Who would have thought that my first meters in a GTO will be to get it unstuck of the ice, with both the owner and Federico pushing hard on the red bodywork to get me back on the road. How do you act when you’re sitting inside a 2+ million piece of Ferrari history while you’re flooring the throttle to get it on the road, with little visibility on incoming traffic? You switch off your brain and just cut the crap: if you have 400 hp and your tires are spinning, you reckon that there are some more important things to do than to think about consequences. Driving a Ferrari GTO in the midst of winter might generate an unexpected turn of events that will sure remain in your memory forever. After making a last pass for the day to snap a few more pics, no one would have imagined that a single u turn would potentially compromise the whole day. My turn at the wheel of one of the holy grails of Ferrari couldn’t be the most ice-cold showers I could have expected. After a good push and after one-too-many terrifying seconds with the car refusing to move and dangerously close to the ice wall, it finally begun to reach very slowly for the tarmac. So, if you would anxiously ask me “how is the 288 GTO to drive?” I will say that maybe next time it would be better to use studded tires just to accomodate the purpose for what it was originally made for…
So, how to describe a petrolhead’s approach to the successor of the mighty 250 GTO? Ice-cold burnouts aside, the 288 is a feast for the senses: there is so much to see that you wouldn’t stop staring at it. Think of it as one of the few cars able to inject a healthy dose of positivity into your life, under every aspect. Just look at it… isn’t it gorgeous and perfectly proportioned? From the nose to the tail it’s a superbly designed automobile: the muscular volumes of the fenders match flawlessly with the sleek and “fresh” silhouette of the bodywork. Pardon me, but my Italian-ness here is skyrocketing to 11: the GTO is the sexy woman you fantasize about. The proportions are feminine and curvaceous while maintaining tone and elegance. It’s not the kind of woman that’s all cleavage and hormones: it’s as seductive as the opposite sex can get.
The 288 at the back seems like a top model wearing a tight dress: that rear panel ending right above the transmission and differential housing, showcasing the struts connecting the unit to the chassis looks like a skirt too short. You know, the 288 is just like Charlize Theron in that iconic Martini spot from the 1990ies… and it’s every bit as exciting.
Driving one in winter is like seeing your girlfriend walking on high-eels in the fresh snow. This should be a clear indicator that all you need to do is: A) treat her with more kindness than usual and: B) be quick of preventing the inevitable. And so, our journey into Ferrari’s greatest driving cars continues on, this time in the most unusual and unsuitable conditions you can possibly imagine and with the first of the line, the 288 GTO. Among all the “special limited edition series” Ferraris it’s is perhaps the most intriguing one. Not just because it introduced the idea that later evolved into the contemporary collector’s aimed special, but because it is perhaps the last true “homologation Special” made by Ferrari. Alongside the F40 is the last hail of an era that is now far gone. No, we’re not saying this because no Ferrari nowadays has the holy gated manual gearbox, but because these are the sort of cars which are the testament to a time when things were done differently. The GTO is a car nerd’s object of desire. A missed Group B rally racer which took Ferrari to a whole new level of performance is, in our view, one of the most significant models in the history of the Prancing Horse. “Why?” You could ask and the answer is dead simple: it brought back Ferrari into the performance car game.
The whole process begun in the early eighties, when Enzo Ferrari realized that much criticism to his cars was regarding the performance, judged to be too bourgeois. To solve the problem Eng.Nicola Materazzi suggested that might have been a good idea to compete in the Group B rallying, which could have proven ideal to test the effectiveness of a new car, specifically made to boost the Ferrari image towards its clients. As the rules went, they had to produce 200 cars for road use to homologate the model and make it suitable for rallying: Materazzi then took everything in his hands and produced a V8 under three liters capable of 400 horsepower. Known as the Tipo114 B which became the heart of the car and one of the most interesting Ferrari engines ever produced. Subsequently, the whole GTO project fell into the hands of the Ingegnere, who developed every aspect of the car, which went from choosing the IHI turbines instead of the KKK used in F1 to designing the gearbox from scratch. Interestingly enough, almost like Giotto Bizzarrini did back in the early sixties, developing the 250 in a semi-secretive way, Materazzi became the main creative force of the 288, designing the car on Saturdays and with few engineer at his disposal.
Besides Him, a team of four technicians from the development department composed by Dario Benuzzi, Maurizio Manfredini and Stefano Govoni, the GTO was tested extensively to be a usable high-performance GT for the road. Marketing and branding were unknown disciplines back in those years: the “Brand” idea was enforced by engineers and not by cold managers, completely detached from pure automotive passion. The GTO was cutting edge technology when it came out but looking at it now, it’s remarkably simple. A square-section tubular chassis with a nice and clean engine bay, which is dominated by the two massive Behr intercoolers. In many ways, it can be seen as a 308 on steroids… even if it’s a completely different animal.
So, in the end, which emotions does the GTO stir when you’re trying to get it unstuck from ice? Well, it’s the classic “shut up and drive” sort of car: iPhones fly out of the window. The seating position and the displacement of the controls feel remarkably familiar with the 308 family but all changes when you accelerate and start to feel the handling through the Momo leather steering wheel. It’s not that intimidating as you would think and even at low speed you feel the wider track front and rear and the larger rubber used. The damping and the geometry is different than the one found on the 308: in a way, you can call it “proper” Ferrari. Ride is rigid but well-damped and the car never jitters or rattles over the bumps, showcasing a remarkable composure, with the front splitter hardly coming close to the ground. Once you’re in the driving seat, you immediately know that you do not know anything about driving. It’s like taking a lesson from Socrates: it puts you under exam and forces you to review what you know and what you think you know. We find this exciting, as it’s a rare moment to learn and to explore where our passion can take us to. It’s a challenge that we’re most likely not to win, but you’ll come home wiser and more knowledgeable.Inside, the cabin is dominated by the engine note which on this specific example is remarkably loud, courtesy of the optional ANSA sport exhaust, which helps this GTO in achieving an even better sound, especially during a cold start. In the Dolomites, you could hear it screaming from distance, its voice resonating between the stone walls of the mountains. The two trumpet-style tips are perfect: gone is the stock quad-tailpipe unit that muffles the sound, and there’s a concert of backfire flames and turbo whistle happening all the time! The cold start of the 288 is a sight to behold, as it’s a prominent and unique staccato-bellow that fills the surrounding with the smell of proper gasoline.
The snow and the ice weren’t ideal for taking a 400 hp legend for a joyride in the beautiful roads all around Cortina d’Ampezzo. But in the end who are we to say no to an invitation from our good friend Greg to spend some good time together with his pristine 288. From the town centre to the views of Lake Misurina, the 288 GTO showcases the classic Ferrari ability to design a GT on steroids. Despite it tries to spin the tires at every occasion, it’s a joyful and remarkably friendly Prancing Horse.
Realistically, even if today Maranello was ran by Dino Ferrari and a small dedicated team of people like Nicola Materazzi or Dario Benuzzi, it would be so anachronistic that no one would buy their cars. You know, nowadays cars for pure enthusiasts are a strictly limited bunch and they come mostly from manufacturers who are always on the verge of bankruptcy. Today, the world is seemingly colder and dominated by complicated rules that require the effort of thousands of people every day to give us excellent cars.
What makes the 288 GTO exciting and collectible is because she’s a true unconventional motorcar and is a clear departure from the modern conception of a supercar. Driving one in 2020 feels like going out with a pack of wolves: no one would expect such aggression and today, where the availability of supercars is far greater than the one of 1984, performance is almost taken for granted. Would we trade less acceleration and slower top speeds for that raw and primordial involvement a car like the GTO can give us? Yes.