The Ferrari GTO “288”

GTO–Gran Turismo Omologato—is the Holy Trinity of letters for motorsport enthusiasts. There have been only three Ferrari GTOs. The first won the GT Championship three times in the early 1960s, and a 1962 version is currently the most expensive car ever sold on auction—$38 million dollars. The second was the sublime 599 GTO from 2010.

​And then there is the Ferrari “288” GTO, coming to Project CARS 2: a Ferrari homologated for one of the fiercest set of regulations in history, doomed never to turn a wheel on a race track in anger, and destined to forever change the landscape of the automotive world.

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Ferrari, in the mid-’70s, had all but given up on GT and endurance racing that had brought them so much success in the ’50s and ’60s; in 1973, new owners FIAT had made the call to focus racing resources on Formula One. With a youthful Luca di Montezemolo running point, Niki Lauda winning championships, and Mauro Forghieri’s 3-litre V12 “T” engine dominating the Ford Cosworths, Formula One soon proved a fertile hunting ground for the Scuderia, a decade of success that endured even into the dawn of the new turbo era. But after 1983, it would take another 16 years before they again won the Constructor’s title.


1983 was also the start of the Golden Age for Ferrari’s road-car division—one that continues to this day. And it all began with the GTO 288.

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For Ferrari’s private race clients, the latter part of the ’70s had been barren years—with the demise of the Daytona Series 3, Ferrari’s sportscars and GT race-bred cars were practically non-existent, aside from the 512 BB, the 5-litre V12 that sounded as glorious as it was, ultimately, potential unfulfilled. The only thing that sustained the privateers were independent tuners such as the Veneto-based Michelotti firm who, with a little support from Maranello, kept up the spirit of Ferrari’s legendary GT racing program by modifying Ferrari’s road-cars for the race track.

In GT, things were even worse and by 1983, the assumption was it would take something really special for Ferrari to build a GT racer.

Group B, a new set of regs introduced in 1982 by the FIA, changed everything: the forbidden apple that had already entranced dozens of the world’s biggest and smallest automakers cast a spell over Maranello, too.
In 1983, Ferrari began working on a new GTO for Group B sportscar racing. Just the name was enough to set hearts pumping; the specter of Ferrari returning to GT racing with a full-factory effort with a car named the GTO—it was the auto-world’s version of the return of the Messiah.

The new GTO was unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show in March of 1984. To differentiate it from the GTO from the 1960s—the Le Mans-winning car that is considered, by many, as the most pure Ferrari of them all—the media attached the “288” to the name, in honor of its 2.8-litre V8 turbocharged lump.
The car was an immediate sensation.

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To satisfy homologation rules for Group B racing, 200 GTOs had to be produced (Ferrari announced 272 would be built); in essence, these were race cars that were street-legal, produced solely for the Scuderia to enter the insanely quick world of Group B.

Group B, where Ferrari would come and conquer … Group B where Porsche was waiting …
… and then it all evaporated …

By the time Ferrari had produced the 200 required for homologation, Group B was no more. The regulations that had led to an arms race by manufacturers willing and keen to pump multi-million dollar budgets into cars that were as deadly as they were quick, was banned at the end of 1986.

And that left the GTO nowhere to race.

As it turned out, though, the GTO didn’t need a racing pedigree to forever alter the landscape of the auto-industry.

The GTO, whose final production run would end at 272 (a run that Ferrari had made clear right from the start), heralded in a new era—one of small volume, high-price supercars.

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This is the car that defined the ethos of the limited-production supercar of the 1980s. Many customers bought the GTO for no reason other than to sell it on, at considerable margins; some would buy it from the second buyer and still, themselves, churn a massive profit. That’s how in demand the GTO was. The GTO’s success saw car makers of all stripes jump onto the bandwagon, creating a super-hot supercar market with prices that kept inflating until, sometime in the late ’80s, the balloon inevitably crashed.

Quite an accomplishment for a car that came only in one color—“you can have any color you like, as long as its red” went the slogan—and offered limited options for internal trims (though you could, if you really wanted, add some weight with the optional radio, electric windows, and even air-con’).

