It was once the biggest, reddest apple in Ferrari’s eye; a 200mph supercar that would paint the roads in the company’s famous Testarossa. 31 years after the first of these mighty machines slipped out of the Modena factory, the unbeatable Ferrari F40 is still among the most desirable cars in the world; a legacy that doesn’t appear to be letting up.
But is the F40 worth its massive price-tag, or is it the biggest motorised gimmick the world has ever known?
The Ferrari F40 was the last car to be personally approved by company founder Enzo Ferrari before his death in 1988. Ferrari desired a car that would be the ultimate commemoration for their 40th anniversary, a true dedication to the company’s almost fanatical emphasis on speed, precision engineering and style. However, a simple anniversary present wasn’t enough for Ferrari, as celebrating their 40th birthday would also be complimented by their new, limited-production machine being the fastest production car in history; with the hope of beating the current title holder, Porsche 959.
When development on the F40 started in 1984, the company’s then flagship was the Ferrari 288 GTO, which was launched the previous year. The GTO had been designed primarily to beat the likes of Porsche in Group B Circuit Racing, and was good for a top speed of 179mph.
A year after its launch, Ferrari began to develop the 288 GTO Evoluzione, a car that altered the styling to make it more streamlined but aggressive, as well as upping the power. The car was fitted with an upgraded version of the regular 288 GTO 2.9L V8, which was good for a 650hp and could whisk this mighty machine to a top speed of 225mph, which would’ve made it the fastest production car in the world (a position it could’ve held until the McLaren F1 of 1993).
The end result, which consisted of five production cars and one prototype, bore distinct resemblances to the Ferrari F40, and was to make its debut in Group B racing in 1986. However, the same year the Evoluzione left the factory, Group B racing was banned at the end of the 1986 season following the deadly crash of a Ford RS200 at the Rallye de Portugal. As such, all development on the Evoluzione project were scrapped, and the original proposed production run of 20 units was truncated at 6.
However, the show wasn’t over for the Evoluzione, as even though there would be no further development on a project related to the 288 GTO, it was still Enzo Ferrari’s wish that his last supercar would leave an impact on the motor industry that would last for decades. The idea was not to deliver a car that was lavish and full of luxuries like the classic Daytona or the low-end 308, but would be a bare bones basic machine that placed as much emphasis on performance more than anything else. The result would be a car akin to Ferrari’s glory days with the legendary 250 GTO, essentially just a shell with a massive engine in it.
Design work for the body was given to Leonardo Fioravanti of Pininfarina, while engine, gearbox and other mechanical parts fell under the auspices of his supervisor Nicola Materazzi. Materazzi was well acquainted with the project, having worked previously on the 288 GTO Evoluzione. Fioravanti, on the other hand, had helped style the original 288 GTO, but based his final product on the low, swept lines of the Evoluzione.
Power came from an enlarged version of the 288 GTO’s IHI twin turbocharged and intercooled 2.9L V8 engine; the resulting powerplant being a 471hp thing of beauty. Performance wise, the car did 0-60 in 4.2 seconds, and would pass 100mph in 8.3 seconds, going on to a top speed of 202mph; making it both the first production car to break 200mph, but also the fastest production car in the world at the time. The F40 would hold this title until 1989, when it would eventually be knocked from its perch by the Bugatti EB110 GT.
In terms of internal treats, there weren’t any.
As mentioned, the F40 was essentially a glorified race car that attempted to emulate the sheer beauty and magnificence of the Ferrari 250 GTO. Therefore, what you got for the massive price tag of $400,000 was no radio, no carpets; you didn’t even get any interior door handles. That’s right, the way you let yourself out of the F40 is by pulling a cord that sits in a pocket on the door panel!
At least the car came with a fire extinguisher, but that doesn’t exactly inspire much confidence!
Regardless, the F40 went on sale in mid-1987, and received lukewarm reviews.
Given its reputation now, the idea of the F40 being maligned at any point in its history seems impossible. However, people didn’t see the car for its technical brilliance or stylistic beauty, but more as a cynical cash-grab that was done to try and beat the highly coveted Porsche 959. Sales were initially slow, but that was less the F40’s fault, and more the intervention of motoring speculators who bought the cars and kept them in mint condition; expecting their prices to go up. The impending death of Enzo Ferrari, who eventually passed away in August 1988, served to force prices for the cars up to almost 7 times what they were when originally sold in 1987. From its original $400,000 asking price, those F40’s sold after Enzo Ferrari’s passing could fetch up to $28 million; one of the biggest sales bubbles in automotive history.
