Between 1978 and 1985, Michelotto built just 15 Ferrari 308 GTB rally cars in both Group IV and Group B guises, symbolising the beginning of the Padova-based outfit’s enduring alliance with the Prancing Horse. Using two fantastic examples we’ve had the privilege of rehoming, we’re going to show you exactly what distinguishes these rally thoroughbreds and why they’re so sought-after today…
Pastel suits, cheese-grater side strakes and Tom Selleck’s tash. They’re what spring to our minds when we think about Ferrari in the 1980s, which is why seeing a pretty Pininfarina-designed 308 GTB attacking a rugged and stiflingly dusty rally stage is initially such a jarring sight.
To be clear, the 308 GTB was not designed to go racing. But following the long-awaited mid-engined model’s introduction in 1975, it wasn’t long before the ingegneri in Maranello realised the 308’s credentials formed a solid foundation for a competition version.With Enzo’s blessing, a plan was hatched and work on a prototype began. A production-spec 308 GTB stamped with the chassis number 22711 was elected as the guinea pig. The development and build process took place at Ferrari’s Assistenza Clienti department, because the factory’s primary racing skunkworks, the Reparto Corse, was simply too busy with the marque’s Formula 1 efforts.
Considering this car’s relatively unknown status among Ferraristi, the amount of effort invested in developing it is surprising. Dubbed the 308 GTB4 Versione Sport, chassis 22711 was tested extensively at Fiorano, including in the hands of one Niki Lauda. Ferrari even had the 308 GTB homologated for competition in the Group IV category. Alas, for reasons unknown, Il Commendatore pulled the plug on the project.
Enter Giuliano Michelotto. The young engineer from Padova had blazed a trail building rally-specification Lancia Stratos’ which were winning everything, both domestically and internationally. Not one to rest on his laurels, Michelotto sought a new car to take into battle on the off-road stage – one which would better keep up with the increasing speeds and rapid technological evolutions of the time. More importantly, one which would cement his reputation as a master engineer.
“Giuliano Michelotto, the young engineer from Padova, had blazed a trail building rally-specification Lancia Stratos’ which were winning everything.”
Michelotto trained his sights on Ferrari, more specifically the new 308 GTB, which boasted exactly the kind of credentials he was looking for: namely a longer wheelbase than that of the Stratos, a more powerful engine mounted further towards the centre of the car and, perhaps most importantly, sex appeal.A meeting with Il Commendatore during which Michelotto pitched his vision proved successful – no doubt because Ferrari could be thrust into a new motorsport arena without dwindling its primary resources, which were of course dedicated to Formula 1.
Working under the supervision of Ferrari’s Assistenza Clienti arm, Michelotto built the first Group IV rally-specification 308 GTB from a production donor car stamped with the number 20951. It was the very beginning of Ferrari and Michelotto’s enduring and incredibly successful partnership, which famously continues to this day.Meticulously developed from its bare chassis, the drastically re-engineered 308 GTB was a zero-compromise thoroughbred, heavily inspired – perhaps unsurprisingly – by Michelotto’s previous masterpiece: the Lancia Stratos HF Group IV. It boasted an integral roll-cage, flared composite bodywork, a ‘dog-change’ gearbox, bespoke brake and suspension systems and an engine tuned with a much higher compression ratio than the production version and fed by an innovative Bosch Kugelfischer fuel injection system.
The Ferrari 308 GTB Group IV made its competition debut at the history-steeped Targa Florio in March of 1978. Despite being thwarted by a transmission snag, the Italian compatriots Roberto Liviero and Claudio ‘Fabio’ Penariol fought hard and indicated the Ferrari’s clear potential.Over the course of the next four years, that potential was realised – especially as investment and assistance from the Ferrari factory increased. Development was relentless and the Group IV-spec 308 GTBs scored 30 outright victories in domestic events and specific rounds of the European Rally Championship, providing the sport with a welcome injection of Latin exotica.While the esteemed likes of Henri Toivonen, Björn Waldegård and Raffaele ‘Lélé’ Pinto piloted these cars, the driver most closely associated with the 308 GTB Group IV was ironically not an Italian but a Frenchman: Jean-Claude Andruet.
