Dated Delicacy - Ferrari 308 GT/M Group B Prototype
In 1982, the Federation International de l’Automobile introduced a brand new classification system covering all sanctioned fields of motorsport. The governing body had previously employed based on numbers, but over the years the meaning of these Groups 1-7 had become vague and inconsistent. Additionally, the 1970’s had seen an escalation of sorts with the arrival of ferociously powerful turbocharged engines and extreme silhouette cars.
These developments contrasted badly with the new emphasis on fuel efficiency in the wake of the oil crises, and caused the cars to lose their marketing potential after turning into unrecognizable monsters. The FIA’s answer to the societal changes was the ABC class system. In prototype racing, fuel limits were introduced with the arrival of the new Group C category. In touring car racing and rallying homologation received a larger role as Group A established itself.
The exception to the rule was Group B. This new formula replaced both the extreme Group 6 super silhouettes in GT-racing, and the top flight Group 4 category in rallying. Curiously, the GT side of the regulations moved to make the cars more similar to their road going counterparts to increase marketing appeal, while the rallying side did the exact opposite.
Group 4’s homologation requirement had always been 400 examples for any given car to be eligible for competition.But with the advent of specialized machines like the Lancia Stratos, Renault 5 Turbo and the Audi quattro, that number suddenly looked rather steep. Many manufacturers had expressed interest in entering the World Rally Championship, but their road cars were all gradually switching to an uncompetitive front wheel drive layout. As these companies were unwilling to build 400 exotic rally cars for the public, the FIA agreed to lower the number to just 200.
Back in Maranello, famous Italian sportscar manufacturer Ferrari had been surveying the switch to Group B with a great deal of curiosity. At the height of the Group 4 craze in the late 1970’s, the firm had already received numerous requests for a rally version of the 308 GTB. At the time Enzo had directed these customers to Michelotto, a Ferrari dealer and race engineering firm.
The resulting car was never used as a factory entry by Ferrari, but Il Commendatore kept a close watch on it nonetheless. He witnessed the 308 Group 4 excel on tarmac rallies and the Italian Rally Championship, which convinced him to make Michelotto an official partner in the development of a purpose-built Group B Ferrari for 1982.
With the much looser Group B rules in place, Michelotto was basically given carte blanche on the car. The new machine no longer had to resemble a road going Ferrari, which allowed for extensive modifications. First on the list was the position of the engine. In the standard 308 GTB, the 3.0L Tipo F105 quattrovalvole V8 was mounted transversely beside the gearbox. This made the car very compact and well balanced, but significantly impeded accessibility to vital parts.
To make it easier for mechanics to perform the lightning-fast services necessary between rally stages, Michelotto opted to mount the engine longitudinally with the gearbox bolted to the back. An entirely new steel tubular frame was built to accommodate for the radical changes. The engine itself was completely overhauled with lightened and strengthened internals, a less restrictive equal length exhaust setup and a customized Bosch/Kugelfischer injection system. The end result was a strong 370 horsepower at an ear-splitting 8500 rpm, which was directed to the rear-wheels by a Hewland 5-speed manual transmission.
Even though the Group 4 Audi quattro had already shown the rallying world that four wheel drive represented the future, Michelotto and Ferrari stuck to their guns and relied on tried and true concepts. Apart from the longitudinal engine, the 308 followed the same recipe as the older Lancia Stratos.
Michelotto’s aim was to create a short, light and incredibly nimble vehicle which would be perfectly at home on tight, twisty stages. To ensure stability under all conditions, the car’s suspension consisted of double wishbones and coil springs on all four corners. Ferrari had given Michelotto free reign to raid their parts bin, which resulted in a mixed bag of 308 and even Mondial components used on the rally machine.
Outwardly, the presence of this design philosophy was undeniable. The car had very short front and rear overhangs, which improved weight distribution and enabled the car to change direction instantly. Visually the new rally weapon bore a striking similarity to the Pininfarina-designed 512BB/LM. In essence it was a shrunken down version of the older GT racer, utilizing largely the same aerodynamic principles.
