Featured: This Group 4-Spec Ferrari 308 GTB Isn't Afraid To Play In The Mud

This Group 4-Spec Ferrari 308 GTB Isn’t Afraid To Play In The Mud

By Robb Pritchard
January 25, 2018

Photography by Robb Pritchard

Prancing horses have taken wins on pretty much every race track in the world for generations, but while dozens of circuit racing championship trophies have been racked up in the cases at Maranello, seeing a Ferrari on a rally stage has always been an extremely rare occurrence. Although the Lancia Stratos was a famously Ferrari-engined beast, Corsica 1982 became the one and only WRC event to have a full-fledged Ferrari grace its podium when Frenchman Jean-Claude Andruet finished as the runner-up in his Pioneer-liveried 308. The chances of a Ferrari challenging VW, Citroën, or Hyundai in the modern day rally championships are of course non-existent, but thanks to an amazing classic rally car club in Germany there is a place you can see a 308 GTB driven in anger and off the tarmac.

You may have recently read about Max Schneider’s Ford Escort on the site, but to sum it up, the man has been rallying for nearly forty years with some pretty nice machinery that includes a road-going Stratos along with the Escort. Max has won a couple of local championships in his southeastern corner of Germany, but after a couple of years off recovering from spinal surgery (not related to motorsport), he decided it was time for something different. His garage already included a street-spec Ferrari 355 and a 308 GTB straight out of an episode of Magnum, but he wanted something truly unique. So if you love both rallying and Ferraris, then Andruet’s 308 is the one to aim for, so Max started looking into what it would take to make a Group 4-spec 308.

Despite being a high profile undertaking, it wasn’t Ferrari themselves who developed the 308 GTB into a rally car, but Michelotto. In 1973 official Ferrari support withdrew from all other forms of motorsport to concentrate solely on F1, and so it was the Padova dealership that stepped up to fill the void. And although their name is synonymous with racing Ferraris today, the 308 rally was their first project.

11 Group 4 cars were prepared, with Andruet’s 2nd place in Corsica being the highlight. Later, four Group B versions were made, but the surge in development from Lancia, Audi, Peugeot, and Ford with space-framed specially-constructed race cars meant that anything with a road car base was obsolete and so Michelotto turned their attention to the 308 GT/M, 288 GTO, and the Ferrari F40 instead.

Back to Max now, and the club he built this car for. Slowly Sideways is the brainchild of two guys who owned a couple of original Group B cars but had nothing they could do with them. Far too powerful to enter in a normal rally, they were also far too valuable to bash around in the forest… They decided to start a festival for classic cars where they could be driven on tracks that look indistinguishable from rally stages, but are actually designed to not damage the cars. The idea proved to be as wildly successful as you’d hope, but to expand and turn the festival into a real extravaganza they allowed people with accurate copies of famous cars to enter as well, and thus the now hugely popular Eifel Rally was born. This is what Max built this car.

For the base vehicle there were plenty of examples in varying condition with wildly varying prices, but Max gravitated towards one that had been in a private collection for 16 years. There was one problem though; as nice as it looked, there’s no way to nip out for a test drive in a car that hasn’t been turned over since the end of the last century. It was sold as is, and the owner told Max bluntly that he could take it or leave it. The plan was to totally strip and rebuild the car anyway, so with the sum exchanged it was trailered to the garage and the long work commenced.

For all the “easy” jobs such as fitting the interior with the proper gear and the rewiring that came along with it, he had several friends happy to help with these bits. But for all the technical tuning work beyond Max’s capabilities, there was Formula GT, a company based in Munich that specializes in Stratos and upgrading Ferraris to Group 4 regulations. Making a rally spec Ferrari is never a cheap undertaking, and to enter the Slowly Sideways club a car has to be historically accurate—no road cars with sticker. The end result of the 308 would have to be as close to the original as possible.

The engine and gearbox combination was stripped out without being started up and was promptly sent off to Formula GT. The 308 engine was never a particularly sluggish lump, but the Group 4 regulations allow quite a lot of upgrades. The huge to-do list included balancing the crankshaft together with the special flywheel and stronger clutch, lightening the con-rods by 80 grams each, fitting new pistons machined to Formula GT’s own design (a different shape to the Ferrari units, for better combustion); exactly how they differ from the originals is a trade secret though.

