The revs soar as the clutch is brutally side-stepped, and the rear wheels chirp and scramble frantically for traction. The rear fishtails a little until the tyres finally bite and we lunge forward before being flung through a right-hand corner. The manic V8 screams a spine-tingling tenor right behind us, as Tony rapidly feeds in second gear – then another relentless push for the redline. Oh that sound! Then hard on the brakes, the full harness biting into my shoulders. A quick downshift back into first gear, a smooth yet dedicated turn-in and the yellow seventies projectile powerslides beautifully through two 90 degree left-handers. This is clearly going to be a very physical experience, and while only mere seconds in, I’m already struggling to keep myself from breaking out in hysterical laughter…
Last Sunday I attended Race Retro at Stoneleigh Park. We’ve already shared the report from this excellent historical motorsport exhibition with you here: Pedal-to-the-Metal at Race Retro. But we saved the best for last. Well, at least from my perspective, this was no doubt the highlight of the whole event.
As already mentioned in the event report, the outdoor Live Rally Stage was nothing short of amazing. Both to view and listen to. All 100 rally cars were driven with real conviction on the new and expanded track laid out by Rallying with Group B. And to make it all even better, you could pay for a passenger ride to get full appreciation of just how effective and physical these classic rally cars are. I got lucky – very lucky! As I donned my helmet, I was pointed towards what was by far the loudest car on the whole track: Tony Worswick’s yellow 1976 Ferrari 308 GTB Group B rally car.
Tony Worswick owns and runs both the Ferrari specialist Northern Supercars and also Tony Worswick Automotive Engineering Ltd. in Blackburn. He has also rallied and raced a wide variety of cars right from an early Mini to winning the Euroboss F1 Championship three times in a Jordan 194 F1 car. But getting back to his 308, it was built to full Group B specification in 1981 by Tony Worswick Automotive Engineering with strong support from Maranello Concessionaires Ltd. It thereby became one of only seven Group B 308’s, and the only one built outside of Italy just as it’s the only one which is RHD.
The story goes that Worswick Automotive Engineering had previously built their own F3000 engine based on Ferrari’s 3.0-litre V8. Tony owned a Reynard at the time, and they intended to use the Ferrari engine in this. They went all out too, with aggressive custom made camshafts and even converting it to use slide throttles. The final result was impressive to say the least, the rev-happy racing engine pushing out well in excess of 400hp yet still retaining good torque from fairly low down. However, before they got a chance to use the Ferrari engine, the regulations in F3000 were changed, immediately ruling the engine out. And so it sat on Tony’s shelf waiting for a different application.
Enter their Group B 308 GTB project, where the F3000 engine found a new home – the strong torque being ideal for a rally car. With other rally 308’s typically producing around 280hp – or just above 300hp in the later 32 valve QV models – Tony’s approach was clearly the most extreme and well-developed of the lot. They didn’t stop at the engine either, as they also managed to further lighten the early fibreglass bodywork. The suspension was heavily reworked too, as to make it both stronger and stiffer in order to cope with a hard rally beating – something which the pretty and delicate road-going 308 certainly wasn’t developed for.
More power. Less weight. Stronger. Sharper. This was the complete package with which Tony entered the European Rally Championship in 1982 and competed right up to the demise of Group B in 1986. And this was the package which I now found myself strapped into.
I could of course talk you through every corner, every bump, every downshift, every powerslide and every acceleration of my two laps with Tony, but we can do better than that. We managed to get some in-car footage from the brutally effective Ferrari. Do yourself a favour and turn the volume up as far as it’ll go, and relive my two and a half minutes of rallying heaven: