An Insider’s Look at the Coolest Group B Ferrari 308 GTB Ever Made
It's right-hand drive, it's Ferrari, it's strange and beautiful.
You don’t normally associate strong, rugged, or durable with a Ferrari. The words that normally come to mind are fragile, delicate, and unreliable. Unless of course that Ferrari is a Group B rally car, a notion so absurd it’s almost impossible to imagine.
Why would anyone build a Group B Ferrari? Because Group B rally cars are objectively awesome.
For those of you born under a rock: Group B was an era in rally racing notable for its hugely powerful cars, its neglect of safety (both for drivers and spectators) so cavalier there was an inevitable dark cascade of fatalities. In 1986, after just four years of racing, Group B was banned following a devastating crash that killed Henri Toivonen and his co-driver, Sergio Cresto, and to this day remains shrouded in mystery.
At the zenith of Group B, its regulations—or the lack thereof—made it so that a light, mid-engined car was spectacularly competitive (think Lancia, Peugeot, and Renault). Knowing this, a man named Tony Worswick, a mechanical engineer (and huge petrolhead) from Blackburn, England, put two and two together—that is, a mid-engine car that is also light—and decided to build his own Ferrari 308 GTB Group B car.
In 1980, fresh off a season of racing in Group 4—Group B’s predecessor—in a Hart-powered 420r Ford Escort, Worswick took a leap of faith, traded in a Chevy and what he called “a boatload of cash,” and bought a 308 that he was coincidentally working on for a friend.
With parts and support coming from from Colonel Ronnie Hoare, the infamous head of Ferrari UK; Maranello Concessionaires, whose livery can be spotted on the car; Michellotto, an Italian racing firm; and Worswick’s own engineering company, the car competed in Europe between 1982 and 1986.
When Worswick bought the 308 in 1980 from his friend, it was far from race-ready. At that point, it was basically a rolling chassis with an engine. To make it suitably gnarly for Group B, he replaced the stock fiberglass bodywork with carbon kevlar composite panels (a move that Worswick claims inspired the bodywork on the Ferrari F40). Then he moved on to the drivetrain.
“In the European rallies, we used a base engine that would be further developed: a two-valve unit with high compression pistons, some cams we manufactured (at least three developments), different valves, and carbs with much bigger chokes. When the homologation lapsed on the two-valve engine, Maranello Concessionaires supplied us with a four-valve unit and we modified it along the same lines–cams, pistons and valves–but initially with the standard K Jetronic fuel injection. Later, we manufactured the throttle slides and incorporated a simple electronic control system. We used this to win the last frontline event we did (a Motoring News rally car race at Oulton Park) before the car was effectively retired.”
Michelotto was an Italian racing firm that developed its own Ferrari-official 308 GTB Group Bs, and they actually helped out, supplying Worswick with a short-ratio, non-synchro dog-leg gearbox, original springs, and magnesium Bilstein dampers.
For the next seven years or so, Worswick would compete with it frequently. “When we got the 308, we did as many races as we could,” he recalls. Surprisingly, despite the extreme forces rallying exerts on cars, the 308 never got bent out of shape. (Worswick had a jig for the chassis just in case it did, though.) And despite heavy modifications, “the engine was virtually unburstable.” Worswick recalls performing typical post-race season engine teardowns and scratching his head: “Well what was the point of that?
The only things that broke, apparently, were rear chassis brackets, which were later updated to forged units that Ferrari used on its Daytona LeMans cars:
“When we had the issue with cracks on the lower rear chassis brackets, I rang the parts manager [at Maranello Concessionaires], Steve Lay, to see if this was normally a problem. I remember his answer to this day:
‘Well I am just looking at that photo you sent me. No—we don’t have a problem with them normally, but most of my customers treat their vehicles as motor carriages, not light aircraft!
The following day, four forged Daytona Le Mans brackets arrived with us.”
The second development of the 308's power plant, based on the four-valve (quattrovalvole) unit from Maranello Concessionaires, is worth mentioning. It was initially destined to power a single-seater Reynard 88D Formula 3000 car–Worswick dabbled in Formula 3000, too–but new regulations in the British Racing Series banished all engines but the infamous Cosworth DFV to be used, so Worswick did what any normal person would do: put it in the back of rally car.
During its development and testing, Worswick wasn’t getting the kind of top-end power he wanted out of it: “The engine would not take much larger valves than standard because the bores were too small, and we couldn’t make the bores much larger because the block was too short. It was designed as a road car engine after all.
“Because of the comparatively small valves, etc., it had massive bottom-end power compared to a DFV, so we thought it might be a bit of a laugh to put it in the back of the rally car! It was, and it has been in there ever since.”
The finished product churns out between 430 and 450 horsepower, a huge step up from the first phase of the engine's development. (For comparison, the original 308 engine only spat out a meagre 252 horsepower).
This sizable increase comes from the modifications Worswick Engineering made: custom cams, fuel injection system, and sliding throttle bodies. The pistons are from Mahle, the intake trumpets from an F3000 car, and the engine management system from Zytek.
Despite the reputation Ferrari has for making delicate cars, Worswick’s 308 has proved it can handle the tough stuff with ease. Maybe don’t take your Ferrari onto a rally stage, but know that prancing horses like Tony’s can gallop in the dirt, too.