Spending A Sunset With A 208 GTB Turbo, The First Forced Induction Ferrari For The Road
Photography by Andrea Casano
“Ask a child to draw a car, and surely he will draw it red.” The quote attributed to Enzo Ferrari certainly applied to me, as I’m sure it did to many of you growing up. Even in a household run by the most dedicatedly boring bureaucrats, it’s unlikely that the refrigerator will have a crayon-made beige sedan stuck to it.
I’ve loved cars ever since my grandfather, Andrea, opened that world to me. Visits to race tracks and historic gatherings were supplemented by the stories he tells me to this day, tales from the Targa Florio, from Monza, and all the lesser-known but no less interesting events in between. It’s hard to make a car-crazy kid peel his eyes away from the specimens themselves, but I think back on times we spent at home—him recounting and me absorbing—with even more fondness than the days at the races.
My grandfather instilled in me the idea that cars should not only be appreciated, but above all respected. Behind every component, every curve, there is great work, great study, and great care invested by the creators. Cars are technically inanimate, but they are far from lifeless. They are the manifestations of passion, built by the keen and creative minds of human beings.
The history of Ferrari is steeped in this kind of understanding, and coupled with a fantastic aptitude and dedication to motorsport, Enzo Ferrari’s brand has become a source of great pride for us in Italy. These cars are part of our culture whether we can afford to own them or just look at them.
I still remember one event that my grandfather took me to, a small gathering of drivers and enthusiasts, and on the automotive side, only Ferraris. There have been a few formative moments that I can attribute to my obsession, but this is probably the one that I can recall with the most clarity. Being surrounded by the beauty, hearing the chorus of V12s and V8s as the crowd thinned and the cars set off for their homes, it added up to a day that I will forever be thankful for.
To pick one model out as a favorite would feel like a betrayal to the rest, but I’ve always been partial to the late 1970s to the early 1990s. Call that a product of my generation or anything else, but this era will always be the most intriguing. The world’s motorsport makeup at this time was incredibly high level—in the mid-’80s for example one could attend a grand prix contested by turbocharged F1 cars and a Group B rally the following weekend—and the road car scene was fully embracing the idea of the supercar, with cars like the F40 and 959 being definitive steps into a new generation.
Before the F40 though, there was the mighty 288. The twin-turbo wedge was once slated to support a Ferrari racing program in the Group B sports car series that never came to fruition, leaving the 288 as something of an oddball that had its spotlight stolen by its evolution, the F40. These two cars introduced turbocharging to Ferrari’s supercars, but the marque’s very first forced induction road car was the 208 GTB Turbo.
The origins of these models (a GTS version followed soon after) are rooted in taxation. In Italy back then, engines with a displacement greater than two liters were taxed at a higher rate than those under that capacity, so Ferrari devised a model to capture some of the sub-two-liter market. Starting with the popular Ferrari 308 mid-engine platform, the engineers reduced the three-liter V8’s capacity by adding sleeves to the cylinders, reducing the bore and creating a two-liter version of the motor. The result was one of the slowest Ferraris ever made.
However, two years after the debut of the 208 models, Ferrari added a turbocharger that changed the car’s attitude and made it a respectable performer. Thanks to the KKK turbo and Bosch K-Jetronic injection system, the 208 GTB Turbo produced just shy of 220 horsepower and could easily hang with its higher-tax contemporaries.
I’d heard about these cars for some time, but I recently had my first chance to spend a day with one. A few months ago I received a message from my friend Marco telling me to pay him a visit in Livorno so he could show me something exciting.
Marco is a collector and seller of vintage cars, and is particularly interested in special models and other limited-production machines, so I had no doubt that what he was to show me would be worth the trip. On the drive to Livorno, all manner of rarities were nominating themselves in my head, but I never expected to see a final production year 1985 208 GTB Turbo waiting for me. I’ve always been an admirer of 308s, but these cars are extra special, and I made no attempt to hide my fawning when Marco wheeled it out into the sunlight.
This car is clearly going to be in his personal collection. “I have fulfilled the dream of a lifetime,” he told me, “I think owning a Ferrari is one of the most beautiful ambitions one can have when it comes to cars. Being able to drive it and absorb its essence on these roads, the very same ones where I saw them for the first time as a child… It’s a unique emotion, and a very powerful one.”
Marco’s words bring me back into my own early memories of car spotting before it was called car spotting, and after warming up the motor he yanks me back to the present moment; “Don’t just stand there, let’s get out there!”
We chose a very sentimental spot just outside the edges of Livorno, a memorized part of the map where Marco often goes to exercise his cars. On our way there, I try to ask him some more information about the history of this particular car, but my attempt is in vain. As soon as we get to the good stuff, Marco starts to really drive, letting the thin tach needle complete its full sweep before repeating the process again in the next gear. Heel-and-toe downshifts are followed by more lateral grip than I would have guessed by looking at this thing’s tires, and as we approach the next corner I learn to brace my body against the G forces seemingly pulling me from all angles. We’re dead silent, grinning like idiots, reveling at what this little V8 can do when called upon.
As soon as we arrive at the first place for still shots, we take some time positioning the car to find the best angle in the low light, only to find out that there is really no bad one for this gorgeous wedge. This is one of those designs that expresses itself fully from any perspective, a beauty without border.
Breaking the silence, I take the chance to ask Marco about how this car came into his life. “I always wanted a 208 Turbo, and it’s a simple story really; when I found her, or if you prefer, when she found me, I haven’t looked back. The former owner had a very strong bond with this car, so much so that it was unsold for a long time, just because he wanted to make sure that a passionate person bought it. I feel honored to not only own the car I’ve wanted for so long, but to be part of this particular one’s story.
“The day I went to pick her up I was beyond excited, barely thinking straight, you know how it goes. My mother and my brother accompanied me, and it just made the day that much more meaningful, to have family there with me for such a moment. Once I got it out of the garage, I remember crying. Pure happiness. I had realized my dream, I was living it. I promised the former owner that I would treat the car with the utmost respect, and I think I’ve made good on that promise.”