Nowadays, flying is one of the most horrendous ordeals people have to endure in order to go on holiday. There isn't a single stage to the flying process that isn't simply an unpleasant hoop you have to jump through in order to get to where you want to go. But once upon a time, things were very different.
There was a time many, many moons ago where flying was more about the flight itself than it was about reaching the destination. But in this golden age, flying was incredibly exclusive and wasn't something anyone could do. And once you remove its exclusivity, you also remove the prestige surrounding it.
The same rules apply to the turbocharger. There was once a golden age, where people wanted turbocharged cars purely so they could soak up the excitement of lag. In this time, the turbo was an exclusive feature on performance cars; whereas now, a turbocharger can be found on anything.
One of the most iconic cars ever made, in the golden age of the turbocharger, was the Ferrari F40. It was Ferrari's last turbocharged production car for 22 years before the company were forced to conform to the turbo revolution with the California T.
Since then, Ferrari have introduced another 3 turbocharged models into their range – and they are just the start of an influx. But rather than take the easy emotional option of cynicism and bitterness, I thought I'd have a look back at Ferrari's turbocharged history. If only all history lessons were this interesting!!
208 GTB Turbo (1982):
If there's one thing a Government likes, it's tax. They'd tax you for brushing your teeth and having a shit if they could - and probably will one day, somewhere. And back in Italy in the 70's and 80's, the Government were charging people a whopping 38% tax rather than the regular 18% for buying cars with engines over 2 litres in capacity.
Ferrari decided to respond to this tyranny by taking their 3L NA V8 engined 308 GTB, and slotting in a 2L NA V8, thus creating one of the slowest cars they've ever made: the 208 GTB.
Available as both a GTB (Coupe), and a GTS (Convertible), the 1991cc 208 avoided the government's taxation rules. But while there may have been no unnecessary monetary cost for the 208, there was one rather vital price to pay: performance.
Producing just 153bhp, the 208 was one of the slowest Ferraris ever made, not managing to hit 60mph from a standstill in anything under 9 seconds. The top speed too was underwhelming, at just 132mph. Clearly, action was needed. And thankfully, in 1982, Ferrari took said action by creating what was their first ever turbocharged production car: the 208 Turbo.
The 208 Turbo utilised the wizardry of a single KKK *racist* turbocharger, which boosted the 2L V8's power to 217bhp. This extra power managed to knock over 2 and a half seconds off the 208's 0-60mph time, down from 9 seconds, to 6.3. Not only that, but the top speed rose to 150mph. All of a sudden, Ferrari had found a way around the Government's pesky taxes without leaving their customers with cars that could be left behind at the lights by Stuart Little.
They'd lost their production car turbocharger virginity, and in keeping with such an occasion, it opened up a whole new world of possibilities. Soon after the 208 Turbo, Ferrari would be utilising the turbocharger to create something truly staggering...
288 GTO (1984):
The 288 GTO was originally designed for racing – but the Group B racing series it was destined to enter folded before it got chance to race. As a result, Ferrari were left with 272 road cars that'd been specially homologated around a stillborn racing series – but that wasn't much of a problem, because what they created was one of the most magnificent road cars of all time.
Those with the pesky habit of spotting similarities will notice how the Ferrari 308 GTB and the 288 GTO do appear to look rather alike. And that's no accident. Ferrari initially reached to the 308 to use as a base to modify in order to keep costs to a minimum. When they'd finished the 288 however, very little of the original 308 was left. There was one rather important component they shared however: the engine!
The 308 used a 2926cc normally aspirated V8 engine. The Group B regulations stated that only cars with engines below 4 litres could compete; however, for turbocharged cars, there was another proviso. The regulations stated that if the displacement of a turbocharged engine was greater than 4 litres when multiplied by 1.4, it would not be allowed. This gave turbocharged engines a limit of 2857cc – leaving the 308's standard engine illegal once turbocharged.
In order to turbocharge the engine, Ferrari reduced the bore of the 308's V8 by just 1mm, bringing the capacity down to 2855cc. Force fed with Twin-Turbos, and bequeathed with intercoolers, and fuel injection, the 288 GTO produced 400bhp, which in a car that weighed only 2557lbs (1160kg) was enough to break some important records.
It could do 188mph flat out, which not only made it the fastest production car in the world in 1984, but also made it the first production car to reach the magical figure of 300kph. Getting to that speed however, you'd feel oomph nobody had ever felt in a road car previously, reaching 60mph in just 4.7 seconds, and 100mph in just over 10. It was, and is, one hell of a fast car.
GTB Turbo (1986):
In 1985, Ferrari had introduced a successor to the 308 called the 328, and in 1986, it was time for them to introduce a new turbocharged model to once again sneak their way around Italian tax laws without skimping on performance.
The 1991cc V8 was basically the same as the one used in the 208 GTB. But when they came to turbocharging it, a couple of changes were made. Firstly, instead of a KKK turbocharger, a much less racist single IHI turbo was used; and also, unlike the 208, the newer car used a new intercooler.