There is also a totally redesigned head, with intake valves 2.5mm wider and exhaust ports 2mm narrower than stock to improve the aerodynamic flow. The valve springs are replaced too, as the originals are not strong enough for the added performance and the cam follower is also much lighter because of a special construction allowing for different ways to adjust valves.

That said, the most specialized job was boring out the intake and exhaust channels by hand, and the engineer who did this has more than 30 years of experience. Peter Praller, the proprietor of Formula GT, says that a 30-year-old 308 that could put out an official 250bhp in its youth would have about 210 if it was put on the dyno now. Max’s example now has 280bhp— exactly the same as the Group 4 car.

Outside the block, carburetor venturi has been widened from 32 to 35mm for better flow. Additionally, the air intake is now in front of the carbs with no filter, and the air boxes have been enlarged to get more cold air into the tuned system. At the the other end of the combustion process, the exhaust pipes are Formula GT’s construction, a lighter and differently shaped set of snakes than the Ferrari pieces that improve the flow.

Formula GT also do gearbox upgrades to the Group 4 regulations, but it’s a job that in this case would cost the same as acquiring the car, and wouldn’t offer that much in the way of performance gains. So the only gearing changes to Max’s were the three cogs between the engine and gearbox, which now have more bias towards acceleration rather than top speed, changed from 1:1 to 1:35. This means the car now has a top speed of 220km now instead of 270. That’s no disadvantage at all though, as out on the tight, twisting rally stages the car is built for, it will never see such high speeds.

While the engine was in Formula GT’s capable hands, Max and his friends stripped the car down to the shell, re-wired the cabin, and made a new dashboard out of aluminum to ape the original. The full cage had to be made custom of course, but a friend with some pretty serious fabrication skills offered to make it from the design of the homologation papers. It was a lot of specialized work that should have cost thousands of euros, but his (good) friend didn’t charge Max for it. Such selflessness might seem quite surprising, but Max is a very generous man himself. After our interview I came away with a nice new pen, a writing pad, bottles of wine, and a kilo of smoked meat, so I can easily understand how his friends would want to do pay back the nice things he must have done for them over the years.

Underneath the car, all the rubber bushes are gone, having been replaced by uniballs because when rubber gets hot it softens and the set-up effectively changes. Not great when you are pushing the car hard; you need to know that its limits are the same as they were a few corners ago, right? This applies more to Andruet in the WRC than Max in the Eifel Rally of course, but in the interest of historical accuracy the work was done. Shocks and springs are the original height but 300% stronger, and to save weight all the steel body panels were replaced with lightweight fiberglass pieces. Even with the cage fitted, the car is a healthy 230kg lighter than the road version.

The car was white when Max bought it and it stayed that way underneath the graphics. All the red vinyl wrapping was done by a local graphics company. The most famous and recognizable rally Ferrari is obviously the Pioneer-sponsored one, but remember Max was keen to have a unique machine, so he chose to have the less well-known red and white Entremont scheme of the 1981 car rather than the more famous 1982 version.

Jean-Claude Andruet, now 74 years old, was a professional rally driver with 29 starts to his name, including three wins; the 1973 Monte Carlo in an Alpine Renault A110, where he was the youngest ever rally winner; the 1974 Tour de Corse in a Lancia Stratos; and the 1977 San Remo Rally in a Fiat 131 Abarth. Driving a blue Pioneer-sponsored Michelotto-prepared Ferrari 308 GTB, he finished 2nd in the 1981 European Rally Championship. His last rally was the 1995 Monte Carlo in a Rover Mini.

Normally when I write build stories there is always some snag that throws the whole project off the rails for a bit, but although it took nearly three years of spare evenings and free weekends to complete this car, everything went according to plan, although Max does admit to being extremely nervous when it came time to fire it up for the first time: “I invited all my friends over who had helped, and we had a little party with the champagne ready,” he smiles. With a hammering heart he sat in the driver’s seat and reached out for the big red ignition button… and like every time since, glorious things happened when he pressed. The tuned engine blowing out through the custom Formula GT exhaust pipes sounds amazing on cold starts, hot starts, idling, at redline, everywhere really.