Visually, the car wasn’t much of a deviation from the 308s (Magnum PI) that had been around since the late ’70s either. No bad thing, of course, given that was a Pininfarina design. The 288, though, did gain some muscle with its flared arches and lowered, more aggressive stance. But looks can often be deceiving; this may have appeared to be a 308 that had spent a few hard months in the gym, sporting the same V8 configuration, but the 288, under the skin, was a whole other beast altogether.

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Made of composite materials, the V8 was mounted longitudinally in order to ideally distribute the weight. The lump was also the first Ferrari to ever feature twin turbochargers—two IHI units at 0.8bar. Even more astonishing was the gearbox, rear-mounted, that contained a removable cover to gain access to the gear ratios. On a road car …

The 288 was light and quick—400hp, 0-100 in less than 5 seconds, and the first road car in history to break the 300kmh mark.

The last of the series, number 272, was personally delivered to Niki Lauda by Enzo Ferrari; the two men had fallen out in the late ’70s, and this was Ferrari’s peace offering.

All modern Ferrari supercars can trace a line directly back to the 288 GTO. And that lineage begins with the 288 Evoluzione (which was created by Michelotti, along with the factory at Maranello) which led to what remains, for many, the greatest, scariest, and most thrilling supercar ever made. ​

 

The Ferrari F40

During the mid-’80s, a legend developed around Maranello’s test-track involving a car that was the subject of countless “spy” shots as it made its way in and out of the factory, a Ferrari without a name or an identity. It looked like the GTO 288 on steroids, kind of like the 288 Evoluzione, but somehow—fiercer. Five Evoluzione models were built during this time, test-mules built to extract the very last ounce of performance from the GTO 288 in order to develop Ferrari’s new supercar, a car built for Mr. Ferrari’s 90th birthday.

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The design was by Pininfarina, the F was for Ferrari, the 40 for Ferrari’s 40th anniversary, and it was the last car presented, in 1987, to the public by Enzo Ferrari himself. Indeed, this is the final Ferrari built under the inscrutable gaze of “il Drake”.

“I told my wish to the engineers. I told them, ‘build the best car in the world’. And now that car is here,” said Enzo Ferrari at the launch.

When Enzo Ferrari died, in August of 1988, just over a year after the launch, the F40 became the most-wanted car ever made. Despite Ferrari not announcing the final production number to avert the crazed antics that had welcomed the GTO 288, the F40 was selling from customer-to-customer at astonishing prices, fetching over a million dollars per car. Ferrari kept building the cars all the way to 1992, for a final production run of 1,311 units.

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Understanding the obsession is easy: The F40 was capable of 0-100 in 4 seconds from its 470hp stock motor (a 700hp upgrade was offered), and dry weight of just 1,100kgs. But that was just the start because in Padua, erstwhile Ferrari tuners Michelotti saw the F40 as a chance for Ferrari to finally get back into GT racing. Ferrari agreed, and the F40 was sent off to Michelotti in 1988 to be engineered for the race track.

The result was the F40 LM GT racer that is coming to Project CARS 2.

The difference between the F40 road car and F40 LM came down to weight (the F40 was stripped of everything including the analogue dashboard that was replaced by an F1-styled digital readout), power (the boost was upped and horsepower, for short bursts of qualifying-lap power, was over 900hp), and aerodynamics (even the lights were swapped out and repositioned).

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The car debuted in the IMSA GTO class at Laguna Seca in 1989, driven by Jean Alesi, and scored a podium finish. IMSA GTO proved a happy hunting ground for the F40 LM, scoring multiple podiums throughout the season, but it was unable to match the purpose-built (and Project CARS 2-bound) Audi 90 quattro IMSA GTOs.


Over in Europe, in the BPR Global Series, it was the F40 GTE that managed to win the 4 Hours of Vallelunga as late as 1994, but for 1995, the Pilot-Aldix Racing F40 LM joined the Strandel GTE: neither, though, could do much against the dominant McLaren F1 GTRs.

The Pilot-Aldix Racing F40 LM was also on the grid for the 1995 Le Mans race but again could do little against the now all-dominant McLarens that won the race.

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As for the road car, it became a phenomenal investment. With the death of Enzo Ferrari, the F40 was traded up to ten times its value at auction houses, and estimates at the time suggested that only one in ten were ever actually driven on the road. Adding to its notoriety, it ended up in half-a-dozen video games back then and it remains, today, the last “true” supercar. Or as Jalopnik has it, “The F40 was the last gasp of the analogue, ‘80s turbo era.”


