Niki Lauda’s Ferrari 288GTO is a Museum Quality Mechanical Marvel
Our friend Joe Sackey is what some might call a “fixer”. He’s the guy you call when there’s no one else to call to get you something that most people don’t even necessarily believe exists. Not in an arms dealer sort of way, but also not not in an arms dealer sort of way. He’s just recently helped to place Niki Lauda’s iconic 288 GTO, and it happened to be only a handful of miles away from our Culver City California HQ.
What follows is a brief chat we had with Joe, who is, without question, one of the most knowledgeable car people we’ve ever met.
Ted Gushue: How did you first come into contact with the car?
Joe Sackey: A client of mine wanted to put together a Ferrari supercar collection. We actually started with a group of cars that were available at the time. He bought a 288 GTO, which is a good car. It wasn’t a show car or anything, just a nice solid car. Good history. He really enjoyed the car.
As I got to know him better—this is five years ago—I realized he wanted to fine tune the collection. He said, “If I found another 288 GTO that was nicer, lower mileage, purer, maybe we should look at that. We’ll sell this one and get that”. We did. We found another 288 GTO that was just a very special car, low mileage, perfect condition. He bought it and we then sold the other, the first car.
A couple years went by, and a client of mine who’s an international Ferrari collector called me up. I knew he owned the Niki Lauda 288 GTO, but I knew that he kept it at the Ferrari factory museum. I was very surprised when he called me up and said, “You know, I think I’m going to have you help me find it a new home”. I was surprised by that.
I contacted my client, who was in this process of fine tuning the collection and said to him, “This Niki Lauda car might become available”. Some discussions ensued, and one thing led to a another, and a deal was done. I helped my client complete the purchase and import the car into the country. That’s when I came into contact with it, which was three years ago.
TG: The client who owned the Niki Lauda 288, prior to him, how many owners had there been in between him and Niki?
JS: Between Niki, there was an Austrian gentleman, then the client who sold to us.
TG: Why would someone like Niki Lauda ever sell a car?
JS: That’s an interesting question, but I think he looked at cars like this as a toy to enjoy for a season or two, because he only kept it as best that I can figure out for three or four years. It was just a toy to enjoy for a couple of seasons and then it was a machine, a racing thing that he could sell and put the money somewhere else.
I know at the time he was developing his airline, so that could be one reason. He didn’t keep it that long. If I can figure it out correctly, he sold it around 1990, so he had the car about four years. If I remember, in 1990, they commanded a big premium. That could be the reason.
TG: Define “big premium”—the sticker price on that car originally was what?
JS: The sticker price on the car was $85,000 but I think that that was just the price of admission. I think each car cost Ferrari significantly more than $85,000. Their feeling was that this is fantastic publicity. They needed to do 200 cars so they could get FIA homologation to develop the Group B cars, the GTO Evo, which never happened because Group B got disbanded. That was just the price of admission, and they made them available, I think, as a gift to all their VIP clients…because the cars were immediately spoken for by their top 200 people.
TG: That’s the case for most Ferraris, though, no?
JS: No. Just the supercars, the special cars. This was the beginning. This turned out to be the first in the Ferrari supercar series, coming from GTO, F40, F50, Enzo, [and now] La Ferrari. No matter how long that series continues, this model will always be the first. That’s significant. It’s low production because they really only intended to build 200 to get the FIA certification.
Basically, the factory got talked into building 72 more cars because certain clients that [saw it] went, “Oh.” That’s what happened. It’ll always be rare, always be a rare Ferrari supercar compared to the F40—which they built 1,311 of—or the F50, which they built 399 of, and so on. It’ll always be a rare one, and the fact that it’s the first is very special.
If you ask me what makes a GTO valuable, I think it’s because of all of those things, but also because it was a car built when Enzo Ferrari was there and still making decisions. By the F40, it was…other people will say…
TG: [He was] on his way out?
JS: Yeah. The 288 GTO was his name. It’s a pretty cool car. My understanding from a lot of research and a little article a friend of Niki Lauda’s did was this car was the proverbial, the Italians say, a kiss on both cheeks. Sort of to make up with Niki Lauda, because when Niki Lauda was World Champion for Ferrari in ’75, the following year he left kind of under a cloud with Enzo. Enzo thought he should have raced at Fuji rather than give up. There was murky blood between them and this was very well known.
Come ’85, Niki Lauda was retired and doing some promotional work for Fiat. I think Enzo saw it as an opportunity to just make things right between them, so he made the car available to him at a discount price.
The problem was when Niki finally approached Enzo for a car, production had finished. The last car was built in October of ’85 and went to the United States dealer Ron Tonkin.
That’s the last production proper car. By the time Niki Lauda asked for a car was the winter of ’85, ’86. This car got finished, as you can see from the plates, in about March of ’86. It’s five months after production finished. That’s a distinct gap. It’s special for that reason that it’s the last, but also more special because Enzo authorized it. The owner has the title with Niki Lauda’s name on it and the bill document signed by Enzo Ferrari.
TG: How’s it drive?
JS: It drives very well for GTOs. I’ve driven a number of them and some of them, you can tell have been very agile, dynamic cars, but you drive some of them and you can tell they’ve been sitting around for a long time. The drive is very light. It’s a manual everything, firm controls, but you get a sense that this is a light car. As you drive down the road, the boost comes on kind of slowly and then it’s very dynamic.
It kicks in, so you have to be ready for it. This is an early twin-turbocharged car, [with] Magneti-Marelli injectors, so it’s a little more mechanical. You can tell it’s not as linearly perfect, or precise as modern cars are. You have to be on your game.
Special thanks to Joe for introducing us to this awesome machine. Should you require his services, we’d encourage you to reach out to him directly on his website: www.JoeSackey.com