Introduced at the Paris Salon in 1975, the stunningly beautiful 308 GTB—Ferrari’s second V8 road car—marked a welcome return to Pininfarina styling following the Bertone-designed Dino 308 GT4. Badged as a proper Ferrari rather than a Dino, the newcomer had changed little mechanically, apart from a reduction in wheelbase. The car retained its predecessor’s underpinnings and transversely mounted 3.0-liter V8 engine that now featured dry-sump lubrication. Produced initially with fiberglass bodywork—the first time this material had been used for a production Ferrari—the Scaglietti-built 308 used steel exclusively after April 1977. The first steel-bodied cars were manufactured in 1976, the change bringing with it a considerable weight penalty and consequent reduction in performance. Naturally, anyone wanting to race a 308 GTB started out with the fiberglass version if they could.
For 1983, the FIA introduced its new Group B regulations for major-league rallying. This innovation saw the specialist Italian conversion and preparation company of Michelotto develop a Group B-conforming variant of Ferrari’s very popular and highly successful 308 Gran Turismo Berlinetta.
Since production of a full batch of 25 highly modified GTB Evoluzione cars was effectively out of the question, the specification of these Michelotto Group B machines incorporated as few changes as possible from the standard road car, while still providing clients with rally-winning potential. Michelotto’s most significant development from its previous Group 4-converted cars was the selection of the Quattrovalvole engine. Even so, the first Michelotto 308 GTB emerged with the conventional and reliable two-valve head rather than the latest ‘QV’ power unit employed in the following three cars. Ferrari 308 GTB Michelotto chassis serial 18869, offered here, was the first of four Group B configuration cars built by Michelotto from a total of 15 combined Group B and Group 4 cars that the company modified in period. It was first completed in February 1983 for the Pro Motor Sport team in Italy.
These remarkably successful—although relatively little-publicized—competition Ferraris featured Rose-jointed suspension and uprated Brembo brakes all around. Three of Michelotto’s Group B 308s were fitted with QV 32-valve engines producing 310 horsepower at 8,000 rpm—after this prototype (chassis 18869) had deployed the 288-horsepower, two-valve motor. While the Group 4 variants used mechanical Kugelfischer fuel injection, the Group B rally variants employed electronic Bosch K-Jetronic systems. These Group B variants weighed in around 66 pounds heavier than their racing counterparts, as they had to retain their stock fiberglass and steel body paneling.
As the first—and one of the most successful—of this rare quartet of Michelotto-built Ferrari 308 GTBs, this is an interesting and significant example of the Ferrari Berlinetta Competizione breed in 1980s form. As a past participant in the Tour Auto and other prestigious events, the car represents a fast and stunning entry ticket.
|Vehicle:||1976/1983 Ferrari 308 GTB Group B Michelotto|
|Original List Price:||Unknown|
|Chassis Number Location:||Above right rear shock mount|
|Engine Number Location:||Above water pump|
|Club Info:||Historic Rally Car Register|
This car, Lot 137, sold for $656,190, including buyer’s premium, at the Bonham’s Monaco auction on May 20, 2011.
In order to make any sense of the Michelotto 308 GTB rally cars, I’m going to have to start by tying together a minor cat’s cradle of disparate threads about what was going on in motorsport in that era.
Let’s start with FIA rally classes. Through the 1970s and into the 1980s, the FIA used the category “Group 4” to identify what were basically production Grand Touring cars—2-seat coupes with at least 400-car production (think Porsche 911, Ferrari Daytona, Lancia Stratos). The same rules applied to both circuit racing and rally cars and were relatively liberal.
This was a period of very rapid technological development, and the cars became so fast that using them on open roads (rallying) became very dangerous, and there were a number of fatalities. For the 1983 season, the FIA tried to address the problem by introducing “Group B” regulations aimed primarily at rally cars. They were more restrictive than Group 4 (higher weight, less wheel width, etc.) in an attempt to slow things down. But in one of those retrospective “whoopsie” moments, they neglected to control turbo boost.
The result was that the first few years went well, but developing 4WD technology and effectively unlimited horsepower quickly created what became known as “Killer B” rally cars—with some horrific crashes—before the FIA abandoned the whole thing at the end of 1986.
The next thread has to do with Ferrari during this period of time. Fiat bought Ferrari in 1969, and by the mid-1970s, had fully integrated it into their industrial empire. Enzo was still around, but he wasn’t really calling the shots anymore.
The corporate deal when it came to motorsport was that Lancia did the rallying (and a bit of prototype endurance racing), Fiat did the saloon racing and a bit of rallying, and Ferrari did Formula One. That’s it. Ferrari did not do sports car or GT racing (or rallying) on any official level during this era. Certain private customers were welcome—even encouraged—to carry the Cavallino Rampante flag in competition, but they were emphatically (or at least officially) doing it on their own.
Outside of Formula One, Ferrari’s job was to build and sell fast road cars, and as the 308 GT4 was developed into the 308 GTB, they were doing an excellent job.
The GTB was still a tube-framed chassis with a body hung onto it; a throwback in the face of the unibody revolution, but it was a wonderful stiff, light package with excellent power and superb handling. SCM Ferrari pundit Mike Sheehan comments that it was one of the few mid-engined designs of the time that could make a mediocre driver look good.
Ferrari rally enthusiasts reputedly approached Enzo about developing a racing version of the GTB but were pointedly told that Ferrari was part of a larger group and was not allowed to be involved in rally cars. On their way out the door they were advised to contact Michelotto.
A true Ferrari, but not a factory Ferrari
Michelotto started out as a Ferrari dealer in Padova, but a strong instinct for competition caused them to develop an excellent racing shop. The degree of association with the factory in the early days is open to debate, but the 308 rally cars they built started on a path that ended with them being “Ferrari’s Tuner,” developing the 288 GTO, the F40, and eventually the 333SP.
With the 308 cars, though, it appears they were mostly doing it on their own. To start with, the myth of Ferrari shipping GTB chassis to Michelotto to make into racers is demonstrably false. A look at the chassis numbers and build dates makes it obvious that they were buying wrecked chassis and building them into racers (sometimes maybe just the titles, as one car carries a 308 GT4 chassis number).
That the 15 Michelotto 308 GTB rally cars are “real” Ferraris has never been in question, but the suggestion that they were in some manner associated with the factory as quasi-official racers is probably pushing things. They were built into racing cars from wrecks—or less—in Padova for privateers to enter in what were fundamentally regional-to-national-level events, where they proved very competitive.
They are by all accounts wonderful cars to drive, very fast and forgiving, particularly on the paved roads that most events utilize. The transaxle was notoriously fragile as horsepower got over 300, but fixes were devised and implemented over the years. The important point here is that these were purpose-built racing cars created by Michelotto from Ferrari chassis and mechanical bits—probably with a substantial amount of Ferrari help—but they are not factory Ferrari racers. Nor are they anything like a production 308 GTB. They look like one, but that’s all.
This puts them into an interesting netherworld in terms of both use and value. It’s definitely a Ferrari, but the factory never built it. It looks like a road car but could never be used as one (it’s strictly for track or European event use like Tour Auto, where they are spectacular rides). Should the market value it as a true racing Ferrari or as a privateer hot rod variant on a $60,000 308 GTB?
In the end, the car is a little bit of everything. Sheehan considers the sale amount of $656,190 to be “astonishingly high,” but an owner I spoke with considered it about right. If you want to run a Ferrari at the front of any of the major European “Tour” events, there’s probably no cheaper way to do it. So there you have it, complicated and controversial from beginning to end, but one heck of a car. I’d say well sold but fairly bought.
(Introductory description courtesy of Bonhams.)