When talk turns to early examples of turbocharged Ferraris, most people think of cars like the 288 GTO or the F40. But Ferrari was turbocharging before that, as a means of making entry-level models more affordable for the Italian market. Ferrari had only started making entry level cars with actual Ferrari badges in the mid-’70s, but by the early ’80s, it was clear that it had been the right call. The 308 was bringing in tons of money, but in Ferrari’s home of Italy, cars with engines that exceeded 2.0-liters of displacement were very heavily taxed, and the 3.0-liter V-8-powered 308 wasn’t really that great of an entry level car.

The solution was a car with a smaller engine, one that was naturally aspirated in base form, but also got a turbocharger for those unwilling to sacrifice power for cheaper taxes. This car was the 208, and when the 308 evolved into the 328, the “tax cheat” version of the car evolved into the GTB Turbo, with the naturally aspirated base model dropped from the lineup. The car isn’t very well known outside of Italy, since there wasn’t a reason for most people outside of Italy to buy one, but it sold very well there.

Continue reading to learn more about the Ferrari GTB Turbo.

Exterior

1986 - 1989 Ferrari GTB Turbo High Resolution Exterior
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It takes a keen eye to spot the difference between the 208, the 208 Turbo, the 308, the 328 and the GTB Turbo, since all of them are mostly the same car, and the major difference between them is the engine. But there are some differences, and the 328/GTB Turbo has a whole new nose. It makes the car a bit less wedge-shaped, and it retains the louvers between the headlights to aid with airflow through the radiator. The things to look for that set it apart from the 328 are the NACA ducts in front of the rear wheels and the higher engine cover, the latter being needed to make room for the intercooler. The GTB Turbo has a black roof spoiler as standard, the 328 had it too, but only as an option. The design is from Pininfarina, and like other varieties of the car, there is a version with a targa roof, although technically that is called the GTS Turbo.

Interior

1986 - 1989 Ferrari GTB Turbo High Resolution Interior
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The only difference between the GTB Turbo and the 328 to be spotted in the cabin is the boost gauge, but the differences between these two cars and the 308/208 that came before are much more noticeable. The upholstery on the seats and doors was rethought, and it was even given new door pulls. There was an optional leather dash, and a leather headliner. Air conditioning, introduced later in the 308’s production life, remained an option. The basic layout is still essentially the same as that of the 308, although all of the buttons, switches and dials have been updated and given a more modern and cleaner look. It’s all very ’80s looking, but then it was the ’80s, so that’s good.

Drivetrain

1986 - 1989 Ferrari GTB Turbo High Resolution Drivetrain
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The big difference between the versions of this car was the engine. As was already mentioned, Italian regulations meant that taxes jumped up considerably for cars with engines bigger than 2 liters, so the GTB Turbo’s engine is just a few cc under that limit. All Ferrari V-8 engines until 2004 were just different versions of the original Dino V-8, but in the case of the GTB Turbo, it was basically unchanged from the old 208 Turbo. What changed was all of the forced induction bits. That started with the turbocharger, which changed from a KKK unit on the old car to a water-cooled IHI turbo. An intercooler was added as well, and all of this brought power up from 217 horsepower to 251 horsepower. Now, the 328 that the GTB Turbo was an alternative to made 270 horsepower, but when Quattroruote (an Italian car magazine) tested the two cars side-by-side, it found that the GTB Turbo’s 6.6-second 0-62 time was only a tenth of a second slower than the 328’s. Of course, it wasn’t really as simple as that.

Anyone who has driven a turbocharged car from the ’80s knows that turbo lag was a very real thing in those days. Boost wasn’t as linear as it is in modern cars, and the on/off nature of the extra power it produced made the car very difficult to drive. The back wheels would love nothing more than to kick out when the engine hit 4,000 rpm, and you’d have to concentrate in order to avoid crossing that threshold while in a corner. Still, the GTB Turbo was an improvement over the drivability of the old 208 Turbo, thanks largely to the fact that it hit peak power lower in the rev range.

Prices

1986 - 1989 Ferrari GTB Turbo High Resolution Exterior
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The GTB Turbo was only really built for the Italian market, but Italians bought them in surprisingly large numbers. Combined sales with the GTS targa-topped version of the car, sales topped 1,100 units, a huge number for such an expensive car sold in only one country. That said, it’s near impossible to find one for sale today, and a majority of those that you will find are mislabeled as 208 GTB Turbos (the “208” part of the name was dropped when the 308 became the 328 in 1985). Prices vary by a lot, from about $40,000 to about $100,000, with an average in the $50,000-$60,000 range. And even though I’m quoting prices in dollars, none of the cars I found were in the U.S. They weren’t all in Italy, but they were all in Europe. That makes them much hard to get and considerably more expensive than a 328.

Competition

Porsche 911 Type 964 Turbo

1986 - 1989 Ferrari GTB Turbo
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Technically speaking, production of the 964 and the GTB Turbo only overlapped for one year, 1989, and the 964 Turbo didn’t come along until 1990. But that’s close enough for us to consider them rivals after all of these years. The 964 Turbo packed much more power than the GTB Turbo, although the lag-induced oversteer was just as likely to kill you. It was built in much bigger numbers and was sold outside of its home market, so getting one today is exponentially easier.

Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1

1986 - 1989 Ferrari GTB Turbo
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The Corvette hasn’t really competed with much that Ferrari has turned out over the years, but a special Corvette built with the help of Lotus and a budget version of a Ferrari were not too far off in terms of price. And when it came to performance, the ZR-1’s technologically advanced engine gave performance far superior to not only the GTB Turbo, but also the 328. You don’t get the brand prestige with the ZR-1, but in a contest of only numbers, it can be difficult to see why anyone would have bought a V-8 Ferrari at the time.

Conclusion

1986 - 1989 Ferrari GTB Turbo High Resolution Exterior
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The 208 GTB Turbo was the first turbocharged Ferrari, and the GTB Turbo is an evolved version of that car. It’s an interesting car from the perspective that it was turbocharged for engine downsizing reasons instead of all-out performance like the F40. But that’s unfortunately the most important quality it posses, the fact that it’s interesting. It’s spectacular when it comes to performance, and it’s not sought after as a valuable collector’s car. For some, the raised engine lid and NACA ducts make it cooler-looking than other versions of this body, but it’s obviously not a hugely dramatic difference. It’s still a Ferrari, but the most important reason for buying one is no longer relevant.

  • Leave it
    • * Lag-induced oversteer
    • * Difficult to find and expensive beyond its value
    • * Slower than a 328
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