So, what was the F40 like to drive?
Well, in layman’s terms, the F40 was only suitable for one place; a dry, smooth racetrack with long, sweeping corners.
At the end of the day, the F40 is still just a racing car, therefore driving it on normal roads or in wet weather takes it far out of its element. The handling is heavy, the suspension is so low and rigid it’s like the wheels were jackhammers, the seats are uncomfortable, the car loses all grip in the wet, and the road noise is absolutely deafening. It has no luggage space, getting in and out is like trying to squeeze oneself through a sideways letterbox, the position of the pedals are awkward, what little upholstery there is inside is cheap and tinny, it has absolutely no creature comforts and to top it all off there are panel gaps you could walk through!
But, at the end of the day, none of that matters, because the F40 is not meant to be driven for long journeys or through wet weather. This machine is the ultimate ‘bird-puller’, a car that seems specifically designed to chassé along the promenades of Monte Carlo and through the narrow streets of Beverly Hills. To drive a big, red Ferrari F40 down the street is not for the modest or understated, this car will attract all manner of attention from both genders and from all ages. You can’t use it to commute, and you’d likely never take it to a racetrack, the car will instead sit in your garage gathering appreciation for months, even years, until that one perfect summer evening you find yourself in need of human comfort.
Start the F40, drive it the 300 yards to the seafront, and expect within minutes that empty passenger seat to become occupied.
However, the F40 wasn’t just a rich man’s plaything, but was also a dedicated race car too.
The F40 LM Evolution model made its debut in 1989, and was put through its first paces at the Laguna Seca Raceway round of the IMSA, appearing in the GTO category. The car, driven by Jean Alesi, ended up coming third, beaten by heavily modified Audi 90 race cars. While first-place success was limited, and with little enthusiasm from the Ferrari racing team to supply parts or funding, the F40 did enjoy a series of second and third place victories throughout the 1990 season. Eventually, the car would fall into the hands of private race drivers, and would see further success through the mid 1990’s, though the F40 LM would eventually bow out of GT racing in 1996.
The only other version of F40 was the heavily modified F40 Competizione, a customer-request model that upgraded the engine to 691hp; resulting in a top speed of 228mph. The car was originally marketed under the LM title, but was eventually changed to Competizione after the first two LM units in order to give it a bit more of an edge. In the end, only 10 of these cars were produced overall.
Production of the F40 range ended in 1992, with 1,315 units delivered to customers all over the world. Since then, the car’s legacy and price tag has done nothing but rise, the machine now considered a living legend in the automotive world.
Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond (back when they were Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond) both lauded the car as the ultimate symbol of the 1980’s in automotive circles, even making it to Number 11 on Clarkson’s list of Top 100 cars of the first century of motoring. At one point, they even pitted it against its eternal rival, the Porsche 959, with their desired race being brought to an abrupt halt when the F40 failed to start and the 959 suffered issues with the Turbo.
Regardless, the F40, in spite of the fact that it is quite literally a glorified race car, is still a machine that looks good even today. It has a truly timeless feel, a machine that wasn’t built for the roads but somehow made it work. It was the pride and joy of this fantastic Italian car builder, and the last hurrah of the famous Enzo Ferrari before his passing.
Truly, the F40 is the ultimate legacy of both the man and the company he founded.
- Looks – 10/10 – *Drools* 😀
- Comfort – 1/10 – Horrible seats and sports suspension make this car agony to drive
- Practicality – 1/10 – It has no luggage room, barely any legroom, and the taller person will struggle to get in
- Features – 1/10 – It has no carpets, no radio, not even door handles!
- Reliability – 2/10 – The F40 is a car that screams trouble; trouble that will see you severely out of pocket
- Efficiency – 1/10 – It does 8mpg
- Quality – 1/10 – The interior materials are cheap and plastic, almost as if they were ripped from a Fiat Uno, and there are panel gaps you could post letters through
- Speed – 10/10 – 0-60 comes in 4.2 seconds and it will do 202mph
- Handling – 3/10 – It can grip, but only on the smooth surface of a finely paved racetrack. On a rainy day, leave the F40 at home
- Price – 1/10 – Last I checked, the cheapest you could get was priced at £1.2 million!
- Value – 10/10 – This car will do nothing but gain more and more value as time goes on. Leave it in your garage for two to three years and expect it to sell for triple the amount you paid for it
- Total – 41/110 – A living legend for a very good reason, but is not exactly a peach to live with.