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Honouring a legend: The Ferrari GTO

Announced this month back in 1984, the GTO was the first to carry this legendary acronym since the iconic 250 GTO decades before. That meant it had to be special – and fortunately it was exactly that
Words: Ben Barry - Photos: Talacrest Ferrari

The Ferrari GTO – or 288 GTO as this seminal supercar is also known – probably deserves more credit, even if it is venerated among serious collectors.

Easily mistaken for a Ferrari 308 GTB by less knowledgeable enthusiasts, often overlooked in favour of the closely related Ferrari F40 even by experts, the GTO is a perhaps under-appreciated yet pivotal model in the Maranello canon. Especially given this ‘Gran Turismo Omologata’ was the first to use the GTO moniker since Ferrari’s legendary 250 GTO and was born from a similarly uncompromising ethos.

Watch the rare GTO up close in this exclusive video showing the stunning lines of the car, which was released 39 years ago

In part we have the Group B motorsport category to thank for that. Introduced by governing body FISA for the 1982 season, Group B is synonymous with flame-spitting World Rally Cars sliding over gravel, Tarmac and snow.

Less well known is that its famously loose technical regulations also embraced circuit racing, with requirements that only 200 units be produced to homologate cars for competition.

A further 20 ‘evolution’ models could then be produced to introduce even more extreme versions for motorsport, paving the way for lighter bodywork, more aggressive aerodynamics, extra power and everything generally turned up to 11. This is exactly what Ferrari planned with the GTO Evoluzione, the regular GTO’s wilder sibling.

Under the bonnet is a powerful 2.8 litre V8 engine, putting out 400cv and capable of launching the car to 100km/h in just 4.9 seconds

As ever with Ferrari’s most hardcore performance cars, however, it was technical innovations trickling down from Formula 1 that truly inspired GTO development, with its potent cocktail of turbocharged kick and lightweight composite bodywork clearly inspired by the Ferrari 126 CK of 1981 – Maranello’s first composite, turbocharged Formula 1 car.

This was no marketing exercise with a flimsy race-to-road link. In fact, senior F1 personnel central to the Ferrari 126 C programme led GTO development, headed by GES Technical Director Harvey Postlethwaite.

The family resemblance to the entry-level 308 GTB supercar of the era is both striking and logical given both were designed by Pininfarina, but the GTO is a radically different proposition, not just below the surface, but above it too.

The styling of the car was similar to the 308 GTB, however the interior had several subtle touches including a special GTO logo on the speaker cover and on the dash

Built around a tubular steel spaceframe chassis in contrast to the 308’s semi-monocoque construction, the GTO’s wheelbase is stretched some 110mm to 2450mm while its bodywork is mostly a mix of lightweight composite panels.

This new body adds muscle tone to the later aluminium or earlier fibreglass 308’s more delicate curves, not to mention a neat nod to the legendary 250 GTO thanks to triple cooling vents, appearing like claw marks behind the rear wheels.

At a fundamental level the mid-mounted V8 engine is related to a 308’s, but there are numerous engineering revisions of huge significance, not least the engine being turned through 90 degrees into a longitudinal position – back then a Ferrari novelty, now the norm. It puts the five-speed manual gearbox on view at the rear of the car, making it easier to swap ratios at the racetrack.

The triple cooling vents seen on the outside of the car were a classy nod to the iconic 250 GTO back in the 1960s

Displacement of the V8 is actually reduced to 2.8 litres from the 308’s 3.0 litres (earning the GTO its informal 288 moniker for differentiation from a 250 GTO) but twin IHI turbochargers that boost with a vicious kick more than substitute for that.

The result is a brutal 400 CV punch in a feathery body weighing just 1160kg before fluids – healthy improvements over a 308 GTB’s 255 CV even before the 110kg weight saving is taken into account. Zero to 100 Km/h is done in 4.9 seconds, the GTO good for 305 Km/h  flat out.

For those in know, then, the GTO is the supercar that kickstarted one of the most exciting periods in Ferrari road-car history, reprising the most evocative name of its past while harnessing F1 technology for the future. Credit where it’s due.