Octane
By Amos Kwon
on 9.9.13
Photo by Rene Staud

The Ferrari Enzo and F40 need no introduction — they’ve virtually been canonized. There is a Ferrari supercar, however, that travels under the radar compared to its two aforementioned (and more modern) brothers. To the untrained eye, the Ferrari 288 GTO (1984-1985) looks much like Magnum P.I.’s 308 GTS. But the ferocious 288 is so much more than Robin Master’s permanent loan to the mustachioed private eye. It was built with purpose, created to feed Enzo Ferrari’s unquenchable racing passions in Group B racing, a beautiful, supremely quick beast. It went to war with the stellar Porsche 959 for the title of performance titan of the late ’80s. To see one is to understand the true meaning of “car lust”. The 288 GTO can actually be credited as the father of the modern Ferrari supercar, and it is quite possibly the finest prancing horse.

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What It’s All About

Understanding the GTO’s name is paramount to grasping its establishment in the automotive pantheon. GTO is short for “Gran Turismo Omologato”, Italian for Grand Touring Homologated. Homologation, derived from the Greek “homologeo” (which means “to agree with”), is the racing term for rules on production cars that justify entry into a racing series. Essentially, this means that the production car must adhere to specific race rules on engine displacement, chassis construction, suspension, and other aspects. These same cars must also be street legal, and finally, a certain number of cars must be made available for public sale. Group B racing in 1984 specified that Ferrari must produce at least 200 cars in order to qualify for for homologation.

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But just as the 288′s homologation process neared completion in 1986, tragedy struck. Two Group B drivers, Henri Toivonen from Finland and Sergio Cresto from the U.S., perished in their Lancia Delta S4 when they careened off a cliff during the Tour de Corse rally in Corsica, France. Consequently, the FIA governing body banned the Group B supercar series. The 288 GTO would never lay tire on a Group B racetrack. 272 cars had been produced; all of them went to public sale. Though the ignominious timing of Group B’s demise destroyed any hope that the 288 would become a racing legend, the car had all the makings of one.

Technical Rundown

The 288 carried forth part of the legendary 1960s 250 GTO’s name, but this time the car housed a 2.8-liter 8-cylinder engine — hence the 288 marque. The 288 GTO’s styling, too, was derivative: the design theme first appeared in 1977 on the famous Pininfarina-designed 308 GTB. The long, flat nose, quad rectangular driving lights, angular but smooth body, and deep inset front spoiler made for a distinct exterior that looked like nothing else on the road. Noticeable styling cues from the 250 GTO were also carried over to the 288, including triple vents aft of the rear wheels and a more pronounced lip spoiler. Higher side mirrors than the 308, necessary so drivers could see over the fat rear haunches, also helped the 288 stand out from its less capable brethren.

To fit under the hood with twin-turbochargers and intercoolers, the GTO’s engine was mounted longitudinally (parallel to the length of the car). Hence, the transmission also had to be moved behind the engine; the rear wheels and differential were located behind the engine. Bigger tires for better handling and power delivery necessitated a wider body and track. The length and wheelbase of the car were increased and front-to-rear weight distribution improved upon. The 228′s engine was mounted lower than 308′s, lowering the car’s center of gravity and improving handling, and the use of composite materials in the body and the chassis made the car impressively light (2,552 pounds). In an interesting example of how “hand-made” these cars were, external dimensions weren’t initially released — they would vary slightly from car to car.

In an interesting example of how “hand-made” these cars were, external dimensions weren’t initially released — they would vary slightly from car to car.

While the 308′s engine was a 3.0 liter V8, the GTO housed a smaller displacement 2.8 liter (2,855 cc) with twin IHI intercooled turbochargers that boosted output. The displacement was limited by the FIA, which specified that if a Group B car employed turbocharging the displacement in cubic centimeters must use a multiplier of 1.4, giving it just under the regulation 4.0 liters at 3,977 ccs. The resultant output were impressive for the era: a huge 400 horsepower and 366 lb-ft of torque. 60 MPH arrived in the 4 second range; its 189 MPH top speed made it the first roadgoing car in history to break the 300 KPH (186 MPH) top speed mark. The Weber-Marelli electronic injection and ignition system was based on Ferrari’s F1 car setup, and engine power was mated to a five-speed manual transmission with an F1-style twin-plate clutch — all managed by a beautiful gated shifter.

Its Place in History

That the 288 GTO never saw any official track time surely didn’t affect sales. Each of the 272 cars made was sold. To put that into perspective, Ferrari made 1,315 F40s. Today, GTOs command upwards of $1 million — and it’s a safe bet that their value will appreciate over time.

Five of a special racing version, called the 288 GTO Evoluzione, were also built and boasted up to 650 hp and a significant drop in weight (around 500 pounds) from the standard GTO — resulting in a top speed of 225 MPH. The Evoluzione proved a direct link to the subsequent F40 in both power and aesthetics. So despite being barred from its intended testing ground, the 288 GTO brought to the automotive world an iconic homologation special that led to a superlative supercar history for Ferrari.

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octane-promo-box-logo-gear-patrolThis article is part of a new original series, OCTANE -- a premium take on all things motoring.