Ferrari F40 review

By: Paul Blank, Photography by: Paul Kane

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Ferrari F40 Ferrari F40 Ferrari F40
Ferrari F40 Ferrari F40 Ferrari F40
Ferrari F40 Ferrari F40 Ferrari F40
Ferrari F40 Ferrari F40 Ferrari F40
Ferrari F40 Ferrari F40 Ferrari F40
Ferrari F40 Ferrari F40 Ferrari F40
Ferrari F40 Ferrari F40 Ferrari F40
Ferrari F40 Ferrari F40 Ferrari F40
Ferrari F40 Ferrari F40 Ferrari F40
Ferrari F40 Ferrari F40 Ferrari F40
Ferrari F40 Ferrari F40 Ferrari F40
Ferrari F40 Ferrari F40 Ferrari F40

Ferrari raised the bar to celebrate its 40th anniversary

Ferrari F40 review
FEATURE: Ferrari F40

From Unique Cars magazine, issue #250 (July-Aug, 2005)

Ferrari F40

It’s not all about performance, but when a car goes as astonishingly fast as a Ferrari F40, it’s easy to focus on little else.

Unique Cars has just been driving an immaculately preserved example of Ferrari’s 1980s supercar, and come away as impressed today as when this writer first drove one when the F40 was a current model. Maybe even more – because the use of a circuit has allowed us to explore more of the true essence of the F40.

But to give all the focus to the performance would be to overlook so much more that this special car possesses.

There’s the looks, the technical design and the history, each of which has an integral role in making this undoubtedly one of the greatest sports cars of all time. Yes, there may have been more beautiful cars before and faster cars since, but the F40 embodies so much more than most.

It came about when Ferrari had been languishing a bit as the supercar maker – a period of Miami Vice, the Testarossa and Mondial. While there was nothing intrinsically wrong with Ferrari’s road cars at the time, it was hard to get really, really excited by their range. To improve matters, the company built the 308 GTB-based 288GTO, which featured the V8 mounted longitudinally (rather than transversely as in the 308) and fitted two turbochargers. It was certainly fast and the aficionados loved it, but probably because it looked much like a 308 with a few extra vents and bulges, it made little impact.

The 288GTO however, provided the basis for the F40, which would prove as spectacular as its predecessor was understated. 1988 was Ferrari’s 40th anniversary and the company decided to blow everyone away with their commemorative car. To fulfil its role adequately, the aptly named F40 would need to look like nothing else, go like nothing else and help the company’s image like nothing had for some time.

It was a tall order, and one which Pininfarina’s design leader Leonardo Fioravanti was up to. The F40 would be the last design that Il Commendatore, Enzo Ferrari, would sign off before he died.

The F40 was as close to a Group C racing car for the road as there ever had been. Its construction technique, technical specification and performance put it right up there with serious competition machinery. The engine was a corker. A 2936cc, quad-cam alloy V8, 4-valve per cylinder, dry sump of course, and a pair of IHI turbos, with intercooling and everything the Ferrari technicians could throw at it. The result was a stonking 478bhp (365kW) at 7000rpm.

The construction of the F40 utilised a tubular steel frame with carbon-fibre and Kevlar internal and external bodywork. Considerable efforts were made to keep weight down, with plastic side and rear windows and much of the interior being un-upholstered carbon-fibre. This meant the car weighed just 1100kg. You do the sums. The F40 would have very serious performance.

Each end of the car’s bodywork was on two simple hinges, flipping forward to reveal race-car style construction, and brilliant access to everything mechanical.

The huge rear wing integrated into the back section was before the days when other makers fitted such oversize appendages. Classic Ferrari twin round tail-lights sat on simple black mesh. The flat, wide nose characterised the racing car look. Big three-piece alloy wheels, with the then still traditional Ferrari five-spoke design and centre locks with pins, emphasised the competition look. The Pirelli tyres were bigger than any other car had in those days.

While the cockpit silhouette and doors still resembled the Ferrari 308, there could be no mistaking an F40 for anything else.

Under the nose was even a little luggage space – not that an owner would be likely to carry luggage often. Maybe a helmet. The rest of the car was not exactly practical – the F40 was never meant as a grand tourer.

When you approach the F40, even with so many years of familiarity, the look of the car is still captivating. Adorned with scoops, air outlets, the dominating wing and broad, flat surfaces it remains a striking piece of design. Today the F40 shows its age, but it wears its years very well, relinquishing none of its immense visual impact over time.

Pop open the door and you’re greeted by expanses of carbon-fibre, which was pretty unusual in 1988. The sills are wide and high so you step deep into the car and drop into the body-hugging seat. Its thinly upholstered, in the best competition car way, but holds you very nicely. The original owners could specify a seat to fit.

Sparse is one way you might describe the interior, especially as there’s so little upholstery. This car has the sliding side windows which was most popular with earlier build F40s and quite unusual on a late car such as this. The doors are hollow, with raw carbon-fibre inside and pull-strings as door handles.

Grey furry trim covers the dashboard and the seats are upholstered in red fabric, but otherwise, the carbon-fibre finish dominates – the floor, footwells, high sills, console sides and doors. An elegant, simple three-spoke Momo wheel sits ahead of a typical Ferrari instrument pod with a set of additional dials to the facia’s centre.

