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Ferrari 208 GTB Turbo: the pioneer

08 gennaio 2019

Richard Aucock

How turbocharging tech from Formula One made its way onto a road-going Ferrari in 1982

In Italy in the 1980s, there was a rule that rewarded smaller capacity engines of less than 2.0 litres with tax breaks. The savings were significant, particularly for more expensive sports cars such as Ferraris. Maranello capitalised on this with special ‘downsized’ V8 engines that proved popular with Italian clients. By the 1980s, drivers of these 2.0-litre 208 GTB and 208 GTS models were becoming more demanding. They liked the savings, which more than halved the tax paid when new, but now sought more performance. Luckily, Ferrari had an answer – a solution that was already proving highly successful on the racetrack: turbocharging.

The 1982 Ferrari 126 C2 was the class of the grid. Driven by Gilles Villeneuve and Didier Pironi, the car was rumoured to produce more than 650hp from a tiny 1.5-litre V6. This was all thanks to its two large – and very potent – KKK turbochargers. Of course, 1982 was a tragic season for Ferrari drivers, but the sheer speed of the 126 C2 was proven when Ferrari won that year’s constructors’ title. And so, at the 1982 Turin Motor Show, a new car was revealed: the 208 GTB Turbo. This used the same 2.0-litre V8 as its predecessor (cylinder inserts reduced the capacity of the 3.0-litre engine it was derived from), but with the addition of a KKK K26 turbocharger. It was genuine racetrack-to-road transfer, and the effect was enormous.

The previous 208 GTB produced a healthy 155hp at 6,800rpm. The new 208 GTB Turbo increased this enormously, to 220hp at 7,000rpm. It also had 18 per cent more torque, and had become a genuine 150mph car. Acceleration from 0-60mph took just 6.6 seconds, making this a fast sports car even by today’s standards. In 1982, it was a revelation. Visually, it was similar to the Ferrari 308 GTB it was derived from, but there were some differences. At the front, there were extra cooling slots in the lower front spoiler beneath the radiator grille. These channelled extra airflow into the radiator, which exited through a new satin black grille in the front lid. At the rear, the engine cover gained extra louvres and was now U-shaped, and the rear bumper was split to integrate a cooling duct in the middle.

At the side, extra NACA ducts were added to the lower body sides, while the Pininfarina logo was moved aft of the rear wheels to accommodate them. The finishing touch was a ‘TURBO’ badge on the rear, sitting below the 208 script. Inside, the first turbocharged Ferrari gained another ‘TURBO’ badge in the passenger compartment, and a boost gauge replaced the clock. Seats were part-trimmed in plush Zelna cloth, although leather was optional. The Ferrari 208 GTB Turbo went on sale in 1982, and the F1 link was underlined by a sales brochure that featured F1 star Pironi. The open-top 208 GTS Turbo went on sale in 1983. Both 208 Turbo models sold strongly, despite being available only in Italy.

They may have been Ferrari’s first turbocharged cars, but their performance and the driving experience was so impressive, clients clamoured for them. Other turbocharged 308-derived models followed, most famously the 288 GTO in 1984. The F40 followed in 1987, but it wasn’t until the launch of the 488 GTB in 2015 that large numbers of clients would experience a turbocharged Ferrari again. The rest, of course, is history, as Ferrari road cars continue to benefit from the turbocharging progress being made by the Scuderia in Formula One. However, it is still gratifying to look back at the first turbo Ferrari road car and see that this was a genuine piece of tech transfer from Formula One to the highway. Long may it continue.