The 201 mph Ferrari F40 is unlike all other supercars : every year that passes, its stunning exterior design and brutal turbocharged power delivery seem even more appealing. In the new-is-best world of supercar ownership, the lasting and growing influence of this 30-year-old exotic is quite unique.
The F40 legend started with a bang as the final car to be presented by Enzo himself on the year of his death. Rows and rows of the matching Rosso Corsa red F40’s lined the Fiorano pit area with another key figure in Ferrari lore: a young Luca Di Montezemolo smiling in his 1980s power suit next to this line of exotica.
As much a story about the passionate men and women behind the scenes, there is almost nothing boring about the F40 in any way. Originally set for a 399-unit production run, the total swelled to more than 1,200 over the car’s lifetime from 1987 to 1992.
The F40’s shocking looks and speed are appreciating in value steadily, and may one day even overtake the Ferrari NART Sypder’s $27 million dollar auction record from this past weekend.
Until then, this Ferrari is already one for the ages. It is as much a joy to drive as it is to admire, almost like a fine painting — new details emerge and captivate the mind. Collectors are notoriously fastidious when it comes to flogging their prized investment, but the F40 is no show queen.
The F40 can dance. The mid-mounted V-8 engine’s then-state-of-the-art twin turbochargers power just the rear wheels through an 8-ball billiard gear knob and the classic polished H-gate pattern.
Weighing more than 500 pounds less than its arch rival — the Porsche 959 — the Ferrari F40 slams its driver toward any horizon at light speed (once those parallel IHI turbochargers spool up).
Click past the jump for the full review of the 1987 - 1992 Ferrari F40, arguably the absolute pinnacle of supercar design and influence.
The F40’s style is purpose-driven with few of the busy fender flares and sharp creases from the Lamborghini Countach . Already quite old at that point, the Countach was still the benchmark bedroom poster of the time. The extreme wedge profile and mid-engined V-12 of the Countach made it a formidable style adversary for Ferrari and its lead F40 designer, Leonardo Fioravanti of Pinifarina.
The 288 GTO platform and styling buck spent almost a year in Pinifarina’s then-modern wind tunnel, with Fioravanti and his team continually refining the shape for optimum aero performance. The result as a deep nose cone with as little front surface area as possible, NACA ducts to handle the airflow and cooling without drag-inducing standard vents, and a groundbreaking carbon-Kevlar tub and all panels.
The continuous aerodynamic refinement left almost no 288 GTO themes in place, but was still unmistakeably Ferrari with similarities to the 365 GTB/4 Daytona and 365 Berlinetta Boxer that Fioravanti also designed. The basis for the F40’s proportions and mechanical package were inherited from the 288 GTO Evoluzione racecar.
Many of the 1980s styling exaggerations fell by the wayside, including the louvered side scoops from the 512 Testarossa and the economy-car performance from the lame 408 Mondial.
A pure, lean and simple aesthetics were born, and the result helped the Ferrari F40 to trump the 959 ’s looks from nearly every angle. Unlike the tall glasshouse of the 959 and its 911-inspired styling cues, the F40 was clearly a purebred exotic with a low roof and yes, that spoiler.
The F40’s giant wing may or may not be technically beneficial at high speeds - its horizontal plane is barely angled at all, unlike a GT3 car’s nearly 20-degree tilt to push the back of the car down. What the spoiler did provide was dual vertical stabilizers at the far corners of the car. This concept keeps the car pointed arrow-straight when at super-high speeds.
The concept is finally being adopted in FIA endurance racing, as seen by the giant vane on the back of the latest Audi R18 Ultra. A tall vertical spoiler like the F40’s helps tracking and stability, but also limits the high-speed potential for a spin-out.
In LeMans (and NASCAR), the use of vertical stabilizers is to control a potential crash force - and making sure the car comes in nose-first to a wall instead of sideways, which is much more lethal.
The embossed F40 logos in the spoiler uprights are a delicious treat, as is the touchable weave of the carbon-Kevlar body panel material under the lightweight red paint.
1987-1992 Ferrari F40 - Exterior Dimensions:
|Curb Weight (Pounds)||2400|
The interior of the F40 is a throwback to a simpler time of racecar construction. The NASA-spec green industrial glue that holds the carbon tub together is visible in the corners of the un-carpeted carbon-fiber floor. A felt-like cloth dashboard wraps what is basically just a crash cage and rally-car flat dash.
Little crash testing experience means the F40’s pillars are tiny and easy to see around, and the windshield glass is less than two feet head of the driver’s head with a very un-supercar-like vertical windshield angle.
This again speaks to the Group B mission when initially modifying a 288 GTO to win rally races. As quick as the Lancia Stratos and Ford RS200 were, their limited visibility is a real disadvantage when racing through the woods at 100-plus mph. Bringing a Lamborghini Countach on a rally course would be about 30 seconds of fun, until you hit a tree you never even saw coming.
