GTO – three-letter magic!

I spent a few weeks in Singapore some years ago and notably had the opportunity to catch up with a local reader of this very blog, as crazy about cars as I am. He was kind enough to take me to one of the leading, local supercar dealers on what felt like the outskirts of the city, and what he had on offer was very impressive indeed.

The issue is however that if you think speed limits are tough in Europe, that’s nothing compared to Singapore. In addition, the number of cars in the small country is regulated, so before buying a car, you need to buy a license giving you the right to buy one. The number of licenses is of course limited and the price for one varies a bit but was around $100.000 in 2022, and that’s before you’ve spent a dime on the car itself.

It’s not far from Marina Bay to Malaysia…

That said, if you have the money to buy a supercar, spending another 100 grand on a license may not a big deal. The remaining question is however where then to drive the car like it’s supposed to be driven. As it turned out, the supercar crowd in Singapore had a plan for that as well. As a member of the local Ferrari club told me, for their club outings they drive across the border to Malaysia and rent the Sepang F1 circuit for one day. That’s what I call a track day!

Of course, track days is something we have in Europe and the US as well, although in a slightly less dramatic setting. These days however, the car you take to a track day is typically a racing-oriented street car, such as for example a 911 GT2-GT3. Looking back, it used to be the other way around….

One of, if not the, most legendary car in the world – the 250 GTO

To come back to the heading of this post, the three letters GTO have a direct connection to what we today associate with track days. They stand for Grand Turismo Omologato (homologated), meaning the cars a manufacturer had to build for road use for a race version of the same car to be approved. When hearing GTO many of you will directly think of the most expensive and perhaps the most legendary car in the world, the Ferrari 250 GTO, of which 36 cars were homologated for road use.

It’s often referred to as the last true road racing car since after it, safety regulations would put a stop to such extreme machines being used on public roads. In other words, this wasn’t a street car you could race on weekends, but rather a race car you could drive on public roads. Or as Shelby Myers, a car specialist at RM Sotheby’s put it: “this was the last car that you could park in your garage, drive to the track, win the race, and then drive home.”

Racing on Sunday, commuting on Monday…

All 36 Ferrari 250 GTO’s were built between 1962 and 1964, and none of them were identical. They were a development of the 250 GT-series with the center piece being the 3 litre, 300 hp strong V12 with six Weber carburetors and a five-speed gearbox (increased to 4 litres and 390 hp on the three cars built in 1964). The development of the car was led by the legendary Giotto Bizzarrini (read more on him here and here), although he left Ferrari before the GTO was launched.

The cars were built by Scaglietti and Enzo himself apparently selected who was allowed to buy them. With a top speed around 270 km/h, the GTO won the GT World Championships in 1962-1964 and various other races such as Le Mans, Targa Florio (see here) and the 1000 km race at Spa Francorchamps. In total, it accumulated more than 300 race wins under its belt.

At $70m, the price record for this GTO still stands

The GTO is often considered the last great front-engine GT car built by Ferrari. That’s not the only thing it’s been called though. Other descriptions include the most beautiful Ferrari ever built, a true living legend, and rightfully, the most expensive car in the world, It’s perhaps no surprise that buying one takes a big wallet, but just how big is illustrated by the fact that in 2014, a GTO was sold for $38m and in 2018, the current record was set at $70m. The car in question was the 1964 Tour de France winner which thereby became the most expensive vehicle ever sold. Its price as new in today’s money would have been around USD 150′, so in other words, a pretty solid investment return!

The 250 may thus have been the last true GT car, but it was not the last GTO. Fast forward to 1984, when Ferrari introduced the 288 GTO at the Geneva Auto Salon. The car cost around $300.000 at the time, for which you could have got no less than for example three MB 500 SL’s, and it sold out before the Salon was over. If you find a 288 GTO today you can add a zero to that number, which still makes it a bargain compared to the 250 GTO. It may be far less legendary but not less important – rather the contrary.

The 288 GTO set Ferrari’s hyper car strategy for the future!

The 288 GTO (later called only GTO) was launched in period where Ferrari’s line-up with the 308, 328, Mondial and 412 was not the best it had ever been, and the company wasn’t doing very well financially. The new 512 was indeed an extravagant sports car in Enzo Ferrari’s taste, but he wanted something more. Or was it maybe the changes in the Group B rally regulation that motivated the GTO?

We’ll never know for sure, but what we do know is that the racing version of the GTO never happened. Instead, Ferrari reluctantly agreed to increase the street car production from 200 to 274 cars (yo have to think that some of their most faithful owners were pretty influential people already then…). And hereby, without knowing it, Ferrari had also found the formula for hyper car success that’s taken them all the way to today.

For the untrained eye, a GTO could be mistaken for a regular 308. If you look closer though, you see that it’s a bit longer (110 mm to be exact) different headlights. It’s a beautiful car in a more dynamic way than the original 250 GTO was, and looking at it today, it has an 80’s cool factor about it. The longitudinal, double-turbo 2.9 litre V8 put out 400 hp and given the car only weighed 1300 kg, that was enough for a 300 km/h top speed. The GTO hereby became the fastest Ferrari ever, and one of the fastest cars of its time.

As for Ferrari’s future strategy, the attention the GTO got helped lay the foundation for what would become a very successful formula for hyper cars from Maranello: no more than 500 built, technologically at the top, and buyers carefully selected. The F40 followed the same logic as did the F50, the Enzo, and later the LaFerrari.

As a side benefit the increase in value would follow almost automatically. Apparently the group of owners who were selected and thus own all the cars listed above is larger than you think, and they’re no doubt thankful to the 288 GTO for being not only a great car, but also for making what followed possible!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s