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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!

So to satisfy that, here's a Car Lust Classic by Chris Hafner. If you have any comments, please go to the original post and type away.

 

Ferrari-288-gto-front-1_101We 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.

Ferrari-288-gto-side-2_101In the early-to-mid 1980s, a fresh, relatively unrestricted race-car specification package known as Group B gave birth to a variety of dangerously fast and ridiculously wonderful cars. The race cars spawned by Group B were among the fastest and most technologically advanced road-based vehicles on the planet; after they proved too fast for rallying, they were eventually outlawed.

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.

Ferrari-288-gto-back-3_101 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.

--Chris H.

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The 288 GTO was actually wildly popular when new, which was part of the reason for the F40. Ferrari wasn't as clever about milking their customers for every last nickel back then, so they built the number required for homologation in Group B plus a few for their best customers, and sold them for what they felt was a lot of money. I think it was in the $100 to $150K range at the time. What happened was that most of the cars wound up changing hands for multiples of this amount almost immediately. Ferrari was mad, since speculators were making lots of money on cars the constructor barely broke even on. The next thing that happened was that Porsche priced the 959 at an unprecedented base price of $225K USD, which rapidly went up with demand. Enzo Ferrari really felt that he'd been hard done by, having not priced the 288 GTO high enough. The result was the F40, which was really just a riced out 288 GTO. Doubt it? Just look at the 288 GTO Evoluzione of 1987. It was an F40 in all but name. The only important innovation of the F40 was its price. This time Enzo charged 959 money for it, and Ferrari sold as many of them as people would take at that price, ensuring that the speculators took a bath while the company paid its bills as it mourned the loss of its founder, who died not long after the F40's introduction.

CJinSD, weren't F40s treated the same way, you know, sold for a profit by multiple owners?
When I was reading an old article of it's successor, the F50, a good chunk of it was dedicated to Ferrari's then-new policy that was designed to hinder this activity, though with a noted exception mentioned in the article?

http://www.caranddriver.com/reviews/ferrari-f50-road-test

Enzo died during the F40s production run, and all Ferraris soared in value for a time. Some of the record prices of about 1990 have only been reached again in the past couple years. There were still people who managed to profit on the initial demand for the F40, particularly since Il Commendatore died within a year of its production starting. Ferrari still had the last laugh, as they built F40s for five years, totaling 1,315 cars. They made them until the market was saturated and speculators were ruined. To put the number of expensive super cars in perspective, McLaren sold 71 F1 road cars over a period of seven years. That isn't a typo. VW sold 316 Veyrons over a period of seven years, and they made a plethora of editions to sell that many to a customer pool far smaller than the number of cars sold.

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