The Ferrari 288 GTO ushered in a new era for Ferrari and, indeed, the automotive world. Its debut was so highly anticipated, the model so coveted when it finally broke cover at Geneva in 1984, that it created the “instant collectible” market for automobiles -- those rare machines that always commanded a price greater than the original sticker.

The 1985 Ferrari 288 GTO.
The 1985 Ferrari 288 GTO was an instant collectible. See more Ferrari images.

The model’s name signified a fresh powertrain and honored a Ferrari immortal. The Ferrari 288 GTO identified a 2.8-liter engine of eight cylinders. GTO conjured up Ferrari’s 250 GTO race car of the early 1960s, and rightly so -- the modern machine was a road car designed to be eligible for the increasingly popular world of rally competition.

For the beautiful body, Pininfarina design chief Leonardo Fioravanti and his crew used the Ferrari 308 GTB as a starting point, then applied styling cues from the 250 GTO, most prominently the rear spoiler and the trio of rear-fender slats.

Compared to the Ferrari 308 GTB, however, most every dimension (overall length and width, wheelbase, front and rear track) was increased to handle new mechanicals. The GTO’s 2885cc V-8 sat longitudinally rather than transversely, and was located well forward of the rear axle for superior weight distribution. The powerplant also was mounted considerably lower than the V-8 in its 308/328 and Mondial V-8 stablemates.

The Ferrari 288 GTO’s V-8 itself was vastly different from the one in the 308/328 series of cars. Besides less displacement, it had two Japanese IHI turbochargers to boost power output. Other competition-oriented features included an oil cooler, dry-sump lubrication, intercoolers to reduce the turbos’ inlet air temperature and an electronic injection and ignition system based on Ferrari’s Formula 1 setup. The result was 400 horsepower at 7000 rpm, or 130-160 greater than a 308/328.

The 1985 Ferrari 288 GTO's interior.
The 1985 Ferrari 288 GTO's interior.

Suspension was independent front and rear with wishbones, coil springs over tube shocks, and antiroll bars. Braking came from huge ventilated discs. The transmission was a five-speed with a Formula 1-derived twin-plate clutch.

The Ferrari 288 GTO’s largest innovation was its construction. For the first time on a road car, Ferrari employed space-age composite materials in the chassis and body. This increased structural rigidity while decreasing weight. The factory quoted 2,552 pounds, more than 700 pounds lighter than its other two-seat V-8 models. It all made for stellar performance.

Automobile Revue’s test car scorched the pavement, hitting 100 kilometers (62 mph) in 4.8 seconds, 100 mph in 9.7, and topping out at 288 kph (180 mph).

Road & Track’s test car saw 60 in 5 seconds, reached 100 in 11 flat. That impressed the man behind the wheel, former F1 world champion Phil Hill, who had a 250 GTO on hand for comparison. Hill found the Ferrari 288 GTO’s cornering prowess “phenomenal, noticeably increasing with speed. One of the most delightful aspects is ... a light and nimble feel and not the heavy, intimidating nature of a Boxer or Lamborghini Countach.

“In total,” Hill concluded, “the new GTO is miles ahead of its 22-year-old predecessor in performance, yet offers the option of air conditioning and Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci in stereo ... As pleased as I am to see Ferrari competing strongly in Formula One, I am delighted they will once again have gran turismo with true competition potential.”

Unfortunately, the GTO never got the chance to show what it could do in the competition for which it was intended. Ferrari had constructed just five of a planned run of 20 600-horsepower Ferrari 288 GTO Evoluziones when the FIA canceled the wild Group B series because of track safety issues.

That had no effect whatsoever on GTO demand. Buyers lined up, and Ferrari responded by bumping production of the road version to 272, from the planned 200. Original owners included Ferrari F1 champion Niki Lauda and Peter Livanos, a wealthy industrialist who was also part owner of England’s Aston Martin.

Learn about these other great Ferrari Road Cars:

166 MM
250 GT SWB
365 CaliforniaTestarossa
212 Inter
400 Superamerica
365 GT 2+2
F40
340 America
250 GTE
365 GTB/4 Daytona
348
375 America
250 GT/L Lusso
365 GTC/4
456 GT
375 MM
330 GT 2+2
512 BBi
F355
250 Europa GT
500 Superfast
400i
F50
250 GT Boano
275 GTB/4
308 GT4
550 and 575
410 Superamerica
275 GTS
308 and 328
360 and F430
250 GT Coupe
Dino 246 GT
Mondial
Enzo
250 GT Spyder California
330 GTC
288 GTO
612 Scaglietti

For more fantastic Ferrari information, check out: