The Ex – Antonio Zanini, Period Rally Winning, Ferrari Classiche Ceritified 1978 Ferrari 308 GTB Group B

The Ex – Antonio Zanini, Period Rally Winning, Ferrari Classiche Certified

1978 Ferrari 308 GTB Group B

No marque in the history of motorsport evokes such passion and carries such rich history as Ferrari. From its conception, Ferrari was a dominant force and innovative leader in the world of sports car racing both on the track and on the road in events such as the Mille Miglia, Targa Florio and Tour de France, right up to its withdrawal from sports car racing in 1973 to concentrate on Formula 1. When Fiat bought the controlling shareholdings of both Lancia and Ferrari in 1968 and 1969 accordingly; Ferrari were assigned with the on track competition duties, while Lancia were entrusted with the rallying. As rallying continued to grow in stature and international popularity in the late 1960s and early 1970s it was inevitable the prancing horse should grace the dirt and tarmac at some point.

From its introduction at the Paris Salon in 1975, the stunningly beautiful new 308 GTB, with its Pininfarina styling, had never initially been intended to competition use. However just a year later saw the debut of an experimental 308 racer. With the Ferrari race department focussing on Formula 1, the prototype was built the Assistenza Clienti department under Gaetano Florida. His intention was to make a 308 racer for Group 4 that could contest international events such as the Targa Florio and Le Mans. This was motivated by a NART prepared 308 GT4 which had run at Le Mans in 1974 and 1975. 

Ferrari homologated the test car in early 1976 and began initial tests at Fiarano, but never raced it, probably due to Fiat’s restrictions on Ferrari at the time. Not long after the build and development of the 308 project was entrusted to Giuliano Michelotto. 

Established in 1969, Michelotto started as the Padova Ferrari dealership and gaining notoriety for successfully preparing Lancia Stratos out of their Padova based facility. Following the success of the 308 GTB programme, Michelotto has become the closest Ferrari has ever had to their own race preparation subcontractor. Their long and close relationship has seen them responsible for the construction of the legendary F40 LM, along with maintenance and development of the 333SP and more recent F360, F430 and F458.

Stripped down 308 tubs were delivered directly to Michelotto and Ferrari continued to aid them homologating the car again a further two times throughout the development of the project. The new Group 4 racer took advantage of the 308’s mid engined layout. The transverse 3-litre V8 was upgraded to include a mechanical fuel injection system by Kugelfischer, 10:5:1 high-compression pistons, the utilisation of an extra 8-litre oil tank for the dry sump and lighter aluminium alloy cylinder heads and crankcase. Eventually producing approximately 300 bhp, this was driven through a changeable close ratio gearbox and limited slip differential giving the car blistering acceleration and performance. 

Constructed from steel or fibre glass and kevlar, the body shape did not see much change from the original Pininfarina design other than flaring of the wheel arches to accommodate the wider magnesium Campagnolo wheels. The suspension was fully adjustable all round, the Group 4 brakes featured twin master cylinders with a brake balance adjuster on the dashboard and a special Group 4 homologated steering rack was developed. The interiors were stripped out, fitted with a roll cage, bucket seats, fire extinguisher and a simple flat dashboard with circuit breaker. The result was a final homologated weight of 946 Kg.

Like the Group 4 Ferrari Daytona that came before, the campaigning of the Group 4 308 was left to private teams, the most prolific of whom being French importer Charles Pozzi. He had no less than 4 examples carrying some of the most iconic liveries of time in the form of Entremont and Pioneer. 

Launched in Padova on the 2nd of March 1978, the Group 4 308 GTB made its competition debut at the 1978 Targa Florio three weeks later and saw its first victory in the Rallye de Monza in spring 1979. The first victory led the way for many more outright wins. The 308 would go on to be driven by some of the leading drivers of the time. Probably the most successful was Jean-Claude Andruet, who driving for Charles Pozzi’s team, took back to back victories in the Targa Florio and Tour de France in 1981 and 1982. He also went on to take 2nd overall in the 1982 Tour de Course, which remains Ferrari’s only podium result in the World Rally Championship.

In 1983 the rules changed over to Group B, often referred to as the golden era of rallying. The outgoing Group 4 regulations required a minimum of 400 cars to be produced in order to gain homologation status as a rally car. The new Group B regulations specified a production run of only 200 cars for homologation, along with fewer restrictions on design and the technology employed. These more liberated regulations resulted in some of the fastest and most competitive rallying ever seen. 

Michelotto continued to build the Ferrari 308s and produced a total of four to Group B specification. One had a 2-valve engine producing 288bhp, while the following three featured the 2927cc V8 Quattrovavole engine on Bosch K-Jetronic injection turning out 310bhp, and revving to 8,000rpm. They had the competition ‘quick change’ gearbox where in the rallying days the final drive ratio could be changed in a matter of minutes by removing a cover to expose a pair of drop gears. 

