Car Lust Classic: Ferrari 288 GTO
Brrr! It's the dead of winter here in North America, quite chilly outside, and our blood is running as slow as 105W motor oil. So, what to do...?
How about a post to get our hearts racing? Something red and fast and gorgeous. How about... a Ferrari!
We don't spend much time talking about Ferraris here at Car Lust. Contrary to popular opinion, that's not really because we prefer oddball Citroens and Chevrolet Citations to Ferraris as cars, or even objects d'lust. Rather, it's because Ferraris are so obviously worthy of lust, and have been so widely feted for their lust-worthy qualities, that there's just not much left to say about them. The Ferrari America and the 360 Modena are obviously brilliant cars, but everybody under the sun already knows everything about them. That fertile ground has already been plowed, sown, and reaped many times.
The exception to that rule is today's car, the 1984 Ferrari 288 GTO. 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.
Their street-car counterparts were built for the sole purpose of legitimizing the race cars, and were nearly as extreme. Among these homologation specials were performance legends and former Car Lusts such as the Porsche 959, Audi Sport Quattro, Lancia Delta S4 and 037, Renault 5 Turbo, Peugeot 205 T16, Ford RS200, and the Citroen BX. These cars bristled with genuinely exotic hardware; mid-engine configurations, huge turbochargers, race-car-level horsepower, and sophisticated all-wheel-drive systems. The twist is that in most cases, these cars had started life as entry-level econoboxes; their profiles screamed "grocery getter," but the hardware made them the fastest street cars in the world.
Remember the Renault Le Car? Now imagine a Le Car bristling with wings, spoilers, wide tires, and a 400-horsepower turbocharged engine mounted amidships and powering all four wheels. That was Group B. It was madness, but it was divine madness.
Instead of starting with an economy car as Peugeot or Renault did, 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. Making matters worse, the the demise of the Group B asphalt racing series left the GTO without a motorsports venue. Unlike the Audi Sport Quattro, the Lancias, and the Renault and Peugeot, which built legendary racing careers in Group B rallying, the Ferrari never participated in or distinguished itself in competition. Even the Porsche 959, which was also designed for the defunct asphalt series, made a name for itself by finishing seventh overall in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and taking a one-two finish in the Paris-Dakar Rally.
So, if you're keeping score at home, the Ferrari came up short both in engineering and competition heritage to a group of cars that included a Peugeot hatchback. It was a very special Peugeot hatchback, admittedly, but the net result is that the GTO is one of the least-remembered of the legendary Group B cars.
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.
The GTO was even overshadowed by the cars with which it shared its role, its shape, and its name. The GTO was rapidly displaced as Ferrari's supercar by the lovely, more publicized, and much more capable F40 exotic; compared to the wildly exotic F40, the GTO looked like a warmed-over 308. That comparatively humble 308 also outshone the GTO in the public eye; it achieved iconic fame as Thomas Magnum's mount in Magnum P.I., and the GTO wasn't visually distinctive enough to separate itself. The 288 GTO wasn't even the defining Ferrari GTO--that title belongs to the classic and timelessly gorgeous 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO, which helped built Ferrari's reputation in America.
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.
All three photos are from SSIP.net.