Ferrari 308 gp4
One stunning rally replica, open roads... and no seatbelts!
For generations now we've seen the prancing horse take wins on pretty much every race track in the world, but while dozens of circuit racing championship trophies have been racked up for 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 is the one and only WRC event in history to have a fully-fledged Maranello machine grace its podium when Frenchman Jean-Claude Andruet finished runner up in his Pioneer liveried car. The chances of a Ferrari challenging VW, Citroen or Hyundai in the modern day WRC 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...
Max Schneider has been rallying for nearly forty years, with some pretty nice machinery, including an Escort Cosworth and a road-going Stratos and has won a couple of local championships in his south east 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 an original Roger Clark Mk1 Escort, a 355 and a 308 GTB, straight out of an episode of Magnum, but he didn't want to just drive something special; he wanted something unique. If you love both rallying and Ferraris then Andruet's car is the one established in Ferrari folklore, so he started looking into what it would take to make a Group 4 spec 308 to join the club.
Slowly Sideways is the brilliant 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… So they decided to start a festival of classic cars and demonstrate them on tracks that look indistinguishable from rally stages but are actually designed to not be damaging to the cars. The idea proved to be as wildly successful as you'd expect, but to expand and turn the festival into a real extravaganza they allowed people with accurate copies of famous cars to enter and the huge Eifel Rally was born. This is the club Max built the car for.
For the base vehicle there were of course examples of varying condition and wildly varying prices around 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 last century. It was sold as seen and the owner told Max bluntly that he could take it or leave it. The plan was to totally strip and rebuild the car though, so with €28,000 exchanged it was trailered to the garage and the long work commenced.
For all the 'easy' jobs such as fitting out the interior and the rewiring he had several friends happy to help with the build. But for all the technical tuning work far beyond Max's capabilities there was Formula GT, a company in Munich specialising in Stratos and Ferrari upgrades to the Group 4 regulations. Making a rally spec Ferrari is not a cheap undertaking but to enter Slowly Sideways a car has to be historically accurate. No road car with stickers, the end result would have to be as close to the original as possible.
The engine and gearbox combination was stripped out without being started up and sent off to Formula GT. The 308 engine was never a particularly sluggish lump to begin with but the Group 4 regulations allow quite a lot of upgrades… and that's just what Formula GT did. The huge to-do list included balancing the crankshaft together with the special flywheel and stronger clutch lightening the conrods by eighty grams each, fitting new pistons machined to Formula GT's own design, that are a different shape to the Ferrari ones 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 to improve the aerodynamic flow. The valve springs are replaced as the originals are not strong enough for the extra performance and the cam follower is also much lighter because of a special construction with different way to adjust valves.
The most specialised job though was boring out the intake/exhaust channels by hand. 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. The Group B regulations that came into the fore in 1983 allowed engineers to tune the engines to upwards of 330 bhp.
Outside the block the carburettor venturies are widened from 32 to 35mm for better flow. Likewise the air intake is now in front of the carbs with no filter and the air boxes are bigger to get more cold air in. At the the other end of the combustion process the exhaust pipes are Formula GT's construction and is lighter and the different shapes than the Ferrari, also improving the flow of gases.
Formula GT also do gearbox upgrades to the Group 4 regulations but it's a job that would cost the same as the whole car did and wouldn't offer that much in the way of performance gains. So the only gearing change was 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 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 cab and made a new dashboard out of aluminium to look like the original on the photos he had. The all cage had to be made bespoke 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 specialised work that should have cost thousands of euros but his friend didn't charge Max for it. Such selflessness might seem quite surprising but Max is a very generous man. 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 all the rubber bushes are gone, replaced by uniballs because when rubber gets hot it gets soft and the set-up changes. Not great, as when you are pushing the car through the stages you need to know that its limit is the same as it was a few corners ago. This applies more to Andruet in the WRC rather than Max in the Eifel Rally 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 glass fibre ones. Even with the cage fitted the car is 230kg lighter than the road version.
The car was white when Max bought it and it stayed that colour as all the red vinyl wrapping was done by a local graphics company. The most famous and recognisable rally Ferrari is obviously the Pioneer sponsored one but Max was keen to have a unique car so he chose to have the less well known red and white paint Entremont scheme of the 1981 car rather than the more famous 1982 version.
Normally when I write build up stories there is always some snag that throws the whole project for six but although it took nearly three years of spare evenings and free weekends to complete 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 over all my friends who had helped and we had a little party with the champagne ready,” he smiles. With a hammering heart he sat in the driving seat reached out for the big red ignition button… and like every time since, glorious things happen. The tuned engine blowing out through the custom Formula GT exhaust pipes sounds amazing.
The real problems came not with the car though, but with the paperwork. The German vehicle licensing agency, TUV, 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 road legal or not. After months of not getting anywhere Max gave up trying to do everything with phone calls and emails, put the car on a trailer and drove 600km to the head office in Trier where they spent two days going checking every single bolt and every electrical connection before they cleared it for road use. That was a four day round-trip and wasn't much fun, but in the end he had a road legal car that at last he could drive!
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 it was really hard to learn how to drive 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. But 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 stands him at a massive 250,000 euros so if he was to wrap it around a tree there would be no 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 seatbelts 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! He drops it down to 2nd… The acceleration is shocking, Like being rear-ended on the motorway. There's a slight pause 2nd becomes 3rd then there's another hit. It's gloriously violent. And 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, 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. Fortunately the place for the photoshoot is not so 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. Those flared arches and the full bank of spotlights, it's so good that if you didn't know the story behind it you'd swear it was the original car.
Slowly Sideways is not about stage times though. As its name suggest it's about showing amazing cars and their very accurate replicas to the appreciative crowd and that's what Max loves. “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 thinking Wow, 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 car as even among the Renault 5 Turbos, Fiat 131 Arbarths and Mk2 Escorts it really stood out. And over thirty years later in with the plethora of Group B beasts at the Eifel Rally it still stands out!
Text and photos: Robb Pritchard