A little unusual looking is the tall chrome gearstick, sitting in the wonderful Ferrari metal shift gate. The transaxle setup gearbox is a five-speed unit. Drilled pedals, a common aftermarket item today, were also pretty special in 1988.

Once you’re in, pull the door shut with a clack, put on your belt and ready yourself for action. Like all F40s, our test car is left hand drive, but all the controls are completely straightforward. The driving position is fine, though the top of the windscreen is quite close to your head. Reach to the foot and hand operated controls is trouble-free, unlike some less accommodating Italian cars of years gone by.

Turn the key, give the quite audible fuel pump a few moments and press the black rubber ignition button. The motor fires up readily, with no histrionics and quickly settles into a comfortable hum. At idle, the F40 engine doesn’t sound particularly musical or exciting. It certainly gives no clue about what it holds in store.

The controls are user-friendly, the clutch biting well, though the throttle pedal feels a little sticky. You know with old-fashioned turbo cars there’s not much performance before they hit their sweet spot, so manoeuvring away from stationary is not going to have much risk. It’s not fussy or temperamental, and proves very tractable. The turning circle is remarkably small.

You do though, feel the coarseness that a racing car has – even at slow speeds, the feel through the seat, steering and pedals is not softened in any way. It’s clear there are no compromises for comfort in this car.

First up I take it quite easy, getting a feel for the controls – easing the gearstick back into the dogleg first gear, getting used to the long accelerator pedal travel, the feel of the brakes, the click-clack of the gearchange. The unassisted steering is pin-sharp and not heavy. OK, now I’ve got the feel of the basics, so let’s get the turbos wound up. Just on the straight to start with.

Whoa! That straight suddenly got a lot shorter. Of course there’s some of the famous old-technology turbo lag, but once the turbos start spinning, there’s an incredible push in the back... that doesn’t stop. You get the feeling that the F40 would be pretty uncontrollable if you gave it heaps in first gear, but thereafter it is absolutely thrilling. Treat this car’s right pedal with respect.

Zero to 100km/h comes up in 3.9secs. Compared to modern supercars with similar acceleration, which have no turbo lag, the F40’s acceleration is more impressive – given that not much happens in the first second, so there’s much more oomph packed into the following 2.9 seconds. Two hundred clicks comes up in less than 12 seconds – if you’ve got enough road.

The force of the power is truly immense and descriptions like ballistic, awe-inspiring and explosive really do it little justice. It can actually be quite scary – especially on the road. Something that stands out, having driven about a dozen people in F40s, is that the most common expression for an F40 passenger reacting to its forward thrust is the F word – and that’s not Ferrari!

Whichever way you look at the performance it is impressive. The F40 was the first production car to have a top speed in excess of 200 miles per hour – 346km/h to be exact – the old double ton. The latest Ferrari Enzo has 35 per cent more power but is only about seven per cent faster.

There’s no electronic nannying equipment in the F40 – no anti-lock brakes, no traction control. So it’s all up to you, the driver, to make the most of it.

This car’s new owner, Joe Ricciardo, was very keen to see what his car was capable of, and with many years of racing experience under his belt, was more than capable of benefiting from the Ferrari’s great reserves. This test was his first day out in the F40.

Of course the grip is vast, turn-in is as sharp as you could wish for and the brakes feel like God has reached down and grabbed hold of the car. In hard cornering, there’s some initial understeer, but smooth application of the throttle brings some very controllable oversteer, the back stepping out just as much as you command.

Body roll is kept well in check and the g-forces are a part of the thrill of a quick run in an F40. Ricciardo quickly had his supercar by the scruff of the neck and was pushing the car around with great fluidity. Learning to deal with the turbos coming on song is a part of the equation, but if the engine is kept within a high enough rev range, that’s not a problem. It was clear to both of us when we drove the F40, that the car had plenty more in reserve.

Joe’s car is a 1990 model, from the five-year production life of the F40. The model gave the Italian marque the high-profile boost they’d hoped for and was more successful than Ferrari had dreamed, with 1315 eventually being built. This example was delivered new to a Swiss owner and clearly lived a very cherished life. On the day of our track test the car’s odometer clicked over 1700km. That equates to just 113km a year. Apparently the last owner had another F40 he used for club events and to clock up the mileage. Thus, this car is in exceptionally original condition. There are no scuff marks on the carbon-fibre foot-wells and the nuts on suspension parts still show the yellow paint dabs applied in the factory.

Like all F40s, it does show the signs of being built for the race circuit rather than the show circuit. Some of the assembly is quite crude, with more than a few roughly finished areas. But that’s not what an F40 is about. Interestingly, the F40 was not actually built with racing in mind. The cars didn’t fit any specific category when launched, though subsequently were raced with some small success in IMSA and BPR categories.

In the 18 years since the F40 was first shown, it has reached iconic status among collectors and enthusiasts.

"It was always my dream to own one," says Ricciardo who owns two other collectors’ piece Ferraris. "To me the F40 is the ultimate Ferrari. The newer F50 and Enzo are fantastic cars too, but there’s something really special about the F40 – just the idea of driving one makes the hairs stand up on the back of my neck."

With the F40, Ferrari took the world of supercars to a new, much higher level. No longer was a Countach, Porsche Turbo or Testarossa the top dog. This car was significantly more exotic in design and superior in performance.

Today the F40 may not be the fastest, rarest, most technologically advanced, or most exotic looking, but there would be few people who would doubt that it’s among the all-time greatest ever cars.

 

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