Ferrari first put the striking 288 GTO into development with the intention of competing in a circuit-based Group B racing series, along with the Porsche 959. Although the series never attracted enough backers to become a reality, denying us of some fantastic Ferrari v Porsche battles, the company produced run of 200 road cars to homologate the GTO. Reviving the GTO name for the first time since the iconic 250 wasn’t a rash decision, and even if the 288 would never take to the circuit it’s absolutely worthy of such a badge.
Some of the design features of the 288 GTO were first showcased on a 308 GTB back in 1977 at the Geneva Auto Show. The body was by Pininfarina’s Leonardo Fioravanti, and the visual changes such as the quad headlights, bulging wheel arches and large-diameter tailpipes and protruding gearbox casing clearly differentiate the 288 GTO from its milder siblings. Despite the visual similarities, it’s actually a a very different car under the skin.
The big change was to the body, which was no longer a monocoque, but a lightweight body placed on top of a high-strength tubular chassis. The also 288 had its engine mounted longitudinally to make space for two turbochargers, and capacity of the V8 was reduced to 2.9 litres to meet the FIA equivalency ratio for forced induction cars, while the wider track helped to more effectively put the power down to the road. The end result was an explosive road car that redefined what fast was and today it has become a true modern classic.
Though it never actually raced in the series it was built for, the 288GTO paved the way for some of the most iconic supercars such as the F40 and F50.
Which one to buy?
There was only one standard model, and with approximately 272 cars built, most are in private collections. For something even rarer than the standard car, there were five Ferrari 288 GTO ‘Evoluzione’ versions built, with power increased to 650bhp, weight reduced to 940kg and a body kit that clearly showed signs of the forthcoming F40. These cars are some of the rarest Ferrari’s in existence and are highly prized, with values reflecting their desirability.
Body panels are a mix of steel and glassfibre as on early 308’s. The front bonnet and bulkhead were made from a Kevlar glassfibre composite which stemmed from Ferrari’s F1 program.
All 288 GTO’s were left hand drive but their small dimensions and good visibility make them easy to use on UK roads. Despite its race car aspirations, the GTO has well weighed controls and is a pleasure to drive - as long as you accord it with the proper levels of respect. The transition from off-boost to turbocharged top end is sudden and can get the unwary driver into a lot of trouble.
Interior specifications were trimmed down to save weight, but you still get leather seats, optional air conditioning and a period stereo system. None of this is really what a 288 GTO is about but it does give it a modicum of touring comfort that is absent in more racing oriented machinery like the F40.
The best place to search for a 288 nowadays is with specialist dealerships and at top level auctions. It’s important to ensure that the car has matching numbers and has a comprehensive history file. Ferrari Classiche certification can add further piece of mind when investing in a 288 GTO.
Performance and specifications
Ferrari 288 GTO
Engine 2855cc 32valve DOHC V8 Twin Turbo
Power 395bhp @ 7000 rpm
Torque 366lb ft @ 3800rpm
Top speed 190mph
0-60mph 4.6 seconds
Consumption 22.8 mpg
Gearbox Five-speed manual
Dimensions and weight
With a car as special and rare as the 288 GTO parts and spares are only going to be available from Ferrari themselves or specialists that work on these cars. Due to ever increasing value, most cars should be in showroom condition however there are a few things to consider when making a purchase:
• The body panels are a mix of glassfibre the bonnet and bulkhead are glassfibre/Kevlar composite and steel is used for the doors. The body was not a semi-monocoque design as other 308s but instead had a separate body on a tubular steel chassis. It is needless to say that repairs should only ever be entrusted to specialists who are intimately familiar with the intricacies of the 288.
• The 288 GTO was only available in red so any other body colour means that the car has had a respray which may affect values where originality is seen as a very important attribute.
• With no traction control and 395bhp, good tyres and a well-sorted suspension are essential. Cars that stand for long periods will suffer from perished rubber bushes, which severely impacts the driving experience.
• The gearbox copes well with the additional torque and notchy second gear selection until the gearbox warms up is normal. Clutch bell housings can suffer from porosity over time; the only solution is a full replacement.
• Timing belts require regular replacement approximately every three to five years regardless of mileage as a snapped belt will wreck the engine.
1984: Ferrari 288 GTO launched – intended for ill-fated Group B racing series. Air conditioning an optional extra and no power steering available
1985: Five Evoluzione models built with power up to 650bhp and a lightened body shell. Top speed reputed to be 225mph
1986: With 272 road-going 288 GTOs built, production comes to an end
Owners clubs, forums and websites
Summary and prices
Values of the 288 GTO have been rising rapidly for years and recent auction and specialist prices have seen some low-mileage examples change hands for just under £2,000,000. The ultra-rare Evoluzione models can change hands for twice that figure when they do come up.
A car of true historic significance the 288 GTO is the sort of car that can provide its lucky owner with the kind of visceral drive that makes every excursion memorable. Most are destined to spend their lives in collections but this would be doing the GTO an injustice as it needs to be driven for its true value to be appreciated.
Words: John Tallodi