Thanks to the use of exclusively carbon fiber composite body panels, the finished machine weighed only 840 kg (1,852 lbs). Because Group B was divided into sub-classes based on displacement, the 3L Ferrari would have to take 120 kg worth of ballast to bring it up to racing weight. This compared favorably to equally powerful but much heavier Audi quattro A1 (1100 kg / 2425 lbs), which also competed in the 3L class due to a x1.4 multiplication factor for turbocharged engines.
The finished car was named 308 GT/M in honor of Michelotto. Unfortunately, progress on the car had been painfully slow due to the chaotic nature of the collaboration between Ferrari and Michelotto engineers. This resulted in the first car not reaching completion until early in 1984.
The 308 was then sent back to Maranello for a rigorous testing program at Ferrari’s Fiorano test track. During this time the car was continuously modified to find the ideal setup. Different mechanical parts and aerodynamic setups were tried, including various wheel base lengths. Performance was impressive, with a 0-100 kph time of under four seconds and a top speed of 270 kph (167 mph).
Although the car proved to be blindingly quick in the tests, Ferrari started to doubt its potential to fight the increasing madness of Group B. Since the company had started work on the 308 GT/M, their competitors had become faster and more extreme every year.
Ferrari had seen the similar Lancia Rally 037 get beaten by the mighty four wheel drive Audi quattro, and realized his own prototype didn’t stand a chance on loose surfaces. Competing for wins only on tarmac rallies simply wasn’t an option for the proud Italian, so he ordered the cancellation of the troubled project.
Even though the rally program had been carried out in complete secrecy, the existence of the 308 GT/M eventually reached the outside world. Not long after, Ferrari received an offer for the prototype from one of his most loyal customers, Belgian racing driver Jean Blaton.
Blaton had been racing Ferrari’s since 1957 and was a on good terms with Enzo. Using this good relation to his advantage, he was able to talk Enzo into selling him the car for an undisclosed amount. Blaton then took the car back to Belgium, and sporadically campaigned it in local rally events.
After Blaton’s successful purchase, Italian rally driver Raffeale “Lele” Pinto gave Ferrari a call asking for a GT/M. Pinto had been a factory driver for Fiat and Lancia in the 1970’s, becoming European Rally Champion in 1973 before the existence of the WRC-drivers title. Ferrari agreed to build him a car, which he used only once at the 1984 Rally de Monza.
As expected the 308 was seriously quick, but Lele crashed out while running in a competitive position. With damaged rear suspension, the car was returned to Michelotto where it was repaired and subsequently registered for road use. It was purchased by an unnamed Italian gentleman, who regularly took it for a drive on the streets of Verona.
A third and final car was built using an spare chassis for Dutch Ferrari collector Nico Koel. The car was completed in 1986, but never set showed up at the start of a rally stage. Instead, Koel enjoyed racing it at select national and international Ferrari track days. The Dutchman’s car is still in impeccable condition and remains a welcome guest at Ferrari meetings.
Although Ferrari abandoned Group B rally racing, he wasn’t keen on letting the 308 GT/M going completely to waste. In a parallel move to his rivals at Porsche, he instead diverted his resources to the GT-racing arm of the category.
To this end he continued the relationship with Michelotto, and ordered the construction of a Group B road racer. The lessons learned from the 308 GT/M proved invaluable to the new project, which eventually lead to the legendary 288 GTO.
The Ferrari 308 GT/M was the famous Italian company’s idea of the ultimate rally machine. Ferrari hoped to take maximum advantage of the new found technical freedom presented by Group B. The impossibly light, nimble and powerful mid-engine supercar was supposed to blitz the cumbersome four wheel drive opposition on the world’s rally stages with sheer speed.
Unfortunately the collaboration between Ferrari and specialists Michelotto proved to be quintessential Italian and hopelessly chaotic, causing the car to be delayed by two full years. In the intervening years, Ferrari’s competitors hadn’t been sitting on their hands, and the evolved quattro quickly showed how outdated the scarlet rocket really was.
To his shock and horror, Enzo witnessed Lancia’s similar machine slowly but steadily losing out to the storming German. This finally convinced him his gorgeous 308 GT/M had sadly been obsolete right from the start. Ferrari would never try its hand at designing a rally car ever again.