Called simply the GTB or GTS Turbo depending on whether it was a Coupe or Convertible, it was capable of producing 251bhp. While the 0-60mph time only got slashed by 0.3 of a second, down to 6 seconds dead compared to the old 208 Turbo, the top speed increased to 157mph. The GTB Turbo was the last Ferrari road car ever to use a single turbocharger.
Arguably the most legendary Ferrari of all time, and one of only a select few road cars ever to use its turbocharging to enrich the character of the car, and the excitement of the driving experience, without making it impure.
The engine was developed directly from the 288 GTO's V8. Since the F40 didn't have to meet any race-homologation laws however, the displacement was increased from 2855cc to 2936cc. Augmented by Twin-Turbos, the F40's engine produced 478bhp, which was enough to make it the world's first 200mph production car. Well, according to the Italians, anyway!!
Contrary to popular belief, there has always been a bit of conjecture surrounding the F40's 200mph claim, and that's because it never managed to reach the double tonne outside of Italy's carefully-controlled and not at all biased land. Regardless of what it could do flat out however, the thrill the F40 was capable of relaying to the driver made any doubts about its top speed diminish into insignificance.
You will frequently hear road testers describe the F40 as the fastest go-kart in the world, and that's all to do with the handling that's reminiscent of a tail-happy go-kart. The moment you inch the nose into a corner, the back shows an undying eagerness to catapult around, which thanks to the tactility of the controls, is a heavenly joy to tame and master.
California T (2014):
It took over 2 decades after the F40 for Ferrari to delve back into the world of turbochargers. And had it not been for the tightening grip of emissions regulations, they may never have made another turbocharged production car again.
With the golden age of the turbo confined to the history books, the California T wasn't about enjoying the process of turbo-lag – it was about trying to eliminate it altogether. That was Ferrari's main and imperatively important mission: to make a turbocharged engine behave like it's normally aspirated.
In order to do that, they utilised methods that are frankly more complicated than nuclear fission. But even with a profoundly clever pair of turbocharger spooling in the blink of an eye, and delivering boost instantaneously, a turbocharged engine's torquey nature would give it away.
In order to quell this sensation, Ferrari implemented a system that limited the torque in lower gears, thus giving the California T a more linear feel. As a result, they created a 3.9L Twin-Turbo V8 engine with 552bhp and 557lb-ft of torque that – unless someone told you – you wouldn't know was turbocharged.
As a nerd, I must admit that there has to be such a thing as turbo-lag in a turbocharged car. But if you can feel it in the California, then you need to visit your doctor and ask them to increase your medication for hypersensitivity disorder.
488 GTB (2015):
The 488 GTB replaced Ferrari's normally aspirated 458 back in 2015, and instantly became the most powerful turbocharged car they've ever produced. Using a moderately bigger version of the California T's 3.9L Twin-Turbo V8, the 488 develops an Enzo-beating 661bhp, and 570lb-ft of torque.
Once again, it uses exactly the same technique in order to mask its turbocharged nature – including the electronic torque-limiting system. And once again – other than the odd sound of turbo-intake – the 488 performs a staggeringly realistic impression of a normally aspirated engine.
GTC4Lusso T (2017):
The GTC4Lusso is the first car in Ferrari's history to be offered with both a V12 and V8 engine. The V12 it comes with is Ferrari's blissful 6.3L naturally aspirated unit, developing 681bhp! The V8 version however uses their Twin-Turbo 3.9L V8, pumping out 602bhp in this application.
The turbocharged V8 however has a major advantage over the V12 in terms of torque, producing 561lb-ft compared to the V12's 514lb-ft. While neither example of the GTC4Lusso showcases huge amounts of agility in Ferrari-land, they are both arguably the greatest Grand Tourers the company has ever made.
Ferrari's latest turbo offering replaces the California, and in doing so, promises to be more of a driver's car. Using the same 3.9L Twin-Turbo V8 that is becoming the signature of Ferrari's turbo range, the wick has been turned up 40 horsepower from the outgoing Cali T to 592bhp.
To this day, Ferrari has only ever turbocharged their V8 cars; in the future however, they will have no other choice but to turbocharge their V12 cars. After producing the F12 tdf, Ferrari stated that the naturally aspirated V12 would last for one more generation, and now we know that generation to be the 812 Superfast. Before their V12 cars go turbo however, I predict they'll first be augmented by hybrid technology.
Despite the fact that turbocharging isn't anything to fear where Ferrari are concerned, the day their normally aspirated V12 dies will be marked by a period of automotive mourning. It will unquestionably be one of the saddest days the motoring world will have seen. But let's not dwell too much on that, else we'll forget to enjoy the here and now. And right now, their turbocharged history is wonderful, and their naturally aspirated V12 engine is still alive and revving.
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Written by: Angelo Uccello
Tribe: Speed Machines
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