Face Off--Ferrari 288 GTO vs. Porsche 959
This isn't exactly news to long-time readers, but we at Car Lust enjoy our cars a little on the offbeat side. Sure, we like fast, beautiful, and competent cars, but unlike many sites and most car magazines, we give at least as much love to the lumbering land barges, wheezing econoboxes,French oddities, and Eastern bloc agricultural implements.
I'm proud of the diversity of the cars we highlight, but after last week's Jellybean Quasi-Sportsters Face Off, which featured six brightly painted, 130-horsepower, economy-car-based, quasi-sports coupes, I feel as if I owe the long-suffering readers of this blog something just a tiny bit more traditionally lustable. Hopefully high-performance homologation specials from Ferrari and Porsche will do the job.
More detail follows after the poll and the jump.
[The poll widget is no longer available because Vizu.com has ceased operations.]
Ferrari 288 GTO
From the post:
"This latter-day 1980s GTO just happens to be that rarest of breeds--a limited-production, hyper-exotic Ferrari supercar that, due to a strange combination of circumstances, has remained far more obscure than its nameplate and performance would indicate. ...
[Compared to economy-car-based Group B cars], Ferrari started with something infinitely more exotic--the long, low, and swoopy mid-engined 308 sports car. To that promising beginning, Ferrari added a twin-turbocharged V-8 that cranked out 400 horsepower. The result was the 288 GTO--a scarlet supercar that exploded from 0-60 in 5 seconds flat and topped out at 190 mph--serious speed in the mid-1980s. A competition background, a gorgeous body, world-class speed, and of course the instant cachet of the Ferrari badge--this car had everything needed for lasting fame. Everything, that is, but an identify of its own, because against all odds the 288 GTO was completely overshadowed by its contemporaries.
"As a street car, the GTO suffered in comparison with its Group B cousins. With relatively conservative engineering and without AWD's game-changing traction, the street-going GTO couldn't keep pace with cars like the Ford RS200 or the Peugeot 205 T16. ... That doesn't fully explain the GTO's lack of fame, though. After all, in the flashy world of the mid-1980s, Americans should have been worshiping at the altar of a sexy, high-performance Italian car. Well, they did; the problem is that they were adoring other sexy, high-performance Italian cars.
"The GTO never had anything like enough visual horsepower or notoriety to displace the Lamborghini Countach as the teenage dream machine of choice. And even within the Ferrari lineup, the GTO was overshadowed--its stablemate, the Ferrari Testarossa, was nearly as fast, far more distinctive, and had a starring role in Miami Vice that turned it into a lust object for millions. ... I don't mean to claim that the 1980s Ferrari 288 GTO was completely ignored or overshadowed; it is a Ferrari. But I've always found it remarkable that Ferrari produced a pretty, low-production, high-performance special that, somehow, never really impacted the public consciousness."
From the post:
"I always respected the 959 for two reasons--because it was a thinking man's exotic, and because it was the supercar epitome of speaking softly while carrying a big stick. Oh, and what a stick it was.
"In a straight line, on dry pavement, the 959 ... was in an entirely different zip code (from the Italian exotics). Its all-wheel-drive traction helped it sprint to 60 in 3.6 seconds, and it rocketed up to the very verge of 200 mph. That's stunning, heroic performance for 1986; even two decades later, that 0-60 time is incredible. Only the outrageous Ferrari F40 could run with the 959.
"Ah, but that's on straight, dry pavement. The 959 was outstanding on straight, dry pavement, but it was otherworldly when the road turned curvy or wet. The 959 excelled in real-world conditions that would cause a Testarossa, Countach, or even an F40 to run and hide.
"Most supercars depended on brawn, but the 959's genius derived from its brainy technology. Rather than the huge V-8s or V-12s favored in other performance cars of the time, the 959 made do with a 2.85-liter flat six similar to the engine that appeared in plebeian 911s. Similar, that is, but for two sequential turbochargers that pumped the output to 444 horsepower. Few exotic car manufacturers used turbochargers at teh time, but those that did tended to use large turbochargers. That's not surprising, as large turbos provide amazing boost--albeit at the expense of jerky, delayed response. Porsche's sequential turbocharging system, on the other hand, paired a small, responsive turbo with a large, powerful sibling--providing both smooth, immediate power delivery and tremendous top-end thrust.
"The 959 put that power to the ground through a sophisticated all-wheel-drive system, one of the very first to be installed on an ultra-high-performance car. The system could alter power delivery to each wheel depending on available traction--technology available to the most humble compact SUV today, but exotic stuff indeed in 1987. As a bonus, the 959 was relatively easy to drive slowly and smoothly; it wasn't quite a grocery-getter, but neither was it a snorting, ill-behaved brute like a Countach."
Both the Ferrari and the Porsche were exotic evolutions of their company's bread-and-butter sports cars (the Ferrari 308 and the Porsche 911, respectively), though heavily enhanced with much more exotic hardware. Both the GTO and 959 were built to help homologate race cars for the planned but ultimately abandoned Group B asphalt racing series. Both street cars were hugely rare, obscenely expensive, and among the fastest street cars available in the mid-to-late 1980s.
Yet, interestingly, the two cars present completely different personalities. Just look at the pictures in this post; the Ferrari's achingly emotive lines are highlighted in blood-red paint, while the Porsche's arodynamically sculpted profile is painted in a more dispassionate silver. The Ferrari looks like a barely restrained beast; the Porsche resembles scientific equipment. This impression is carried through to the engineering--the Ferrari was a cramped, hot, snorting beast; the Porsche was relatively civilized and used all-wheel-drive to put power to the ground with a minimum of fuss.
My vote is for the Porsche 959, and it's not particularly close. While the GTO is a compellingly unique Ferrari and a bona fide object of lust, the 959 speaks to my imagination in a much more direct way. As I said in my original post, "in a decade that celebrated excess and extravagance, the 959 was a Porsche that was excessive in its technology and extravagant in its intelligence." That still sums it up for me. The GTO was an adolescent's fantasy car; by contrast, the 959 was a grown-up's exotic. As evocative as the Ferrari is, the Porsche is faster, subtler, and boasts more innovative and, ultimately, more influential technology. And, perhaps paradoxically, that makes me want it all the more passionately.