Andruet’s first encounter with a Ferrari 308 GTB Group IV came at the Targa Florio in March of 1980, at which point the Frenchman was a contracted Fiat driver competing predominantly with the 131 Abarth in the World Rally Championship. He was likely a shoo-in for the Targa, as the 308 GTBs were campaigned under the semi-Works Jolly Club banner in 1980, with Olio Fiat sponsorship. Despite retiring from the Sicilian event, he was impressed with the fundamental performance of the car.This is where the famed French Ferrari importer Charles Pozzi enters the fray. When Jean-Claude Andruet left Fiat under a cloud at the end of 1980, he approached his old friend Pozzi, for whom he’d won both the Tour de France Automobile and the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1972 driving the mighty ‘Daytona’ Competizione. Andruet pitched the idea of running a Ferrari 308 GTB in the European Rally Championship to Pozzi, who recognised that such an unusual activity – seriously, who’d be crazy enough take a Ferrari rallying? – would drum up a serious amount of publicity.
Sure enough, Ferrari France entered a red and white Entremont-sponsored 308 GTB Group IV in the 1981 European Rally Championship for Andruet to drive. Of the nine asphalt events he entered, Andruet won four: the Targa Florio, Quattro Regioni, Ypres Rally and, most prestigiously, the Tour de France Automobile. It was good enough for second in the championship, ironically behind a Works-supported Fiat 131 Abarth.
The following year, with their now-famous Pioneer sponsorship, Pozzi’s outfit contested two 308s, one for the tried-and-tested Andruet and a second for Guy Chasseuil. Arguably the most impressive performance of the year was on the infamously challenging roads of the Tour de Corse in May, an event which was on the World Rally Championship roster. Partnered with his co-driver Michele Espinosi-Petit, aka ‘Biche’, Andruet engaged in a tooth-and-nail battle with the Works Renault 5 Turbo of Jean Ragnotti, the French compatriots and rivals swapping the lead time and again, until an agonising suspension niggle forced him to concede.Andruet had to settle for second, though still ahead of the factory-entered Group B Lancia 037s and Audi Quattros. It was the first and only time a Ferrari finished on the podium at a World Rally Championship event. Incidentally, Andruet won his second consecutive Tour de France Automobile for Pozzi in 1982, the thirteenth and final occasion a Ferrari had won that history-steeped race, too.
In what was a frustrating final ‘what could have been’ for the Ferrari 308 GTB Group IV, the car was denied a rightful victory in the 1982 Italian Rally Championship. Driving under the legendary semi-Works Jolly Club banner, Antonio Tognana was leading the championship, ahead of all the Fiats and Lancias. However, because Fiat’s primary rally concern was Lancia, there was a clear intra-group conflict of interest. Jolly Club assigned Tognana a Lancia 037 for the final two races of the season, thus sharing the spoils of the title between the two marques. Il Commendatore was reportedly furious, reportedly promptly ending the supply of his engine to Lancia’s sports car programme as a result.
“Il Commendatore was reportedly furious, reportedly promptly ending the supply of his engine to Lancia’s sports car programme as a result.”
Nineteen-eighty-three heralded the arrival of Group B, a new framework of rules requiring a smaller run of production models for homologation; just 200 cars versus Group 4’s 400. Naturally, Michelotto looked to exploit the new regulations with a newer Group B variant of the 308 GTB, initially at the request of the successful and well-heeled Spanish rally driver Antonio Zanini.
Despite the perception of Group B boasting an essentially limitless rulebook, the regulations in reality meant the Group B variant of the 308 GTB was far closer to its production counterpart than the preceding Group IV car. A hotter four-valve V8 fed by a new Bosch K-jetronic fuel injection was introduced and success did come in the form of several domestic rally victories and podiums, including outright victory in the Spanish Rally Championship with Zanini.
