Don’t you find that major car companies often have machines that they’d choose to sooner forget rather than look back on with misguided pride. For Ford, it’s the Edsel, Rolls Royce, it’s the Camargue, Aston Martin it’s the LaGonda, and for Ferrari, it comes down to two models, the curious 4-seater Mondial of the 1980’s, and this, the F50, Ferrari’s second attempt at painting the roads red, but sadly fell through.
To put such a car into perspective, you need to go back 10 years to 1987, and on Ferrari’s 40th anniversary, the company launched a spectacular limited edition machine, the Ferrari F40, the world’s fastest road-legal car and one of the biggest trend-setters of the late 1980’s. 1,311 of these cars scorched onto the highways of Europe and America, at a price of $400,000 a pop! In 1990, Ferrari launched the 641, their award winning Formula One car for the early 90’s. Designed by Enrique Scalabroni and Steve Nichols, the car was powered by a 3.5L Tipo V12 producing 680hp, slightly down on power compared to the 690hp Honda V10 engines used by the McLaren team. Nevertheless, the car was incredibly successful, scoring it big with 6 wins in the 1990 Season, 5 times by Alain Prost, and once by Nigel Mansell (and his killer moustache!).
In preparation for their 50th anniversary, Ferrari desired to do the same as they’d done with the F40, but upping the game for spectacular results. What the company planned was to place the engine from the 641 into their new car, the F50, the very first road-going Formula One car.
However, problems immediately cropped up with the creation of the F50, most notably the whole Formula One part. The problem with F1 engines is they’re usually used for bolting round a racetrack at 200mph, not for the stop-start routine of everyday motoring, thus requiring major changes to just about everything. As opposed to the 3.5L Tipo engine in the 641, the F50 derived its power from a 4.7 L DOHC 65° V12, producing 513hp. This struck many potential buyers as something of a compromise, and thus things got off to an already uneven start.
Additionally, the desire to make an F1 car for the open highway led to another problem, the body, which was built in the same manner as F1 cars in that it is a Stress Member, a central carbon fiber tub with light-alloy suspension and engine-gearbox assembly mounting points co-polymerised to the chassis, which, in basic English, means the body is literally part of the chassis. However, this does have the effect of absolutely lacerating the ride quality, with every individual indentation in the road being felt by the occupants.
The final and deadly blow to the F50’s success were the various additions to the car for it to be road legal, including headlights, bumpers, leather seats, a battery, a proper dashboard, and all those other creature comforts we’ve come to know in modern motors. As a result the performance was down compared to the previous F40, with a top speed of 194mph compared to its older brother’s 201mph, although in terms of 0-60 it was 0.2 seconds faster.
Many people also took a dislike to the design, with its big gawking headlamps and chunky panels being a major point of contention to those who had loved the crisp angles and lines of the F40. Me personally, I adore this car’s styling, looking both sporty and futuristic, a real 90’s supercar that still looks good even today. The F40 is indeed a pretty car as well, but does have a very 80’s feel about it. The F50 on the other hand could come out today and still be an incredibly pretty machine!
Nevertheless, after compromising heavily on the design, Ferrari launched their baby in 1995, two years before Ferrari’s 50th Birthday in 1997 (confusing launch date), and was almost immediately set upon by the motoring critics and Ferrari enthusiasts alike. All of the compromises, the increased weight, the reduced top speed, the design, the profile, and in fact anything the F50 entailed that made it different from an F1 car, were bashed. I often meet Ferrari enthusiasts at car shows and whilst many despise the car for all it stood for, usually dubbing it ‘a rubbish attempt at a second coming’, those who are a bit more lenient still don’t praise it as the best thing Maranello every kicked out.
In all, only 349 of these cars were produced between 1995 and 1997, although the last ones weren’t sold until 2001. Several special variants also came into existence, including the F50 GT, a racing derivative built to fight off the McLaren F1 and the Porsche 911 GT1 at the BPR Global GT Series. The car was given a modified V12 engine producing 750hp and a top speed of 235mph, but eventually only 3 cars were produced and sold when the company chose not to pursue the concept. The Sultan of Brunei and his love of custom made cars also got himself a special edition F50 known as Bolide, to be parked alongside his other million unique sports cars.
As mentioned, the Ferrari F50 has become something of a Black Sheep in automotive circles, not often remembered fondly in comparison to the F40 that preceded it or the Enzo Ferrari that followed it in 2002, with its 400 members produced. The modified V12 engine of the F50 however did make it into the Ferrari 333SP prototype of 1995, a racing car that brought home 56 wins and 69 Pole positions in 144 races between 1998 and 2003. I won’t say however that these cars are overall loathed by the Ferrari fan-base, that distinction going mostly to the Mondial of the 1980’s, yet another ambitious idea that was criticised for its compromises to design so as to meet various engineering demands. The F50 is seen more as Ferrari’s XJ220, attempting to make something overly ambitious but not being able to deliver in the end, although the XJ220 people will often remember for the spectacular way in which it went about its business.
Today you’d be very, very, very, very, very, very lucky to find one of these on the roads here in the UK. Dubai on the other hand there’s probably a fair few trundling about, the long desert highways a few official enforcements being the last refuge of the speed freak. The South of France and Italy as well may be contenders, along with Beverley Hills in the United States.