With Michelotto moving to concentrat their efforts on the development of the new 288 GTO the final three Group B cars were built by Lino Cazzola and Fernando Serena using Michelotto supplied parts and and support.

In total 11 Group 4 308s were produced by Michelotto between 1978 and 1983 followed by a further 4 Group B examples. There were then just three further Group B 308’s built in period using homologated parts supplied and parts supplied by Michelotto: this car (the Serena car) and the two Cozzola built cars for Pro Motor Sport. 

This car: Chassis No. 24783

The story of this car starts with well known Spanish rally ace Antonio Zanini. Antonio Zanini was the dominant force in Spanish rallying in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and as such, he carried considerable weight within the rally community. Winning 10 Spanish Rally Championship titles between 1974 and 1984. In international rallying, he was  European Rally Champion in 1980 and recorded three starts in the World Rally Championship, taking third place at 1977 Rallye Monte-Carlo.

Born in February 1948, Antonio Zanini started his racing career as a teenager in enduro and motocross races. He raced with motorcycles from 1965 to 1969, then made a debut in national rallying as a co-driver. In 1970, he started his career as a rally driver at the wheel, taking his first overall victory at the Rally 2000 Viratges in November 1972 at the wheel of Seat 1430. In 1974, driving a Seat he took his first Spanish championship title. He was unstoppable in the Spanish rally championship in the mid-1970s.

After winning five consecutive national titles from 1974 to 1978, Zanini switched his focus to the European Rally Championship in 1979, spending a season in a Fiat 131 Abarth. He won three times, at Rally Costa Brava, Rally Albena and Rally Poland, to finish second in the championship, behind Jochi Kleint. In 1980, Zanini reached the top and triumphed in the European Rally Championship. He won six times in a Porsche 911 SC Group 4 car and one time in a Ford Escort RS 1800 MkII. To make a season even better, Zanini also won the Spanish rally championship in 1980, scoring six wins in a Porsche. Four more Spanish titles went his way between 1982 and 1984.

For the 1984 season he needed a special car and saw Ferrari’s 308 as an ideal weapon with which to claim the national crown once more. The championship was predominantly tarmac-based, so it made logical sense to use this car, as the 308 had already proven itself a force to be reckoned with on other tarmac events in both the World Rally and European Rally Championships.

Zanini approached Ferrari agent Fernando Serena in Barcelona in early 1984 for his support. Serena offered a Ferrari 308 GTB from his dealer stock as the basis for building a Group B 308 rally car. Zanini then went to visit Michelotto to help outfit the car. With parts and consultation provided by Michelotto, the car was race-prepared at the Serena workshops. The engine was uprated with 10:1 higher compression pistons while the crankshaft was balanced, a lightened flywheel was fitted and the cylinder heads were ported. The carburettors were re-jetted, the engine was converted to dry sump configuration and a specially fabricated pedal box was fitted. 

The interior was stripped out for weight, a roll cage was fitted along with cloth covered racing seats, a centre dashboard switch panel, four point seat belts and a felt covered interior. 

The Michelotto-homologated parts included lightened wishbones, an uprated AP Lockheed braking system, stronger anti-roll bars, a quick-ratio steering rack, a competition clutch and close-ratio gearbox, and Bilstein adjustable shock absorbers in both the front and rear.

Unfortunately, the car was not ready for the season-opening round in Costa Blanca; therefore, Zanini rented another Group B 308 from well known Italian team Pro Motor Sport. With further delays to the Serena car and Zanini dominating the championship with Pro Motor Sport, an agreement was made to extend the partnership. The Serena workshops were busy building and testing this rally car whilst he was racing the Pro Motor Sport 308. 

24783 finally got its debut at the Rally Osona near the end of the season, where Zanini was behind the wheel and Josep Autet calling the pace notes. The car and team secured a dominating victory, with Zanini finishing an amazing four minutes  ahead of 2nd place. At some point during the development of the car, Zanini suggested that the additional front lighting pod be fitted lower on the nose, compared to the standard 308 rally lamp pod, so as not to obscure the driver’s vision as much.

With the 1984 Spanish Championship already won by Zanini, Fernando Serena Jr., the son of the Barcelona Ferrari importer, and co-driver Manuel Casanova drove the car at the final round of the 1984 Spanish Championship at the Rally de Girona. Unfortunately, the car was retired on the first stage due to a broken brake line. 

With the reigning champion Zanini now contracted to Peugeot for 1985, 24783 was side-lined throughout the Spanish Championship. However with the 1985 Rally Catalunya being a round of the European Rally Championship (now the World Rally Championship) 24783 was entrusted for this event to experienced former Catalonian champion Claudio Caba. At the end of day one, Caba and his co-driver, J. Martin, were lying in an impressive 5th overall (1st non-Lancia). Caba was also the top Spaniard in the event. However, on the second day, whilst following a competitor, Caba became entangled in a smoke screen and slid off the road. There were no spectators to assist with pushing the car back onto the road due to the remote nature of the stage. Caba could not complete the stage within the allotted time and was forced to retire, despite no terminal damage to the car.

