Mercedes-Benz has AMG and BMW has M to run their motorsport divisions, and, with a history that stretches back nearly 40 years, Ferrari has Michelotto. Yet despite being the guiding force behind the development of iconic models such as the 288 GTO Evoluzione and every non-Formula 1 race car since 1996, its history is not a very well-publicized one. The reason is that Michelotto sells directly to racing teams, so no resources are wasted on frivolous advertising or PR, and that’s perhaps why no journalist has ever been invited inside to tell the story of the treasures found there.
Imagine a workshop as top secret as Area 51, where access is restricted to the 40 staff and not even customers are allowed to tread. A well-lit space, immaculate to the point of being clinically clean, the cars cubicled off with rows of bespoke tool kits, bodies off to expose the intricate inner workings. An engine room that looks like the assembly point for a fleet of spaceships. Boxes of hand-machined cogs for the gearbox department. Customer cars, too, both competition models and their road-going counterparts, on hand for restoration or upgrades.
This is all conjecture, of course, as the Padova-based workshop is not a scene for the uninitiated. During my visit, I wasn’t allowed to photograph anything and was sworn to silence about what I saw. But what I can say with certainty is that the company has come a long way since 1969, when a young Giuliano Michelotto started an all-marque service center that prepared Minis and DAFs (a long-gone Dutch automaker) for rallying.
IN 1977, AFTER YEARS of campaigning a Lancia Stratos to an impressive 30 rally wins and no fewer than five Italian championships, it was time to take a new direction. The Ferrari 308 GTB caught Michelotto’s eye. With a mid-engine configuration, a powerful V8, and, as early models had fiberglass body panels, light weight, the 308 looked like a possible winner against the period’s Opel Asconas, Fiat 131s, and Ford Escorts on tarmac events.
That was the theory, at least. But Ferrari had pulled out of sports and GT racing at the end of 1972 to concentrate fully on its Formula 1 program, so anything racing with a Prancing Horse badge was a privateer effort with very little, if any, input from Maranello. In other words, it would be a project Michelotto would have to tackle by himself.