A great many cars have impressed me this year, some of which I’ve been fortunate enough to drive, and many, many of which I’ve not. Some, including this one, are memorable for doing me actual bodily harm – the dust cloud seen in the image above contained particles of various masses and diameters, from microscopic to massive, the former of which caked my camera – the latter bruised my body.
It was well worth it, though. The photos might be the fluky point ‘n shoot product that betrays a rank amateur, but standing that close to a Ferrari 308 at full chat on a dirt course is something that will stay with me for years. And for this reason, it’s my Redusernab Car Of The Year nomination for 2017. I mean, I know it’s not going to win – my nominees never do – but it’s certainly worth throwing into the ring.
I encountered this 308 this summer at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, where a to mercilessly thrash their priceless and historic rally legends around all day long. The list of cars featured was long and varied, including everything from a to Rover SD1s, via monsters like the Ford RS 200, Austin Rover Metro 6R4 and Audi Sport Quattro. The Ferrari was nothing like the most powerful car to show up on the day, but more than made up for this by, well, being a Ferrari 308. But that’s not why I’m nominating it.
The Group B Ferrari racer is a blast from the past. A wraith from an era when lunacy was normal in the best possible way. Today’s rally cars are, for the most part, far, far quicker than this one and would annihilate it in competition. But that’s what you’d expect after years of constant development and technological innovation. They’re almost too good. Rallying has become a scientific ballet – but one that feels more calculated than artful.
There’s absolutely no doubting the superhuman abilities of today’s rally driver, nor the mechanical exactitude of the cars. It’s almost surreal how the can matter-transfer from one end of a rally stage to another, irrespective of terrain, and all the while looking like a wildly accessorized hatchback. This latter point is essential – the whole point of these is marketing, increasing public awareness of the product by splattering it through mud at breakneck speeds. The Group B era, though, was something else. Yes, there was corporate prestige at sake (although privateers like this non-factory Ferrari were competing purely for the prize), but the cars were nothing like those you’d see trundling to the supermarket.
But, more important is the effect these cars have on sad old bastards like me, who are rapidly becoming less young than they used to be. I was born in ’81, and was barely old enough to appreciate the Group B era when it was live. I just about remember when the formula was abolished, though, following death and drama in Portugal and a final disaster in Corsica. All of a sudden, rallying felt neutered. Spayed. Shorn of wildness and madness. Events like Goodwood and cars like this Ferrari bring the era back to living colour, and dust, and pain.
So, in essence, a vote for the Group B Ferrari is a vote for a time, a place and a feeling. It’s more than a car, it’s the rekindling of a cherished memory.
(Images copyright Chris Haining / Redusernab 2017)