When Italy increased its tax on luxury goods in the early 1980s from 18% to 38%, Ferrari introduced the 208 GTB and 208 GTS to avoid increasing the car’s purchase price.
The Ferrari 208 GTB and 208 GTS were born in 1980s in part to fight Italy’s increased taxes on luxury items. Just 160 Targa versions and 140 Coupes left the Maranello factory, and in 1982, Ferrari succeeded the car with a second generation 208 GTB and 208 GTS. They were powered by the same engine, but fitted with turbochargers, which increased power output.
A luxury tax launches a new model
The Italian government of the 1970s deemed certain items “luxuries” – cars with engines larger than 2-L, bikes over 350 cc, furs, yachts, champagne and the like. By the end of the decade, they increased the tax on such items to a hefty 38%, and while luxury taxes weren’t necessarily unusual at the time, Italy eventually dropped theirs altogether in 1992 as EU rules against them tightened.
208 GTB and 208 GTS
To get around the 2-L restriction, the Ferrari 308’s 2.9-L engine was replaced with a 2.0-L (or 1,990.64 cc) engine, resulting a in a power output of just 155 bhp and a top speed of 215 kph (133 mph). Because of this, it’s often referred to as the slowest Ferrari produced. This new, smaller engine was placed in the existing Ferrari 308 GTB and 308 GTS body, so buyers could still enjoy Pininfarina’s stunning design work.
As was typical of that era, the car had a wedge profile but very straight lines. On the side, beautifully sculptured intakes fed air into the engine . The right one fed the carburettor filter box and the left one sent air to the oil cooler. A thin, black indent ran along the body from front to rear, which ultimately was also used on the 288 GTO.
Photo: Andreas Birner
Available options at the time of production included wider 7.5-inch rims, air conditioning, a radio, a deeper front spoiler, plus Michelin TRX or Pirelli P Zero tyres on special rims.
The interior of the car was virtually identical to the Ferrari 308. It featured leather trimmed bucket seats and a similar set of instrument dials. The centre console housed the open gate 5-speed manual transmission, which also contained auxiliary switches, the handbrake and the essential ashtray.
GTB and GTS Turbo
Unveiled at the 1982 Turin Motor Show, the 208 GTB Turbo (officially referred to as the GTB Turbo) was a continuation to the 2-L V8, now fitted with a turbocharger that increased power from 155 bhp to 220 bhp. The top speed also increased to an impressive 242 kph (150 mph).
During the same era, Ferrari and Formula 1 as a whole were experimenting with turbocharged F1 cars. This was a simple but effective way of increasing power output without increasing the engine’s displacement. A good example was the BMW 1.4-L engine found in Benetton’s 1986 car, which produced around 1,350 bhp.
1986 Benetton B186-BMW
In 1983, Ferrari presented the GTS Turbo – a Targa version of the Coupe. Both the GTB Turbo and GTS Turbo did not change in terms of exterior and interior design. From 1982 to 1985, Ferrari produced 437 GTB Turbos, and from 1983 through 1985 they made 250 GTS Turbos.
Overall, the 208 GTB/GTS and GTB/GTS Turbo could be seen as one of the rarest Ferrari models ever made. As they were meant for the Italian market only (some were sold in Portugal and New Zealand for similar reasons), it’s actually quite hard to find a good example outside of these countries.
Written by Max Lammers.