Alas, the ballistic rate of development elsewhere in Group B and the formula’s resulting premature cancelation put paid to the 308’s rally career. Undeterred, Michelotto set about developing a new Group B rally weapon from scratch: the 308 GT/M. It was a promising prototype which paved the way for Ferrari’s very own still-born Group B project, the GTO (288), of which the road-going version proved to be a highly desirable supercar. Michelotto built a total of four Group B cars for Pro Motorsport S.R.L. to run, which, when combined with the 11 Group IV cars, makes the 308 GTB Michelotto among the rarest production-based Ferrari competition cars of them all.
With the Ferrari 308 GTB Group IV’s bespoke one-piece front and rear clamshells removed, the mechanical influence of the Lancia Stratos is clear to see. Using the bare chassis of a road-going 308 GTB donor as his starting point, Michelotto – working closely with Gaetano Florini of Ferrari’s Assistenza Clienti – implemented an integral structural roll cage and modified the front and rear sections with titanium tubular sections for easier access to the car’s mechanicals.
The elegant Pininfarina body, which grew characteristic and purposeful flared arches as per the Group IV rulebook, was crafted initially from glass-fibre with featherlight Kevlar opening panels, though on later cars later solely Kevlar was used. For special stages taking place under the cover of darkness, an additional light pod was added to the 308’s sharp snout, connected to the car via a novel electronic port concealed behind the enamel Ferrari badge.The plush interior of the road-going 308 GTB was frankly gutted, the only familiar feature being the distinctive gated gear lever. Even the dashboard was changed, better accommodating the dizzying number of gauges, toggles, switches, relay and fuse board. Standard-issue competition bucket seats were squeezed inside the heavy-duty integral roll cage.The approach to weight-saving was without compromise – even the electric motors used to raise the pop-up headlights were removed. As a result, the Group IV 308 was light. Seriously light. Group IV permitted a minimum weight of 950kg, and by 1982, Michelotto’s 308 GTBs were tipping the scales at 960kg – a staggering 300kg less than the road car.
Michelotto was able to extract around 60 more horsepower from the two-valve-per-cylinder 2,926cc V8, predominantly by replacing the production car’s four Weber carburettors with a bespoke Bosch Kugelfisher-based mechanical fuel-injection system and utilising larger valves and special high-compression pistons from the 365 GTB/4 ‘Daytona’ Competizione’s twelve-cylinder engine. Originally, the engine was mounted to the road car’s five-speed syncromesh transmission, though this was soon superseded with a dog-change gearbox. The adjustable close-ratio gears varied the car’s top speed from anywhere between 110mph and 170mph. Concealed behind the wider Campagnolo ‘coffin-spoke’ wheels (another Stratos signature) were suspension and braking systems fundamentally in line with the road cars but modified for competition use. The Koni dampers, for example, were now adjustable and the brakes featured larger 305mm discs with a manual balance controller in the cabin. Speaking of balance, additional oil coolers were installed at the front of the car, while two 40-litre fuel tanks were implemented amidship.
Group B rightly has a reputation for being a category with an essentially limitless framework of rules. But the nuances of said rulebook didn’t work in every car’s favour. The 308 GTB was one such victim, in that respect.The extent to which Michelotto reengineered the Group IV 308 GTB simply wouldn’t fly in Group B, so the updated car would in fact closer resemble the production model. The bodywork, for example, was required to be the same as that found on the road car. While the glass-fibre remained, the Kevlar opening panels were replaced with heavy steel, raising the overall weight by some 30kg. The signature flared arches were also lost during the transformation.
That said, there were some impressive technological advancements. Michelotto built just four 308 GTBs to Group B specification, each of which was sold to Pro Motorsport S.R.L. to be campaigned. The first was fitted with two-valve engine from the Group IV car, while the three remaining cars received the new four-valve Quattrovalvole unit. This was coupled with a new Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection system, raising overall power to 320bhp.Further evolutional changes included a new ‘quick-change’ gearbox, which allowed final-drive ratio changes to be carried out in mere minutes and, if required, at the side of a stage, high-performance Brembo brakes all round, rose-jointed suspension links, stronger anti-roll bars, and a more heavy-duty clutch. In homologating the car on three separate occasions in 1982 and 1983, Michelotto was able to capitalise on the rapid rate of technological evolution, both internally and from Ferrari itself.
