Ferrari and dirt. Not your everyday combination. But Ferrari actually participated in rally championships in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Let’s find out why Ferrari swapped tarmac for dirt.
Back to their roots
The story begins just after the disastrous 1973 Formula 1 season. Scuderia Ferrari didn’t score any podium places and withdrew from two Grand Prix (Dutch GP and German GP). Both drivers, Jacky Ickx and Arturo Merzario, left the team by the end of the season.
Enzo Ferrari was furious and decided to pull out of all other racing series to reorganize the whole team for the 1974 season. Brining on Niki Lauda turned out to be a great step: he finished fourth in the championship and won the 1975 and 1977 season.
Once Ferrari was back on track, they eventually showed interest in other racing divisions. One of them, surprisingly, was rallying…
Michelotto, a Ferrari dealership founded in 1969, often turned road cars in race cars for privateers. Ferrari had always approved of those projects. Once the 308 GTB was introduced in 1975 and Michelotto got their hands on one, they felt the chassis would be suitable for rallying. The following year, they shared plans to create rally cars with Enzo and his team, who were highly interested and in turn supplied the cars needed for each build.
Most of those upgrades were fairly noticeable – higher suspension, stripped-down cabin, rally lights and off-road tires. Michelotto turned eleven 308 GTBs into rally spec cars, with an additional car built in the U.K. for a privateer and another four cars for Group B.
The successes on dirt
The Ferrari 308 GTB Group 4, first entered in 1978, immediately showed its competitive character. Within a year, Raffaele Pinto and co-driver Claudio Penariol took their first victory. Frenchman Jean-Claude Andruet won the Tour de France Automobile Race twice, 1981 and 1982. During the first race, he drove a blue 308 ran by Parisian Ferrari dealer Charles Pozzi and his second victory was achieved in a red/blue 308 with co-driver Chantal Bouchetal.
They most impressive year for Ferrari’s rally venture may well have been 1982. Andruet was behind the wheel of a modified 308 when he took second place during the Tour de Corse, an official World Rally Championship (WRC) stage. The cars remained very competitive throughout 1983, too. and Michelotto began making plans to create an even more radical rally version of the 308 to compete in the gruelling Group B competition. This evolved into the Ferrari 308 GT/M.
Taking it to the next level
For those who aren’t familiar with Group B, it was a rally competition involving only the most ridiculous rally cars. They were the fastest, most powerful and most dangerous cars you would ever find on a rally stage. BMW entered with their M1, Audi with the legendary Quattro S1 and Ford with their Escort RS200, to name a few.
Ferrari and Michelotto wanted to give it a shot with their 308 GT/M. They took inspiration from the extreme Ferrari 512 BB/LM to create the 308 GT/M. As a result of Group B’s looser regulations of, they basically had carte blanche in terms of modifications. The car didn’t have to resemble a road going car at all, hence all radical changes. To make it easier for mechanics to reach the engine block, the engine was mounted longitudinally with the gearbox bolted on the back. The V8 was then upgraded to push out around 370 bhp at 8500 rpm.
The car weighed in at only 840 kg (1852 lb). The Group B divided sub-classes based on engine displacement, so the 3.0-L Ferrari needed 120 kg (265 lb) of ballast to make it eligible. Sadly though, the project took much longer than expected and it wasn’t finished until 1986, and by then the competition was way ahead of the Italians.
With a top speed of 270 km/h (168 mph) the 308 GT/M was a very quick car, but it simply could not compete with the four-wheel drive cars with turbocharged engines. The car was sold to Jean Blaton, one of Ferrari’s most loyal customers. Blaton only used the car during small events.
The 288 GTO Evoluzione
However, this wasn’t the end of Ferrari’s rally aspirations. Many of the techniques they learned about were used in later cars, such as the 288 GTO. Simply put, the 288 GTO was a more extreme version of the 308. Ferrari planned to make 200 units to make it eligible for racing homologation. Once the required 200 units were produced, the GTO Evoluzione emerged. Just six were built. Sadly, the FIA cancelled the Group B series after the death of Henri Toivonen and his co-driver Sergio Cresto during the 1986 Tour de Corse, France. The 288 GTO Evoluzione never went racing.
Although Ferrari never dominated the rally world, they learned valuable lessons. They used the 288 GTO Evoluzione as basis for the legendary F40 and produced a four-wheel drive concept in 1987.