Cult Cars Road Tests

Cult Cars: Ferrari 288 GTO

Time 2:58 am, June 1, 2010

gtoOmologazione is what the ‘O’ in ‘GTO’ stands for: homologation special. This is Ferrari’s name for its most extreme road cars – those that are built only to satisfy the legislators who run the racing championships.

Want to enter GT racing? Build X number of road cars first, then we’ll let you in. 

Mad motors are thus guaranteed. The first, and most famous, Ferrari GTO was, of course, the 1960s 250 GTO. This is the firm’s most famous model, one which made more than £15m at auction just a couple of years ago. Pretty bonkers, huh? 

But it wasn’t this car that Ferrari’s reintroduction of the GTO name with the 599 GTO reminded us of. In between the two cars, there was another GTO: the oft-forgotten 288 GTO of 1984. 

Like the 599 GTO, it was built for racing. Here, it was the old Group B sports car championship. You’ll already know of the concept from Group B rallying days; it’s a bit of a cult thing itself after being banned for being too dangerous. Group B sports cars, though, barely made it that far. The series was binned soon after the first cars turned their wheels. 

The two makers who signed up for it still committed their extreme machines to production. For Porsche, it was the 959. Ferrari’s, though, was the 288 GTO. A machine based on the Magnum P.I. 308 GTB, but with the wick turned right up to explosive. 

Out went the existing V8 engine, and in came a slightly smaller 2.9-litre V8 unit, turned the other way round in the engine bay (so, no boot space) – and, oh yeah, cranked up with two turbos. Result? 400bhp. It thus became the first road car to hit 186mph – or, in Euro-speak, 300km/h.


That 400bhp figure was big news in those days, particularly as Ferrari also put the 288 GTO on a serious crash diet. The bodywork was entirely redesigned using glassfibre and Kevlar composite panels, which shed a huge 115kg from the kerbweight. It tipped the scales at just 1,160kg. Now, you can see why it was such a beast…

It was so cool, Ferrari F1 dude Eddie Irvine used to rag one around the lanes near his Irish home; given the choice of anything from Ferrari’s catalogue, it was this beastie that he chose. Considering that just 272 of them exist, you can perhaps see why; this is a connoisseur’s car. 

gto2Styling is why it is not more fabled, not more of an icon. Ferrari went to all the trouble of redesigning the bodywork, but it forgot to distance itself from the white-sock 308 GTB that it was derived from.

That meant non-connoisseurs overlooked it. Indeed, it would take another couple of years for a Ferrari to capture their attention – the F40 had the supercar looks lacking in the 288 GTO.

It also had its engine. Yes, the powerplant in the F40 was derived from the mad motor in the 288 GTO – and when you think that any Ferrari’s heart is its engine, you can see in what high esteem this car was held in at Maranello. 

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Today, some people – probably the same who overlooked the 288 GTO – are grumbling that the 599 GTO is not ‘really’ a GTO, but a derivation of the existing 599 M. But of course it is! The 599 GTO is exactly what a Ferrari GTO should be: the standard car on steroids, mind-blowingly extreme and something that will hopefully be truly majestic to drive. 

Word has it, the 599 GTO is just that. Just, indeed, as the 250 GTO and 288 GTO were, too. For now though, our eyes are on the 1980s classic. It won’t be the biggest cult you’ll ever join, but if you want a cult car that only the most knowledgeable are drawn to, join us in dreaming of owning a 288 GTO… 


James Baggott's avatar

James is the founder and editor-in-chief of Car Dealer Magazine, and CEO of parent company Baize Group. James has been a motoring journalist for more than 20 years writing about cars and the car industry.

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