Throughout the history of the automobile there have been cars that mark watershed moments. The Ferrari F40 isn't one of them, but the 288 GTO is. Why, you
may ask – protest, even – when the F40 is generally acknowledged to be the most exciting supercar of all? Well, because it's not unfair to suggest that
without the 288 there would be no F40 – and arguably no F1, no Veyron. You're looking at the original hypercar – and yes, there is a distinction. When the
288 took a bow at the Geneva Salon in March 1984 – incidentally, that was after Porsche's Gruppe B concept, but two years before the 959 road car it
spawned – about the fastest and most outrageous car around was the Lamborghini Countach, perhaps the very definition of a supercar. Yet the 288 blew that
car – not to mention Ferrari's own Testarossa, launched the same year – into the weeds.
So it was a pioneer, but, just as importantly, has there ever been a better-looking high-performance mid-engined sports car? Prettier ones, perhaps – the
Miura springs to mind here – but never one so perfectly proportioned, so perfectly melding pure aggression with beauty, so... 'right'. Taking the lead from
its own 1977 308 GTB Speciale, Pininfarina created a car that, from some angles, retains an air of 308, but only in so far as you can see remnants of Bruce
Banner's trousers around the Incredible Hulk's waist. Squat and foursquare on the road, the 288 pulses with muscular purpose. Perhaps you could question
those mirrors – do they need to be so big? – but they suit the overall sense of form following function.
You've got to love any car that swaggers around with its gearbox casing hanging out the back, with the arrogance of a half-mast pair of gangster jeans.
Likewise the trio of gills in the rear wings, which give a nod to the original '62 GTO yet avoid any sense of cliché or retro-lameness by having a clear
job to do.
In a quiet moment during the shoot, as the exhausts tinkle gently and the photographer's shutter chatters away, I find myself counting up the profusion of
vents, scoops, intakes and louvers that criss-cross the composite bodywork: 140, in case you're interested, all sucking in air or spitting it out in an
effort to keep the V8 cool and keep the tires in with the deck.
For me, it warrants inclusion in a list of Pininfarina's greatest designs, alongside 250 SWB, 275 GTB and Daytona. Oh, and F40 fans look away now, because
to my eyes it also avoids the pseudo-racer look that means I've never taken to its successor in the same way. There's an irony here: the F40 was designed
to look like a race car but built purely as a road car; the 288 appears as a steroid-injected 308, yet was created to homologate a spectacular new race car
– hence the revival (for the first time) of that most evocative of monikers, Gran Turismo Omologato.
The series in which it was designed to race was Group B, the circuit-based arm of rallying's most outrageous formula. This demanded 200 production cars –
though just over 270 would be built, all sold long before launch to selected 'special' customers – featuring the bulk of the racers' technology. More
affordable than a pure prototype, it tempted Enzo to re-enter the sports-racing fray with a works effort for the first time in over a decade. The fact that
the world was in the midst of the '80s supercar boom, so the road-going examples would likely be snapped up, made it a win-win for Maranello.
Sadly, however, Group B was far slower to take off on track than on the stages. Before Ferrari got ready to go head-to-head with the 959, Henri Toivonen
was dead and Group B was shelved for being too fast; too dangerous.
We should all be grateful that its star burned so brightly – however briefly – because without it Ferrari would never have taken the mild-mannered 308 and
from it created a monster.
Not that there's a lot of 308 left in there. Yes, their alloy engine blocks are related, but the 288's V8 motor owes more to Lancia's sports-racing program
than it does to its junior supercar cousin. With a 1 mm shorter stroke reducing capacity from 2967 to 2855 cc, the engine allowed for the FIA's 1.4
equivalency formula for turbocharging and still snuck in beneath the 4000cc class limit. Moreover, in a 288 it isn't even transversely mounted, but turned
through 90º to lie longitudinally, with a transaxle gearbox and integral locking differential where the 308's boot would be, flanked by a pair of
intercooled IHI turbochargers. Chuck in twin overhead cams, four valves per cylinder, a dry sump and Weber-Marelli electronic fuel injection and you have a
pretty exotic cocktail, one potent enough to yield a whopping 140 hp per liter – not to mention neatly lowering the center of gravity and ensuring perfect
50:50 weight distribution.
A crash diet to stay beneath the 1100 kg weight limit for Group B – a fully trimmed road car is a little over – led to the use of Kevlar for the panels and
in the composite bulkheads. And yet, for all of that, there's something delightfully traditional about the GTO: it still uses a tubular-steel chassis and
the doors are a product of good old aluminum and hand-craftsmanship
Despite the 110 mm-longer wheelbase, that new engine layout pushes the cabin forward, something you notice after pulling the delicate door latch and
tumbling gracelessly in, almost braining yourself on the steeply raked A-pillar.
Once inside, you feel as if you are virtually sitting over the front wheels. Before shutting the door, DK's Jeremy Cottingham has a final word of caution:
this car has caught out more than one motoring hack. "It's far trickier than an F40," says Cottingham. "It's very important to have good tires on these or
they drive like dogs."
