Four hundred horsepower, 305 kph, 0 to 100 in 4.8 seconds, with a beastly look but close enough to the 308 (then the 328), the Ferrari 288 GTO took Maranello into the era of supercars, soon followed by Porsche and its 959. So many of us see the F40 as the holy grail of the ‘Prancing Horse’. For me, at the risk of drawing the wrath of some, I greatly prefer the 288 GTO which, in my meaning, does not usurp its 3 letters while maintaining an attractive style, to the contrary of its hier. So let’s go back and revisit the Ferrari 288 GTO.
In the early 80’s, Ferrari had moved away from sports racing and almost exclusively into Formula 1, further and further from this type of commercial production. In the eyes of Enzo Ferrari, the firm was lacking a car and a programme that was a more realistic commercial showcase than Formula 1. However a Group B programme in broad technical terms and with a variety of sports racing options would give the team in Maranello a good idea: to revive the Gran Turismo Omologato ‘GTO’ acronym.
The return of the GTO
To participate in Group B, Ferrari presented the first street version and then began the production line in 1984. Not until 1985 did the factory begin work on the ‘Evolutione’ model meant to take part in this category of racing competition. With 650 horsepower, a top speed of nearly 370 kph, the total of five prototypes manufactured were not sufficient to fulfil Ferrari’s commitment to Group B, quickly disappearing after a series of accidents (and after realising that the technical rules were perhaps too ‘broad’).
Because of this, the 288 GTO would never know any real official racing, as originally planned, but in the end it didn’t really matter; just having created it is seems already to be enough. The standard production 288 GTO model was sufficiently impressive. As stated, it offered breathtaking performance in general for the period and for Ferrari in particular, exceeding both symbolic barriers (that of 400 horsepower and that of 300 kph).
Two turbos for the GTO
To achieve this type of performance, Ferrari engineers chose a simple solution: the turbocharger. This was not a first for Ferrari. In 1982, the brand introduced the turbocharged version of the 208 GTB / GTS for the Italian home market, where excise taxes penalised shamelessly at the time any automobiles with engines of displacement capacity of over 2 litres. But for the 288 GTO, given the price of the beast, it was mainly about adding power, regardless of Italian State taxes, without reducing the displacement: the 4 valves per cylinder, 2,855 cc V8, arranged longitudinally in center rear position (a slightly smaller displacement than the original V8 to satisfy the Group B rules).
Boosted by its two IHI turbos, the V8 attained the coveted and famous 400 horsepower. The Pininfarina signed body, extrapolated from the 308 (and the very close 328 that would be released in 1985), was widened, with a more massive front spoiler including four driving lights at the far sides of the grille, while three small slanted air vents reminiscent of the 250 GTO appeared behind the rear wheels to cool the brakes. Just a little bit can suffice to transform and add a big extra touch to any automobile.
308 muscular look
Although the silhouette seems relatively close to the 308, the wheelbase was lengthened by 110 mm, and the track widened to accommodate bigger Goodyears, while the position of the gearbox in the extension of the engine lowered the center of gravity; larger yet lighter thanks to the use of carbon fibre and Kevlar for the chassis and part of the bodywork, weighing in at only 1,160 kg, giving a total power-to-weight ratio of the very first order. The interior stripped of creature comforts required deeper pockets in order to acquire the non standard options: radio, air conditioning and power windows. In addition, the rear-engine mounted gearbox took the place of the normally useful boot! In other words, this car was not made for going on holiday.
A production run of at least 200 units was required to achieve FIA homologation. Before even the start of production, more than 200 orders were reached so Enzo Ferrari agreed to extend the production target. In total, 272 copies (including the five ‘Evoluzione’) were produced. The 288 GTO Evoluzione, chassis number 70.205, served as the prototype for the future F40 and is now kept at the Enzo Ferrari Museum in Maranello.
More rare than her offspring the F40, the 288 GTO seems less emblematic for collectors (at least for now) yet prices for the 288 GTO have been rising as if the F40 was too familiar, and may soon be inaccessible for 99% of us. But we have the right to dream and then, at worse, do like I did: pick up the Majorette version bought back in the day with the 7 francs that I extorted from my father for washing his Peugeot 305 (this is how a passion is born).