The real problems came not with the car itself, but with the paperwork. The TÜV seemed to take a real dislike to it, and insisted on regarding it as an original self-build rather than just a modified production vehicle; they wanted to check every single non-original part on the car before they decided if it was road legal or not.

After months of not getting anywhere in that regard, Max gave up trying to do everything with phone calls and emails so he put the car on a trailer and drove 600km to the head office in Trier, where they spent two days going over the car, checking every single bolt and every electrical connection. That was a four day round-trip and wasn’t much fun, but in the end he had a car that could finally be put on the street.

But as emotional as the first experience was, it wasn’t pure joy. “No! Pure terror!” he laughs. “Something in me was convinced that as soon as I put my foot down something would explode!” But it didn’t. There was another problem though. “It’s just so unlike anything else I’ve ever driven that it was really hard to learn it. I had no idea where the limits were or how much control there was when I was getting close… Also on gravel… With the engine at the front the Escort is perfect. It’s smooth and really easy to control when it’s drifting sideways, but the Ferrari really is not! It’s like it hates the gravel so much it squirms around trying to go into the field backwards. On tarmac though it’s an absolute dream. There’s nothing I have ever driven that’s anywhere near as good. It’s just amazing! But I know how much work it took to make it, and how much it cost to build, so I am always really frightened of having an accident. If I crashed it, it would be absolute disaster!” And that’s not just because it’s nice and shiny. The car cost him a few hundred thousand euros in the end, so if he was to wrap it around a tree there would be no feasible way to repair it or build another one.

I am 6’4”, and the cockpit is designed for about someone about half that height, so it wasn’t even worth trying to get the seat belts over my shoulders. We are only popping down a country road for a photo shoot though, so nothing can go wrong, right? Well, Max doesn’t just want to show me how pretty his car is, he wants to show me how fast it is too! He drops it down to second… The acceleration is shocking, Like being rear-ended on the motorway. There’s a slight pause when second becomes third, then there’s another hit. It’s gloriously violent. This is the fastest I’ve ever been in my life without a seatbelt on, but it’s OK: Max is an insurance salesman!

Then there’s a sharp turn over a bump, and both shins whack against the sharp underside of the dash while my elbow slams against the door and both sides of my head bang against the roll cage bars. It feels like the car is trying to kill me! Fast is fun when you’re securely strapped inside a cage with a nice helmet on, so fortunately the place for the photoshoot is not too far away and I limp off with my camera and sit in the middle of the road thinking about what a stunning car this is while getting my bearings again. Those flared arches and the full bank of spotlights—it looks so good that if you didn’t know the story behind it you’d swear it was the original car.

Slowly Sideways is not all about stage times though. As its name suggests, it’s about showing amazing cars along with their accurate replicas to an appreciative crowd, and that’s what Max loves the most. “Having an Escort Cosworth in the garage ready to rally is an amazing feeling, it fills you with a thrill, but not for the spectators because they have all seen this car a hundred times already. In the Ferrari you have a special feeling because you know everyone watching you is thinking ‘Wow’ and smiling almost as much as I am as I slide out of the corner!”

Perched on a rock on a steep hill on Corsica, it must have been amazing to see and hear Andruet’s among the Renault 5 Turbos, Fiat 131 Abarths and Mk2 Escorts. And over thirty years later it’s still a standout.

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Rolfie Roberto
Rolfie Roberto
4 years ago

Stupendous looking machine but those tires would barely get you through a puddle. Mud may be stretching it 🙂

James Tucker
James Tucker
5 years ago

I don’t beleive some one allowed this car to be driven in the dirt. I know Ferrari loves to race but the purists must be screaming in Red over Tan Rage right now. I can hear the Dallas Ferrari club heaving with apoplexia and hysteria right now.

5 years ago

Love the Campagnolo Wheels! They look great on this Ferrari as they do on the Lancia Stratos.

5 years ago

Would love to see a video on this car!

Simon Tuman
Simon Tuman
5 years ago
Reply to  Tyler

Exactly what I was thinking…

Luis Santiago
Luis Santiago
5 years ago

Sound is missing!!