Note: Each of the Michelotto-built 308 GTB rally cars began life as a standard 308 GTB, hence the inconsecutive sequence of chassis numbers listed below. Naturally, their individual specifications varied somewhat – no two cars were exactly alike. Chassis number / Delivered To20951 (Group IV) / Italy19051 (Group IV) / Italy19913 (Group IV) / Italy26713 (Group IV) / France21071 (Group IV) / France20373 (Group IV)* / France31559 (Group IV) / Belgium08380 (Group IV)** / USA31135 (Group IV) / France18905 (Group IV) / USA21883 (Group IV) / USA18869 (Group B) / Italy18971 (Group B) / Italy22409 (Group B) / Italy18847 (Group B) / Italy *Chassis number 20373 was built to cosmetic Group IV specification only and used only as a press/recce car by the Pozzi team**Chassis number 08380 was built using a donor 308 GT4 chassis as its base
The red Group IV Ferrari 308 GTB featured here and which we’re honoured to have sourced for a client back in the summer of 2021 is chassis number 21883. It boasts the distinction of being the final rally-specification 308 constructed by Michelotto and, as such, benefits from the extensive development undertaken throughout the period of the factory-blessed 308 rally programme. This is the lightest and most powerful Group IV extant.This car began life as a standard road-going 308 GTB in 1977, though underwent its rally makeover in Padova in 1984–85. It was imported into the United States via New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport in early 1985 and just two days after, was exhibited at the New York International Auto Show. While this Ferrari was never rallied in period, its second owner did road-race it extensively in the Eastern Motor Racing Association series between 1986 and 1990. You can find out more about chassis number 21883 by clicking here.
The second of the four Group B-specification 308 GTB Michelottos we’ve been privileged to re-home, chassis number 22409 (that’s the white car) underwent its competition transformation in 1983. This was one of the three cars to receive the full-fat Quattrovalvole V8, which was good for 320bhp and revved to an ungodly 8,000rpm.A matching-numbers car with full red-book Ferrari Classiche certification, this 308 enjoyed an active period competition career. It was driven by high-profile names such as Harri Toivonen (brother of Henri) and Luigi ‘Lucky’ Battistolli, the notable results including outright victories at the Trofeo Villa d’Este in 1983 and the Rallye Citta di Bassano in 1984, both rounds of the Italian Rally Championship. You can find out more about chassis number 22409 by clicking here.
Keith Bluemel is among the world’s foremost Ferrari historians and, as such, well qualified to extoll the virtues of these Michelotto-built thoroughbreds and explain exactly why they’re so desirable to collectors of the marque today.“With only 11 Group IV examples in total together with four Group B specification examples, the Michelotto 308 GTBs are the equal rarest production-based Ferrari competition cars of the period, along with the 365 GTB/4 ‘Daytona’ Competiziones.“One tends to think of Ferrari GT racing cars at circuits like Le Mans, Daytona or Sebring, not tackling rough rally stages with snow, ice and whatever else the weather could throw at them. However, they proved very able competitors in this genre of motorsport, with a successful career in the worlds of national and international rallies. They were the only Ferraris to score points in a World Rally Championship event!
“The low production numbers allied to a rise in the popularity of historic rally cars, notably from the Group IV and Group B eras, has made examples of these cars highly sought-after among discerning collectors. Not only do they look and sound great, but they are still eminently road usable, so can be driven to and from events or simply used for A Fast Drive in the Country.”Our very own Max Girardo, a man well-versed in the intricacies of Italian rally cars from the 1970s and ’80s, is naturally a similarly strong advocate for Michelotto’s 308 GTBs. “They’re very powerful – the driving experience is somewhere between a regular 308 and the steroidal 288 GTO,” he explains. “The difference is that they have properly sorted chassis’ and the resulting balance and grip are incredible.