Oh come off it Jeremy, surely this is nothing more than a warmed-up 308? Which means that we already know how this test is going to go, don't we?
Orange-on-black Veglia dials; three-spoke Momo wheel; open gearlever gate; curiously unappealing blare from the flat-plane crank V8; notchy into second
until the 'box warms up; sublime balance without the pace to fully exploit the chassis. So far, so standard 1980s Ferrari – apart from the push-starter, de
rigueur in the 2000s but unusual for this era. Lovely, but nothing groundbreaking.
Besides, it seems to be a real pussycat at first. The steering has barely any kickback, the ride soaks up bumps – testament to the use of conventional
rubber bushing – and at lower RPM the V8 is smooth and refined, even docile. The interior is comfortable, the gearbox simple to learn, you can see out
of the windows.
Chassis 57491 even has rare factory air-conditioning, not that its wheezing fan does much good on a day like today. But for goodness' sake don't let it
think you're getting complacent. Don't let it lull you into believing you have it mastered. Clunk the chromed lever left and back into the dogleg first;
release the abrupt but not too sharp clutch to pull away; short-shift to second, out on to the first straight bit of road and level the throttle.
Like all 288s it's a left-hooker, and the pedals are mounted way over towards the center-line of the car, so far away that the clutch is almost in line
with the steering wheel. Past 2000 rpm, 3000 – what's that whistling, whooshing noise? – 4000 rpm... holy cow! What happened there?
Don't panic, back off, regroup, try again. Up to 4000 RPM, the little boost needle in the gauge that nestles between the rev counter (redlined at 7750 rpm)
and 320 kph speedo flicks around to 11.6 PSI of pressure; pass 5000 rpm and the rear tires are squirming, the steering wheel is twitching, the performance
is utterly bewitching.
More than in any other car I've driven, I find myself being fastidious in getting all braking and gear-changing done before turning in, holding the
throttle steady until the wheels are completely straight, then feeding that power back in. I'm not sure whether it's the car's value or its reputation for
biting back that worries me more, but they are both valid.
In a world where you can buy a production hatchback with 355 hp, the idea of a supercar with 'only' 400 hp seems odd, yet in 1984 this was Ferrari's most
powerful road car engine, and in race trim it was capable of up to 650 hp. And that hot hatch is 705 lbs heavier than the flyweight GTO, which has a
terrifyingly small patch with which to deliver that power – to the rear wheels only, remember. The center-lock Speedline split-rims are wrapped
with 225/50 front, 255/50 rear ZR16s – doughnuts in comparison to modern rubber-band tires.
The steering, though, is a delight. Packed with feel, it's perfectly weighted and perfectly geared: not so sharp that a sneeze would have you in the
bushes, but beautifully accurate, so the 288 is intuitive to place despite its width and the difficulty of seeing the plunging nose. Not that it's light.
There's no assistance and in tighter bends it soon loads up, yet that need to muscle the car along only adds to your faith in it, feeling for the grip as
if rubbing your palms along the tarmac. The famed Hill Route of Millbrook Proving Ground is like an Alpine pass in miniature, physical and hugely involving
– even if you find yourself yearning for the straights to be a little bit longer, for a chance to stretch the car properly before diving back on to the
When you do, be wary because it weaves around, seeking out fissures in the surface and following them. Yet the braking is monstrous – and from cold, too:
none of this 'getting heat into the rotors' that the ceramic composites of modern supercars suffer. Here you just have metal with a bit of ventilation, and
the result is huge initial bite and fantastic pedal feel.
That the 288 GTO is still so outrageous, a year before it celebrates its 30th birthday, just highlights what a phenomenal creation this was. When it
combines all of that with such significance in Maranello history, the all-important rarity, it shouldn't be a surprise to learn that owning one of
these cars, in this kind of fettle, requires a near-£1m investment.
In 1984, two of the most revered names from Ferrari's past were revived: Testarossa and GTO. The former seemed an incongruous moniker for a car that bore
so little relation to its forebear; the latter was perfectly fitting. And surely there can be no greater compliment than that.
FERRARI 288 GTO
- Sold/number built : 1984-'86/272
- Construction: tubular steel chassis, with glassfibre, aluminium and Kevlar body
- Engine : all-alloy, dohc-per-bank, 32-valve 2855cc V8, with twin IHI turbochargers, intercoolers and Weber-Marelli electronic fuel injection
- Max power : 400bhp @ 7000rpm
- Max torque : 366lb ft @ 3800rpm
- Transmission : five-speed manual transaxle, driving rear wheels
- Suspension : independent, by double wishbones, coil springs, co-axial dampers and anti-roll bar
- Weight : 2557lb (1160kg)
- 0-60mph: 4.9 secs
- Top speed: 189mph
- Price new: £72,999 ($117,000 U.S.)