Ferrari F40 — The last real Ferrariby Klemen Grilc
As 1986 had begun, petrolheads and motorsport aficionados had lots to be excited about - not the least of it was a new season of rallying in the notorious Group B.
Heaps of carmakers had their wildest fantasies (such as the Ford RS200, the Peugeot 205 Turbo 16 E2 and the MG Metro 6R4) come to life and sent them into battle against the likes of Lancia Delta, 037 Evo, Audi Quattro Sport S1, and other legendary race cars.
Most remaining manufacturers, eager to join the action, were cooking up something special in their respective stables. Then, tragedy struck in Portugal and again in France, which made FIA outlaw the Group B regulations, in term abruptly ending rally's golden era at its peak.
One such carmaker, suddenly left with a boiling pot of technological advancements and without a proper setting to serve their dish, was from Maranello. Their head chef, Enzo Ferrari, must have looked at the 5 prototypes they had built based on their 288 GTO and decided they simply shouldn’t go to waste.
With Group B regulations now obsolete, he came up with what could arguably be described as the single best idea in human history. He instructed his team to make the ultimate race car for the road.
(Photo by Alexandre Prevot)
Enzo’s last blessing
In 1987, the car was ready to hit the market. Appropriately named F40, F for Ferrari and 40 representing the company's 40th anniversary, they initially intended to build 400 units. As always, the company's founder Enzo, 89 years old at the time, had to give his approval before the car was ready to meet the public. It would turn out to be the last car ever to attain such a privilege, as the old maestro passed away the year after. In a way, this makes the F40 the last 'real' Ferrari.
The car's production lasted until 1992, and due to high demand, production stopped at a total of 1,311 units. Every single one of them was red and left-hand drive, yet there was a US-spec model that differed slightly from the 'original.'
The sticker price on them said $400,000, which is over $900,000 in today's money, but at the height of the supercar boom in the early ‘90s, they were already changing owners for a million USD!
This beautiful Pininfarina-designed sports car was an instant classic. It looks as if it were doing 200 mph, even when sitting still. And when you fire it up – done by turning the ignition key, then pressing the rubber start button – it can do just that. Namely, F40 became the very first road car to get certified on the far side of the 200 mph marker.
(Photo by Alexandre Prevot)
A mad obsession with the weight — or lack of it
Besides the glorious 2.9-litre twin-turbocharged V8 rear mid-engine, F40's greatest asset is the obsession its creators had with keeping weight down. The car is like a Spartan warrior, not great at everything, but exceptional at what it does best. And Spartan it is – the interior offers no radio, no glove box, no power windows, no power mirrors, or power locks. Not even a dome light.
Furthermore, no door handles, just a cord, positioned next to the manual window winder in the carbon fibre door panels. Yet, all of them feature sun visors, and Italians being who they are, the passenger side one even has a mirror.
Additionally, all cars came with a climate control system (basically a primitive version of air conditioning). The weight-saving philosophy is engraved in every single chromosome of the car. No sound deadening comes as no surprise, along with the lack of traction control and ABS systems. At the same time, the extent to which Ferrari's engineers used carbon fibre, kevlar, and aluminium, is simply mesmerizing.
(Photo by Mike Roberts)
The entire car consists of 11 body panels. The early models even came with Lexan windows, while all 1,311 had the rear windshield made of that same heat- and crack-resistant material. The strakes on the rear (not-)glass give the driver better visibility, as well as help with the engine cooling.
The factory paintwork on the car is so thin you can actually notice the composite weave through it. Consequently, it's easy to determine whether an F40 has ever been repainted.
The final result is a kerb weight of around 1,150 to 1,300 kg, depending on the year and version (US cars were about 75 kg heavier).
Paired with a V8 powerplant, which officially produced 478 HP (albeit most experts now agree F40s tended to exceed the 500 HP mark from the factory), this means a sprint from 0-100 km/h in 4.1 seconds. Fast even by today's standards, one can only imagine what it was like over 30 years ago!
More than just power
However, the F40 is not about straight-line performance. There are very few – if any – cars that are as visceral and establish as intimate a relationship between a man and the machine. The good old gated 5-speed shifter enables quick gear changes, along with the perfectly positioned pedal box, which screams out for some heel & toe action. Being a dog-leg, 2nd and 3rd gear are in line, which is handy on racetracks, where shifts between these two gears are far more common than selecting 1st is. Indeed, racing variants of the F40, suffixed LM and GT-E, were successful throughout the ‘90s in various GT series.
For technical nerds, let's crunch some numbers. The wheelbase measures 2,450 mm, the entire car is 4,358 mm long (2cm shorter than the newest Ford Focus), 1,970 mm wide, and 1,124 mm high. Its V8 with 2,936cc (81.9mm x 69.5mm bore and stroke) is assisted by 2 turbos, bringing the torque number to an incredible 577 Nm. This is the key to why the F40 is faster than its successor, the F50. The latter, also a legendary car, could never quite keep up with its older brother, despite the stronger and significantly larger F1-derived V12. Hence, Ferrari never let journalists performance-test it to avoid bad publicity.
(Photos by Supermac1961)
F40’s biggest rival from Germany. Or was it?
However, more than the F50, F40's biggest rival was from Stuttgart. Its name – Porsche 959. Whereas the German was a technological marvel, brimming with computers, utilising all-wheel-drive, and built with German precision, the F40 was the rawest, purest, sexiest Italian machine.
Drivers often reported not being able to drive the Ferrari for more than an hour at a time, as its wishbone suspension is quite harsh. And although F40 somewhat disappoints in the sound department, no sound deadening means it is quite loud in the cabin. The fit and finish are that of a kit car, the rack & pinion steering is unassisted, the turbo lag is immense, and when it spools, the car shoots out like a bullet.
(Photo by Alexandre Prevot)
It also has its fair share of quirks. For instance, there are 8 locks on the exterior (not counting wheel locks), for which 3 different keys are required. It has 2 sets of headlights (visible and pop-up ones), 2 fuel caps, so it can be refueled from either side of the car, while the F40 inscription on the rear spoiler is found only on the passenger side, so as to be facing forward. On the gauge cluster, it has 2 'slow down' lights, which are actually check engine lights, one for each cylinder bank.
And yet, whoever drove one says it's one of the most exciting experiences ever. Frankly, we'd all just love to sit in those huggy carbon fibre buckets, grip that three-spoke leather steering wheel, squeeze those drilled aluminium pedals, and revthe 32-valve, twin overhead cam per bank engine. As dry-sump lubrication feeds oil to the turbos and they spool up to 1.1 bar, a clutch dump wildly spins the 10x17'' Speedline rear wheels (fronts are 8x17''), and we fly off … If you are shifted, you’d want this too!