Performance Icon: Ferrari GTO

The Ferrari GTO was the first modern limited-edition supercar. This singular breed of vehicle is carefully restricted in volume, but as unrestrained as possible in power and speed. They are the fastest and most spectacularly styled cars on the road.

Performance Icon: Ferrari GTO
As beautiful as it was technically pioneering, the Ferrari GTO set the precedent for the modern-day supercar

While there were certainly fast cars of limited volume available well before the Ferrari GTO debuted in 1984, none set the template for today’s limited-edition supercar quite like it, and it proved that there was a market for low volume cars of extreme performance and style. And once the GTO founded the niche, Ferrari kept satisfying clients eager for more.

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The revolutionary GTO made automotive history, and spawned future generations of illustrious Ferrari supercars. See it in action here…

The F40 followed in 1987, which in turn was followed by the F50, Enzo and LaFerrari. The Icona series, inaugurated with the Monza SP1 and Monza SP2 in 2018, flanks the supercar pillar of the Ferrari range, showcasing advanced engineering in a design package which nods to some legendary cars of the Prancing Horse history, while at the same time looking into the future of high-performance car design and guaranteed exclusivity.

Unlike the first GTO from the 1960s, the 1980s GTO was much better known as a road car than a racing car. But its origins can partly be traced to the track. The FIA, governing body of motor sport, had just launched its new Group B rules governing sports car racing and the GTO was designed to comply. Those rules stipulated a minimum production run of 200 cars – 272 GTOs would be built – and maximum engine capacity of 4.0 litres. If turbocharged, a 1.4 equivalency formula applied. Thus, the turbocharged GTO had a capacity of 2.85 litres. Yet before the GTO turned a wheel in anger, the FIA changed the rules. Consequently, the GTO would instead make its name as the greatest road-going supercar of its day.

Performance Icon: Ferrari GTO

With its lightweight construction, huge performance and beautifully balanced handling, the GTO proved to be one of Ferrari’s greatest ever road cars

Just as important as its hoped-for track prowess, the GTO was also the result of Enzo Ferrari’s desire to raise the performance bar for his sports cars. The GTO was significantly faster than the contemporary series production Testarossa. Top speed was more than 300 km/h, while 0-100 km/h took less than five seconds.

It was also Ferrari’s first turbo-charged road car, apart from the Italy-only 208 GTB. The GTO’s engine was based on the 3.0-litre quattrovalvole V8 used in the 308 GTB and Mondial, but much modified. Its twin turbos helped to produce 400 cv, making it the most powerful road car produced by Ferrari at the time.

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The GTO’s twin turbocharged 2.85-litre engine, based on the 3.0-litre unit used in the earlier 308 GTB and Mondial models, was heavily modified to produce a muscular 400 cv

The GTO was also technically advanced, as Ferrari supercars invariably are, boasting a bespoke tubular steel chassis and, to shed weight, a lightweight glassfibre composite body. The tail and rear bulkhead, meanwhile, were made from Kevlar, a high-strength and very light synthetic fibre, all resulting in a maximum dry weight of only 1160 kg. Unsurprisingly, this advanced composite technology was mostly the work of a British F1 engineer, namely Dr Harvey Postlethwaite, the then technical director of Ferrari.

The GTO was launched to much admiration at the Geneva Show in 1984, and it sold out almost immediately, proof positive that there was a market for this new breed of exclusive, superfast car. I was there and remember it clearly. Yet an even more special experience was to come – driving the first GTO to be delivered to the UK, from Maranello to London, in 1985.

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The GTO’s interior was purposeful and roomy, with supportive Kevlar-framed black leather seats keeping both driver and passenger comfortable

The car had been bought by a UK Ferrari dealer and I accompanied him on his journey. Even more fortunately, he allowed me to do most of the driving. We collected it from a garage in Maranello, opposite Enzo Ferrari’s office.

And so began a wonderful, and memorable, drive across Europe. To my eyes, the GTO ranks as one of the most beautiful Ferraris and, as someone who has been lucky enough to drive most Maranello cars, one of the very best to drive. It had enormous performance – without the brutality and anger of some rival supercars – as well as sweet steering, a lovely gearchange and superb ride quality at speed.

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The GTO was initially conceived as a track car, designed to comply with the FIA’s Group B rules for sports car racing. When those rules changes, it became a legend on the road instead

Sensibly, we went the ‘slow’ way home, avoiding autostradas and choosing backroads renowned for their scenery and their driver appeal. It took us three days, and we did not drive slowly.

As with all great travel, what mattered was the journey, not the destination. To this day, it’s probably still the most enjoyable drive of my life.

Words: Gavin Green for
Video: Rowan Jacobs

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