Moto

Rolling in a Ferrari 288 GTO and Porsche 959 in the 80′s

A funny thing happened in the mid-80′s. Both Ferrari and Porsche built incredibly over-engineered and powerful limited edition models to compete in a new race series, but then the series fell apart.

“The Ferrari GTO was built to compete in the new Group B Race series and a minimum of 200 cars were required for homologation. However as only Ferrari and Porsche, with their 959, entered, the series was soon abandoned leaving just the Group B Rally championship. The Porsche 959 {961} only raced three times in Group B, but the 288 GTO never raced and all 272 cars built remained purely road cars.”

The end result was arguably the first true supercars from both manufacturers. My father’s business partner was a car collector and lucky enough to own both of them, and I was lucky enough to ride along.

The car was purchased at the Barrett-Jackson Auction in Scottsdale, Arizona and brought to Alabama. The company that insured the Ferrari stipulated that it could not be kept at his home or office, but had to be kept at an undisclosed location. Although the bat cave would have been more fitting, he settled on a self storage unit just off Highway 280 & 459 in Birmingham. The car would eventually be sold so he needed to show prospective buyers that it was in the United States and not stuck in some foreign port. My occasion to ride in the car came when we picked it up one day to shoot photographs of it in front of local landmarks. These photos were taken that day using my own camera.

The Ferrari 288 GTO was clearly a race car. No real attempts had been made to provide creature comforts like climate control. I don’t remember a keyed ignition system although it could have had one. I do remember the car wouldn’t start unless the lights were on, a subtle security measure, and the road racing gearbox was nearly impossible to shift from 1st into 2nd until the car had heated up. Once it was up to temp, the engine was capable of mind-bending acceleration and the noise was deafening. You could literally hear it accelerating from miles away.

I only rode in the Ferrari this one time, but as a red blooded young man, I managed to bring a girl along. She was suitably impressed, but unfortunately, the ride did not produce the desired results. The problem was her father was a huge car nut and when he found out that his daughter had ridden in a 288 GTO, instead of him, he kicked me out of his house.

The car was purchased directly from Porsche, but I remember it was considerably more expensive than it’s “retail” price. Only three Porsche 959’s were legally brought into the United States when the car was released – one other going to Ralph Lauren’s collection.

It was a very different animal from the Ferrari. It was capable of roughly the same numbers – 0-60 mph in just over 3 seconds and a top speed around 200 mph, but it felt like an everyday car. It had A/C, radio and rear seats, even if they were only suitable for small children and packages. It looked like a souped up 911 Turbo until you took a look under the hood. Although it shared a number of parts, it was clearly a breed apart. We managed to tear an alternator belt in half and were glad to discover the impossible-to-find spare part in one of three leather tool bags.

We were driving the 959 around looking for the right location to take some photos when the gas light came on. I checked the owner’s manual and it called for fuel available only at racetracks or airports, 105 Octane. Embarrassingly, we pulled into a gas station and made due with premium. A guy at the next pump driving an Audi Sport Quattro threw out the obligatory “nice car”. We ended up leaving the gas station at the same time and lined up at a red light. He revved his engine and gave us a serious look. Did he really want to race? Did he know what kind of car this was? I was told to hold on.

When the light went green, the tires bit and the 959 did its’ best to namecheck NASA. It only took a few moments to get north of 100 mph. The car has staged turbo-chargers which have a very pronounced effect. The first one pins you to the seat, but the 2nd one kicks in around 5,500 RPM and slams your head squarely against the backrest. A not-so-subtle indication that it’s time to shift. Bang-BANG-shift-repeat. We ended up taking the car up to 175 mph before slowing to a more reasonable 120 mph. It took a few minutes, but we eventually heard a high-pitched whine and the Audi came up alongside us. The driver’s expression was priceless and begged “what the hell is that thing and where can I get one”?

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