During the 1985 Rally Catalunya, the 308 raced with a revised livery and was sponsored by Spanish Jeans manufacturer Cimarron. This livery was made rather famous when Scalextric used it for one of its most popular slot cars of the 1980s.

After the Catalonian rally, the car returned to Serena in Barcelona and was never used in competition again. After only three events, it was set aside and retained by Francesco Serena. 

The car was sold during the late 1980s to a Spanish businessman and collector, who kept the car until 2009, at which point he sold it to fellow Spaniard Pablo Castelos Castro.   

During his ownership 24783 had a full suspension and brake system overhaul, as well as an engine-out service with new belts and a rebuilt ignition system. 24783 saw limited use during his ownership, featuring at the London Classic Car Show and was granted the sought after and important Ferrari Attestato Per Venture Di Interesse Storico or Ferrari White Book certification. (Where Ferrari Red Book certification confirms that car is to its original factory specification, White Book certification is reserved by the factory for recognised competition Ferraris that competed in period in a non-factoryspecification – in this case a car modified by a Ferrari agent with the help of Michelotto – and is a valuable document supporting the cars authenticity).

Sold to the current owner in 2015, he entrusted highly regarded rally preparation specialists BGMSport with the task of rebuilding 24783 and preparing it to the highest level for current historic events with specific focus on the Tour Auto and Modena Cento Ore. As part of this process, the car was completely stripped to a bare tub so that a comprehensive total rebuild could be undertaken. During this process the engine and gearbox were rebuilt and the car was gone through from front to back. The radiators were replaced as was the wiring loom. New Recaro race seats were fitted and the dashboard, the supporting panels and housings and the door cards were all re-trimmed in Alcantara. Finally it was returned to its well known Cimarron livery ready for its first outing at the 2016 Goodwood Festival of Speed in 2016. 

After Goodwood the Michelotto gearbox and drop gears underwent further development and 24783 returned to Silverstone for a number of test days before heading to Italy for the 2017 Modena Centro Ore. Driven and co driven by the owner and our own William I’Anson respectively. Once back on the tarmac special stages it was instantly clear why Zanini chose the 308 as his ‘weapon of choice’ back in period. The way this car holds the road, turns in and puts its power down is staggering. 

Despite an initial set back in the first circuit stage due to a fuel starvation problem, ably supported by Ian Gwynne and his team at BGMSport, they fought back taking fastest overall times on a number of the special stages. After four days of competition they finished 2nd overall, only a staggering 2.1 seconds behind the winning Entremont ex-Charles Pozzi Group 4 308, beating a strong field of Porsches and rounding out a Ferrari top three. 

Ready for the 2018 Modena Cento Ore further development was done to the engine and exhaust to increase the power and reliability. Returning to the event for a second time, again driven and co driven by the owner and William I’Anson, they were running towards the front when sadly a slight ‘altercation’ with the Armco on an early special stage gave them a sizeable time penalty that was too great to come back from. Testament to the strength of the car and some expert use of a hammer and red duck tape by the team at BGM and they were back in action for day two and went on to complete the event, all be it out of the points from a competitive perspective.

During the subsequent de-brief, one of the key observations was how the car lacked rear mechanical grip, especially in tight and twisty sections, and compared to the Lancia Stratos Grp 4 and Porsche 3.0 RS models the narrower rear tyre sizes on the Grp B 308 worked to its disadvantage. To this end BGMSport were again commissioned to further develop the car by the simple addition of the wider Grp 4 rear wheel arches to accommodate the iconic and wider magnesium gold coffin spoke wheels. At the same time, the cylinder block was re-bored, the cam shaft re-ground and the crankshaft re-balanced to ensure that once again the car was absolutely on the button and ready for its next outing.

Due to family commitments and the ensuing Covid-19 Pandemic, bar the 2019 Goodwood Festival of Speed, 24783 has  seen no use since the last batch of work and remains fresh from its 2019 work. 

Reviewing the extensive history file that accompanies the car it is clear to see that 24783 has been maintained and prepared without any regard to expense and is ready to continue competing at the highest levels as has already been proven. 

With the car are files containing numerous invoices from 1984 when Serena initially undertook the Group B conversion, the Ferrari Classiche White Book, a dedicated book tot he cars period competition history, current FIA papers and of course a far from insurmountable pile of invoices for all of the work and preparation that has gone into the car in its current ownership. 

As I write this and being able to express from first hand experience, I cannot even start to tell you how much fun this car is to drive. The leave of grip and acceleration with rally ratios fitted is staggering and I would strongly urge anyone to try and experience this for themselves. 

To be able to compete in any Ferrari is a privilege, let alone one converted in period by a main Ferrari dealer with the assistance of none other than Michelotto and with period rally winning history.