“Not only do they look and sound great, but they are still eminently road usable, so can be driven to and from events or simply used for A Fast Drive in the Country.”Keith Bluemel
He also suggests the Ferraris’ longer wheelbase than that of, say, the Lancia Stratos make them a more user-friendly proposition and the perfect partner for endurance road rallies such as the Tour Auto and the Modena Cento Ore, both of which it’s eligible to enter. “There’s no other purebred competition Ferrari that you can buy and drive on the road for the same money – a ‘Daytona’ Competizione or an F40 LM, both of which are not as rare, would cost many more millions.”
Today, these ultra-rare 308s symbolise the genesis of Ferrari and Michelotto’s enduring and remarkably successful alliance. Through from the F40 LM and the 333 SP to the 360 GT and the contemporary 488 GTE, the soul-stirring cars built in Padova on behalf of the factory have competed right at the front – and, more often than not, won either outright or in their class – the greatest road races the world over. Le Mans, Sebring, Daytona – you name a race and a Michelotto-built Ferrari has probably triumphed there.
However, it’s the bronze sculpture of the Cavallino Rampante awarded by Enzo Ferrari to Giuliano Michelotto following the 308 GTB Group IV’s success in the 1981 Tour de France Automobile which remains in pride of place at Michelotto’s headquarters today.Taking a Ferrari, the most emotive automotive name of all, into an arena in which it was so clearly unfamiliar was a bold decision, both from a commercial and a technological perspective. Michelotto pulled it off. Not only did he help return the marque to winning ways in two of the most famous races of them all, the Targa Florio and the Tour de France Automobile. He also earned Ferrari its first and only World Rally Championship podium.As both Keith and Max emphasised earlier on, these are the rarest production-based competition Ferraris. Better still, as rally cars they can be driven on the road and are thus eligible for prestigious historic road rallies such as the Tour Auto and the Modena Cento Ore. And given the blistering zero-compromise performance of both the Ferrari 308 GTB Michelotto Group IV and Group B, we’re confident in saying outright victory in either event would be a feasible target.
Unsurprisingly, these cars have become extremely desirable to collectors of the marque – many times more so than their plentiful production counterparts. In fact, we would go as far as to say the elusive Michelotto 308s are among the most sought-after Prancing Horses beyond the dual-purpose Grand Tourers of the 1950s and ’60s.
Group IVGlass-fibre and/or composite Kevlar bodywork with Group IV-spec flared rear wheel archesStructural competition roll cage joined directly to the chassisTwo-valve V8 with Kugelfischer mechanical fuel injectionCampagnolo coffin-spoke wheelsAdditional light pod connected via the Ferrari bonnet badge Entirely remodelled dashboard Group BGlass-fibre and steel bodywork visually identical to the road-going Ferrari 308 GTBFour-valve V8 with Bosch K-Jetronic electronic fuel injectionProduction model dashboard as per the Group B regulations
2,929cc 90-degree mid-mounted V8 with dry-sump lubricationFour Weber 40 DCNF twin-choke carburettorsRear-mounted five-speed gearbox with limited-slip differentialCirca 315bhp at 8,000rpmTubular steel reinforced chassis with glass-fibre bodyworkFront and rear independent wishbones with coil springs and telescopic dampersAdjustable front and rear anti-roll barsDry weight of 1,020kg*Technical specification of the first Group IV-spec Ferrari 308 GTB as per Michelotto’s records dated March 1978
Photos: Rob Cooper and Tom Shaxson for Girardo & Co.Period photography: The Girardo & Co. Archive Reference Points is a new series of extensively researched features here on girardo.com in which we will be exploring the most significant historic road, competition and rally cars in detail, showing what distinguishes them, from both a visual and mechanical point of view, and why they’re so desirable in the context of today’s collector car market. Click Here to read more of our Reference Points articles.