Air vents pop out from below the F40’s cloth dash wrap, and the aluminum, three-spoke steering wheel certainly reminds you that crashing a car like this will be painful for both the car and the driver.
Drivetrain, Engine and Brakes
The F40 runs a 2.9-liter V-8 with a parallel twin-turbocharged design, which was a first when the F40 launched in 1987. This design sees two IHI turbos operating simultaneously, with each providing boost for each 90-degree engine bank. A Japanese company, IHI was instantly the go-to supplier for the new breed of Japanese turbocharged sports cars - including the reborn Nissan Slyline GT-R (R32) of the late 1980s. Of course, Mitsubishi and Subaru also leaned — still do — heavily on IHI for their highest-performing turbos.
The parallel turbo design is important because it partially defines the F40’s driving style. This was far before any variable-vane turbochargers or sequential turbocharging came on the scene in the 1990s. Along with the F40’s heavy and imprecise shift linkage, drivers had a few pre-flight checks before nailing the F40’s throttle: get in gear, hang on tight, and brace yourself.
The launch is marked by slight turbo lag, which is actually helpful to get the Pirelli P-Zero tires to hook up to the asphalt before the real power arrives in a frenzied blur. The result of the 471 horsepower is a 60 mph sprint in 3.8 seconds and a record-breaking 201 mph top speed.
The small-capacity V-8 is still a departure for Ferrari’s most premium models, as the subsequent F50, Enzo and now LaFerrari are all naturally-aspirated V-12’s. For anyone skeptical of the turbo V-8 at the time, one quick test ride was proof enough.
The Plexiglas engine cover was vented to allow the high-strung V-8 to sing, while the lack of insulation makes the whole F40 cockpit like one big resonance chamber.
Delightful noises and vibrations tingle through the body even after the engine is off.
|Engine||2.9-liter Twin-Turbocharged V-8 With Chain-Driven Quad Camshafts And Dry-Sump Lubrication|
|0-60 mph||3.8 seconds|
|Top Speed||201 mph|
|EPA Fuel Economy (City/Highway/Combined)||17/12/15|
The F40 was priced at $400,000 when new, and the U.S. and European cars differ slightly in the maintenance required. The Euro cars have a rubber bladder racing gas tank, while the U.S. models have an aluminum tank. The U.S. spec is much nicer for maintenance, as the Euro bladder tank needs replacing every ten years. The repair requires almost full dis-assembly of the car (engine out) - so labor and parts will be in the tens of thousands for this critical service.
The two car’s featured here are 1990 and 1991 examples, each sold by RM Auctionssince 2012. A total of 213 American specification F40’s were imported - with the sale price on the 1990 F40 at $1.15 million.
The 1991 F40 model seems like quite the bargain at just $781,000 - and that is for an unregistered, perfect example with only 300 original miles (total).
As Ferrari selectively used technology in the F40 to maintain a very analog driving experience, Porsche went all in with computerized all-wheel-drive, active dampers and four-wheel-steering. A precursor to the GT-R that would eventually spank the 911 at Nurburgring, the 959 was criticized by some for its weighty controls and luxury-car dynamics. Stepping from the F40 into the 959 is unusual - the 959 is much more upright and comfortable like a normal car.
The F40’s biggest advantage over the 959 was therefore its purity of driving experience and super-exotic style that could never be mistaken for a lesser model.
Gallery Ferrari F40
The F40 is already one of the most admired cars in history, and certainly the defining Ferrari for anyone born in the 1980s. The F40 solidified Ferrari’s performance credentials in a disjointed period of sloppy models like the Mondial and Testarossa.
For all their cool image and Magnum P.I. associations, most of the Ferrari’s from the late 1970s to late 1980s were a mess of sloppy styling, shocking mid-corner spins on demand, and lacking much of the performance the Prancing Horse should deliver.
If you look at the F40 as coming from this disorganized and panicky company — in flux during Enzo’s last years — it is even more important. For the next generation of Ferrari engineers carrying on Enzo’s legacy, the F40 is the touchstone of what makes a fun and world-beating supercar.
Ever since this defining achievement, Ferrari performance cars have improved and evolved the concept of being fun to drive by mortals as well as racing drivers. The F40 will always be fastest with a fearless Italian at the wheel, and is more than capable of scaring you half to death.
It is this razor-edged balance of fun and lethality that makes the F40 such a masterpiece - and such a lovable and entertaining supercar ideal for all future Ferrari’s to emulate. The next chapter starts next year with the LaFerrari range-topper.
- That rear wing is both gorgeous and functional as a vertical stabilizer - tech just recently entering LeMans
- Focused driving style is fun - scary fun when the boost hits
- Appreciating value means the F40 should earn a better return than stocks and bonds
- Enjoying the clamshell front and rear hoods on a 1:24 scale model is as close as most people will get
- Owning an F40 is very expensive on a cost-per-mile basis - as the annual servicing can easily cost $30,000 and more if the car has done big miles
- Euro spec F40’s racing bladder gas tank cannot be switched to aluminum and still be certified as a Ferrari Classiche example