Enthusiasts the world over will agree that F1’s rise as a powerhouse of motorsport entertainment and Ferrari’s cult-like status as the number one performance brand in the world go hand-in-hand. Their 16 Constructors’ wins and 15 Drivers’ Championships in the pinnacle of motorsport have ultimately trickled down to successes in other classes of racing as well, most notable of which was in endurance racing. The Ferrari-Ford Le Mans rivalry of the 60s is the stuff of legends. While much has been said about Ferrari’s exploits in F1 and endurance racing, the marque’s exploits in rallying have been given a disproportionately less amount of attention.
The 70s and 80s were world rallying’s finest hour. During that time, the sport challenged F1’s popularity as the foremost motorsport series of the world. Regulations were lax and manufacturers left no stone unturned in getting as much power as possible out of their machines. Manufacturers like Lancia, Audi, Ford, Renault, Peugeot and Opel were pouring money into this competition, and it only made sense for Ferrari to be a part of this as well. Ferrari’s first association with rallying began in 1973 when it began supplying engines for the Lancia Stratos. While Enzo Ferrari was at first reluctant to supply the V6 from the Dino as he felt that the Stratos was a direct competitor. But the eventual end to Dino production made sure the engines were supplied after all. The 2.4-litre V6 produced 190 hp in road trim and up to 320 hp in race trim. The Stratos has since gone down in history as one of the most accomplished rally cars ever made, winning the World Rally Championship in 1974, 1975 and 1976 before being replaced by the Fiat 131 Abarth. However, the Stratos continued to winning events in the hands of privateers as late as 1981.
By the early 80s, Group B rallying had exploded. In 1982, Michellotto, an independent firm specialising in turning road-going Ferrari’s into race cars, worked with a team of Ferrari engineers to develop a Group B variant of the 308 GTB road car. Only four were made with the first one using a two-valve 288 bhp engine, while the other three examples had the mid-mounted 3.0-litre V6 producing 310 bhp at 8000 rpm. A fifth RHD car was modified to rally spec in the UK, but it did not have direct company support. These Michellato-made 308 GTBs were heavy because of the steel panels added during their Group B-spec conversion, making them uncompetitive in comparison to their homologation spec rivals. Consequently, the project was called off after the 82/83 season and the remaining cars were sold to privateers to compete in non-WRC events. It was here where Ferrari rally cars enjoyed reasonable success with the Italian rally team Pro Motor Sport. One of the four cars won the Marca Trevigiani and Città de Bassano, while finishing second in both the Targa Florio and Isola d’Elba.
By this time, cars like the Audi Quattro SWB, the Peugeot 205 T16, the Lancia O37 and then the Delta S4, had established themselves as some of the greatest rally machines ever created. To challenge their supremacy, Ferrari needed something really competitive, leading to the development of the 288 GTO – A heavily reworked Ferrari 308 GTB, that was now powered by a twin turbo, longitudinally 4.0-litre V8. The engine produced 400 hp, giving the car a 0 to 60 time of 4 seconds and a top speed of 190 mph (305kmph). Production started in 1984, with the car being officially homologated into Group B in 1985. However, it was also around this time that regulations had come to haunt Group B due to the relatively unregulated power outputs leading to fatal accidents. Henri Toivenen’s 1986 crash at the Corsican rally was the final straw, following which the FIA concluded that Group B had become too dangerous to continue. This meant that the 288 GTO would never really turn a wheel in anger at a Group B rally event.
By the time production ended in 1987, a total of 272 units of the Ferrari 288 GTO had been produced. Six of these were further worked on by Pinninfarina to the create the 288 GTO Evoluzione, for which, the body was reworked using Kevlar and fibreglass to further reduce weight. Retuned with larger turbos, the Evoluzione produced around 650 hp. Developed especially for privateers competing in Group B tarmac events, but that was cut short as well due to the cancellation of the series. This car would later become the testbed on which the Legendary F40 would be developed.
After the demise of Group B, WRC started losing prominence. The cars would get tamer and not be the headline grabbers they once were. It would only be in the mid-90s that WRC would flourish again but with very different participants – the Subarus and Mitsubishis. While Ferrari’s objective behind the development of the 308 and 288 was not met, it did show the firm’s commitment to motorsport. It set out to compete in a series with established competition and came up with a car that could very well have matched the competition if given the chance to race. But the entire rally program had not been a futile exercise. The seeds of development of the legendary F40, which would redefine what a supercar is, were planted here. The F40 was a thorough reworking of the Ferrari 288 GTO which itself was a heavily reworked Ferrari 308 GTB. So maybe who knows, if Ferrari hadn’t decided to further focus their efforts in rally, the F40 probably would have been quite different than what it ended up being.
Watch the Ferrari 288 GTO being driven as intended
Ferrari 308 GTB at Rally Legend Boucles de Spa
Ferrari 308 Michelott Rally car at Race Retro