In all my years of Ferrari-chasing, one unicorn remains: the 288 GTO. I have yet to see one in person, which feels somehow fitting since it’s long been my favorite. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, of course, but for me the 288 GTO is still the perfect Ferrari and the most beautiful car ever built.

Photography: Andreas Birner

The 288 was the second of only three Ferraris distinguished as “GTO” – Gran Turismo Omologato or “Grand Tourer Homologated,” a mark that certifies it for GT racing. The other two are the classic 250 GTO of the early 1960s and the 599 GTO from 2010.

Racetrack Strength, High Street Style

With only 272 ever produced, the 288 GTO was a stroke of genius from Leonardo Fioravanti, the man behind some of Ferrari’s most iconic body designs. I’ll dedicate a whole column to him soon, but in the meantime take a look through his insane resume. His work on the 288 GTO may be Pininfarina’s Vitruvian Man – a perfectly balanced, aesthetically pleasing design devoid of pomp and flourish. It’s a singular achievement of form-meets-function.

Fioravanti’s bodywork is at once bold and imposing, yet still minimalist. There’s nothing over-the-top about it. The new 488 Pista carries some of these same qualities, but the 288 does it with more charm and simplicity. Twenty-five years later, it still looks like the consummate gentleman’s racer, capable of seducing whatever curves it encounters…Pista di Fiorano’s or otherwise.

The car’s rear end is a clean panel with two pairs of equally sized taillights and a simple “GTO” in that wonderfully ’80s font (perhaps Ferrari’s best model badge since the 512BB). In lieu of a massive wing is a gentle lip designed to tame the 395 bhp kicked off by its 3.0-liter, twin-turbo V8. Four generous fender flares bulge to accommodate its large racing tires, and together with its tight midsection and sharply cut frontend, they create a muscular stance that looks ready to pounce, even at a standstill.

It’s as if a 308 GTB moved to Miami and met a great plastic surgeon.

Some Things are Better Left Unchanged

For me, the heavily modified 288 GTO Evoluzione that debuted in 1986 was a design oddity, but in it you can clearly see the beginnings of Enzo’s personal masterpiece, the F40. The sharp nose is more filled in and slopes downward, and the rear looks ready to expand into the F40’s broad, flat backend and signature archway wing. These changes are interesting, but it was not an evolution that I celebrate. The leap from 288 GTO to F40 turned an elegant racer into a brash speed machine focused on one task – breaking 200 MPH.

Form & Function in Equal Measure

I believe so strongly in the 288 because numbers-chasing has never been where Ferrari flourishes. The brand shines brightest when it leaves the measuring contests to other marques and instead pursues the perfect marriage of performance and style, never sacrificing one for the other. The F50 in particular looks like a casualty of bad ‘90s design, its face scarred by what one writer called “godawful troll nostrils.” They didn’t quite get their design mojo back with anniversary editions until the Enzo debuted in 2002.

The 288 GTO is, in my estimation, still Ferrari’s finest effort, and owners appear to agree since they’re rarely for sale. The next time one appears on the auction block, expect to see the buyer pay $3 million or more for the privilege of preserving this legend for the future.

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