Words: Jason Barlow
Created to blow away the competition in Group B rallying, the Ferrari 288 Evoluzione never actually raced
Ferrari’s history is peppered with one-offs, low-volume cars, and quirks of fate. But when it comes to “what-ifs?”, the 288 Evoluzione is the Maranello great that never truly was.
Back in the mid-1980s, world rallying was at the apogee of its popularity, rivalling Formula One as the premier global motorsport entertainment. Much of this success was down to the savage new Group B formula, which saw some of the world’s most gifted driving improvisers wrestle increasingly powerful rally cars around the forests and across deserts.
Audi’s Quattro morphed into the Quattro SWB, Peugeot – under the guidance of the future Scuderia Ferrari Team Principal and FIA President Jean Todt – fielded the brilliant 205 T16, and Lancia ran the lissom 037 and by mid-decade the technologically advanced but unruly Delta S4 (a car which was both turbo- and supercharged).
The regulations required that 200 road-going versions of the cars had to be homologated for road use. Although the connection between these extreme rally weapons and their everyday equivalents was somewhat tenuous, it was still strong enough to fire the imaginations of WRC’s many fans.
Into this maelstrom of horsepower came Ferrari, whose 288 GTO (Gran Turismo Omologato) was conceived to compete in Group B. The 288 GTO’s body represented a considerable reimagining of the 308 GTB on which it was based. So much so, in fact, that it was almost a new car.
Although still mid-mounted, the engine – a dry-sumped 2.9-litre, 90° V8 boosted to 400hp by twin IHI turbochargers – now sat longitudinally rather than transversely in the chassis, the wheelbase was extended, and the body was a mix of composite materials and resin.
With 400bhp, the GTO (the 288 prefix was unofficial) could accelerate to 100km/h in 4.9 seconds, and reach a top speed of 305km/h. In responding to the Group B regs, had Ferrari invented the modern supercar?
Perhaps. But when Henri Toivenen plunged his Lancia Delta S4 over a ravine during the 1986 Corsican rally, killing himself and co-driver Sergio Cresto, the FIA concluded that Group B had become too dangerous to continue. Ferrari’s new GTO wasn’t quite still-born, though: 272 were eventually made, to satisfy customer demand, even if it never turned a wheel in the competition it was created for.
And what of the 288 Evoluzione? Pininfarina reworked the GTO’s already thrilling bodywork, using Kevlar and fibreglass in its construction to reduce its overall weight yet further. The rear wing was made of carbon fibre, an early appearance of this expensive new material on a Ferrari.
Factor in enlarged turbos and additional engine tuning, and the result was around 650hp in a car that weighed a mere 940kg: that’s the sort of power-to-weight ratio that seriously gets your attention.
The Evoluzione was meant to compete in Group B tarmac events, in the hands of sufficiently capable privateers. With its competition purpose abandoned, utimately only six were made. This makes it one of the rarest of 1980s Ferraris, and examples are sought after by Ferrari’s most dedicated collectors.
Fans are treated to sporadic sightings: one appeared at the Quail Lodge gathering during last year’s Monterey week, and the Evoluzione often shows up at Goodwood’s Festival of Speed. One is also on display as part of the engines exhibition at the Museo Enzo Ferrari in Modena.
Of course, no technological adventure ever goes to waste at Ferrari. It’s no understatement to say that the 1987’s epochal F40 owed more than a little something to the 288 Evoluzione. And that car paved the way for the even more remarkable F40 Evoluzione…