The next car Ferrari produced, then, had a lot of live up to …

The F50 GT

The GT in F50 GT is the two letters you care about; this is the car that is coming to Project CARS 2. A car that never raced, enjoyed a production run of only three, and was built to beat the McLaren F1 GTR and bring back GT glory to Maranello.

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That the three produced cars were sold to private customers under the strict condition that they never be raced, this after having lapped faster than the then-current Ferrari LMP 330 SP around Fiorano with Nicola Larini at the wheel using the same engine, tells its own story.

The F50 was Ferrari’s (a tad early) 50th anniversary gift to its clients, with a planned run of only 349 units (they thought they could sell only 350). The days of crazy speculating that had come with the 288 GTO was pretty much done in the more austere environment of the mid-’90s when the F50 was unveiled at the Geneva Salon to mixed reviews.

That was inevitable. The road-going F50 was slower than its predecessor, the F40, and a lot less manic. For many critics, it also wasn’t as pretty as the F40 (the F50 was designed primarily in the wind-tunnel, and then shaped by Pininfarina), somehow less elemental, and lacked the “technology” that was then in vogue.

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The car was rushed to the US in order to beat the new mandate for mandatory driver-side airbags, and the car had none of the aids that were becoming the norm then—no ABS, no traction control, no semi-automatic gearbox.


But that was to miss the point.

The F50 was created using the Scuderia’s DNA: clothe a race car in street-legal form. It was, at its core, a two-seater Formula One car that had the engine—a detuned 1990 F1-derived unit—as a stressed part of the chassis. This was a composite-constructed monocoque chassis with a carbon fibre cockpit-cell, and a 4.7-litre V12 stuck mid-ship with 520hp, capable of 0-100 in 3.7 seconds. If it wasn’t for the F40, the pure performance of the F50 would have made it into something truly epic.

Ferrari believed it was an ideal candidate to replace the F40 GTE in GT racing. Just like the F40, the F50 was sent off to Michelotti with orders to tune the thing until it was ready to have the two letters “GT” added to the F50.

The engine was already being employed for racing in the 333 SP (also coming to Project CARS 2), and showing remarkable durability. At Michelotti’s HQ near Padua, the unit was tuned even further to max out at 750hp at a screaming 10,500rpm, and then mated to a new sequential six-speed box.

The body was heavily revised as well, with a far larger, adjustable rear-wing married to a new front splitter, and the roof gained a 1970s-throwback air-scoop. The end result was 350kgs lighter than the F50, and that, coupled with the newly tuned engine, meant 0-100 in a ludicrous 2.8 seconds, and a top speed of 376kmh.

At Fiorano, it cleaned up the 333 SP’s times by quite some measure.

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By mid-1996, the F50 GT was ready to enter the BPR Global GT Endurance Series as a replacement for the ageing F40 GTE (that had enjoyed some success in the series), and as direct competition to the McLaren F1 GTR, and new Mercedes CLKs. For GT racing, it didn’t get more exciting that that—not since the days of the GTO 288 was a GT Ferrari so keenly anticipated.


And then the FIA changed the series’ name to the FIA GT Championship, and changed the homologation rules. Ferrari were outraged: they had created a racing version of a production-based car, while rivals were now creating race cars, and then “selling” one example (mostly to themselves and their own museums) for homologation. The cost of building a one-off GT race car was enormous; for Porsche, Mercedes, and Toyota, the costs were worth it, but for Ferrari, now in the infancy of the Todt/Brawn/Byrne/Schumacher years, Formula One took priority. The GT program was axed, and the F50 GT, just like the 288 GTO, never saw a single race lap in anger. The cars were sold to special clients, and each had to accept the strict mandate of never racing the car.

How would it have compared to the GT cars of the time? In Project CARS 2, you can find out—because all the GT cars that would have been the F50 GT’s main rivals are in game.

An indication of how well the F50 GT would have done? In 1998, the Ferrari 333 SP, which had been slower at Fiorano than the F50 GT in testing, finished 10th at Le Mans. Who knows what the F50 GT could have achieved had Ferrari not pulled the plug.

With you behind the wheel, we may soon know the answer …

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