opposite. I also suspect it was this nature that earned him worldwide acclaim.

For years, the lowly 308 was labelled as the throwaway Ferrari because of the abundance of available cars, parts and ease of service. But now numbers have dwindled, original parts are rare and values have skyrocketed. Classic car insurer Hagerty currently places the value of a same year model Ferrari in excellent condition at $130,000. In 2014 it was valued at $35,000. But values on paper are just that, paper, these cars take a long time to sell for that kind of money. I acquired mine just moments before the market exploded. However, I only got so lucky. The previous owner was a fellow automotive technician who purchased the car sight unseen from an auction south of the border in the mid 2000s. It was only when he arrived with a truck and trailer that he realize what he had bought. The car ran, but was missing its complete interior. He spent the next decade sourcing missing parts without ever actually working on the car. When I took over, I received the car as he had mechanically found it, but now with boxes and boxes of additional parts. The problem is that while he purchased the major missing pieces like a dashboard, consoles and seats he did not get around to finding the smaller pieces. Whoever coined the motto there is no such thing as a cheap Ferrari nailed that one too. Smaller pieces like electrical switches, levers and other trim parts are now costing a small fortune.

I receive regular reader requests for updates on my Ferrari restoration project. For those of you interested in seeing the actual car up close you can search my name plus Project 308 on the internet and watch more than 40 videos detailing its restoration.

For those who only want the highlights. The car is coming along slowly. As inferred to above, I have been stuck on the interior for quite some time. So many smaller insignificant parts are missing, and this has led to hours spent scouring the internet, when I wish I was working on the car.

One of the biggest recent hurdles was the interior carpet. I found a replica carpet from a company in Denmark, but the translated instructions, not having the original carpet to compare and the fact I have never installed a full carpet before made this a significant challenge.

The two doors are remounted, the full suspension and braking systems are also rebuilt, the engine is assembled and is sitting off to the side waiting to be reinstalled. Installation of the engine and drivetrain will be the last thing I do because if I reinstall them now, I know I will be tempted to take the car for a spin. Which of course means I will never get around to finishing all the fine details. I’m confident however that 2023 will be its debut year.

During Lou's restoration process, the carpet in the front seats has proven to be a challenge.Lou Trottier/The Globe and Mail

Your automotive questions answered


I recently purchased a 2021 Chevrolet Suburban with the 6.2-litre V8. I am confused as to what the best fuel to use would be. Really there are two questions:

  1. What octane rating should I use? 87,91, 93, 94? The manual says to use 93 octane. The fuel door says 91+ octane. What number matters?
  2. What is more important, octane or ethanol content? For example, should I use a 91-octane fuel that does not contain ethanol over a 93 fuel that does?

Only a few Toronto area gas stations supply 93 or 94 octane. Shell in the region only goes up to 91. 93 is harder to find outside Toronto.

From what I have researched, both Shell 91 and Esso 91 do not contain any ethanol. Esso has 93, and Petro Canada has 94 that do contain ethanol. All of Petro Canada’s fuel grades contain ethanol. I have also learned that the producers use ethanol content to boost the octane number, which perhaps is why 91 can be pure gasoline, but ethanol is needed to get that number higher.

Is ethanol really that bad for the engine? Are they not designed for it?

Will I get better fuel economy on a 91 without ethanol, as gasoline contains more energy than ethanol?

We also pull a trailer in the summer. I have been thinking perhaps a good strategy would be to use 93 or 94 in the winter when ethanol would act as fuel antifreeze, and 91 in the summer when I need the energy boost to pull the trailer. What are your thoughts?

Thank you!

John G.

From what I understand the General Motors 6.2-litre engine has a higher compression ratio than the smaller 5.3-litre power plant therefore requiring the use of premium fuel in the 6.2 only. As the manual suggests, 93 is preferred but as you have discovered, different vendors have differing premium ratings, which can cause confusion. In your case, the gas door listing at 91 is there as a minimum rating required. 91 is going to be fine for day-to-day life. Fuel consumption differences between 91 or 93 are rated at 0.5 per cent, which I think is optimistic.

Opinions vary widely on the subject of ethanol and there are several issues with ethanol use, but I generally only give it a second thought for vehicles that sit unused for extended periods. Ethanol is hygroscopic, meaning it absorbs moisture, and of course moisture in fuel is unwanted. Owners of vehicles that sit for extended periods should try to avoid ethanol-based fuels. Otherwise avoiding ethanol fuel completely is a notable task considering that close to 90 per cent of North American fuels contain ethanol.

Fuel lines that freeze is rare today so I wouldn’t be concerned with that during the winter. I assume you paid the surcharge for the 6.2-litre engine for its extra towing power so I would suggest you use a higher-octane fuel when you are about to tow a heavy trailer.

When I fill up the tank at a gas station, and I want to buy a premium or midgrade blend of gasoline, I need to pump gas from the same hose regardless of which blend I select. Because the vast majority of car owners buy the cheapest blend, I am probably getting a hose-full of cheap gas and paying the premium price for it. When I finish pumping, I’m leaving a hose-full of expensive gas for the next guy. Not only that, but I’m putting extra ethanol in my car which I don’t want. It bugs me that the gasoline companies do this. It is probably not that important, but it is annoying and irritating anyway. How significant is this? Is it a big deal?

Richard P. – Vancouver

The fuel hose retains approximately one litre. If the average sub compact vehicle holds around 50 litres, then the ratio of regular to premium is 1:50. Yes, I imagine it can be annoying and everything else you have stated is correct. However, unless you are riding a motorcycle with a small tank it is not significant.

I’ve never given this much thought before, but I imagine If you prepay and let the pump shut off when it hits the specified amount, you can keep the nozzle open allowing it to hopefully drain the contents of the hose also into your vehicle.

Lou Trottier is owner-operator of All About Imports in Mississauga. Have a question about maintenance and repair? E-mail, placing “Lou’s Garage” in the subject line.

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