Three decades of Fer­rari’s racer for the road, the F40


Noth­ing makes an en­trance like an F40. Low, wide and im­pos­si­bly ag­gres­sive, it draws a crowd even while be­ing un­loaded from the trans­porter. Phones are hur­riedly pointed in its di­rec­tion to record it be­ing ma­noeu­vred around an in­dus­trial es­tate, the rest­less growl of its V8 contrasting sharply with the com­put­er­con­trolled melo­drama of mod­ern prima don­nas.

This is the poster car for a gen­er­a­tion of en­thu­si­asts, a shape that adorned bed­room walls as their imag­i­na­tions were fired by ar­ti­cles de­scrib­ing the Fer­rari’s stripped-back fo­cus, its im­mense value, its savage per­for­mance. Le­gend has it that the F40 could lap Fio­rano faster than the Scud­e­ria’s (dread­ful) 1980 Grand Prix car, while For­mula One star Ger­hard Berger de­scribed driv­ing one and al­most be­ing caught out by wheel­spin. In fourth gear. At 120mph.

A log­i­cal fol­low-on from the 288GTO – it was based upon the Evoluzione, of which five were made – the F40 was named for the mar­que’s 40th an­niver­sary and was the last Fer­rari to be launched while Enzo was still alive. It fea­tured a de­vel­op­for ment of the 288’s twin-tur­bocharged 90º V8 power unit, which was en­larged from 2855cc to 2936cc. The com­pres­sion ra­tio was raised, too, as was the boost – from 0.8 to 1.1 bar. There were twin in­jec­tors for each cylin­der, and power was up to 478bhp from 400bhp.

Chief test driver Dario Benuzzi be­gan his ca­reer at Fer­rari in 1971. He was re­spon­si­ble for devel­op­ing a long line of road cars, and to­day he re­calls the F40 pro­ject: “Like it was yes­ter­day!”

“One of the big­gest chal­lenges was the en­gine driv­abil­ity,” Benuzzi ex­plains. “It was a We­ber­marelli elec­tronic in­jec­tion sys­tem with IHI tur­bos, and early ver­sions were un­driv­able. The We­ber en­gi­neer would come over to Maranello and we’d test the car. Then he would go back to Bologna, re­con­fig­ure the EPROM [erasable pro­gram­mable read-only me­mory] and it went on like that for a long time.

“We’d test the en­gine on the track at Fio­rano but also out on the road, us­ing a favourite route to Fanano in the moun­tains south of Maranello. ac­cel­er­a­tion and brak­ing tests, we’d go to the aero­nau­ti­cal base in Ri­mini.”

The use of IHI tur­bocharg­ers came de­spite the fact that the 288GTO had em­ployed KKK units – as did the For­mula One team at that time: “We tried both makes, ob­vi­ously, and for me the best so­lu­tion was the IHIS. But with the F1 con­nec­tion, it wasn’t an au­to­matic choice. The en­gi­neers, Mat­erassi and Bellei, said we’d have to go to the Com­menda­tore. So we did, and he said to me, ‘You’re the one who has to drive the car – which do you pre­fer?’ When I told him, he said to talk to his son, Piero, and in­form KKK.

“We pre­pared two pro­to­types, one with KKK tur­bos and the other with IHIS, and we in­vited the KKK en­gi­neers to test both at Fio­rano. They agreed that the IHIS were bet­ter and went off to work on an im­prove­ment to their tur­bos. But we went with IHI any­way.”

The other prob­lem that Benuzzi had was set­tling on the right choice of tyre: “The Pirelli P Zero was cre­ated specif­i­cally for the F40. I re­mem­ber try­ing out an in­fi­nite num­ber of dif­fer­ent spec­i­fi­ca­tions be­fore we found the right com­pound and tread de­sign. Ing Mez­zan­otte was the en­gi­neer in charge of


de­vel­op­ment for Pirelli and I re­mem­ber him with a rasp, fil­ing down the rear tyres be­cause they were mov­ing too much!

“The last as­pect was the float­ing disc brakes. We had a lot of vi­bra­tions and tried a lot of dif­fer­ent hubs be­fore re­solv­ing the is­sue. We also had to find a good com­pro­mise be­tween brak­ing ef­fi­ciency and pedal ef­fort – there was no servo.”

High-speed test­ing was car­ried out at Nardo: “The only is­sue we had was that there was a rear­ward bias to the aero bal­ance, so it lifted a bit at speed. In fact, the early ver­sions had quite a pro­nounced rear nolder [lip], so we took a file to it. I re­mem­ber see­ing 391kph (244mph) with the LM ver­sion around Nardo.”

Benuzzi re­ports that the F40 was al­ways in­tended to be a rac­ing car. Crea­ture com­forts were there­fore the last thing on the minds of those in­volved, some­thing that’s im­me­di­ately ap­par­ent when you first get in­side. Air-con is in­cluded only as a ne­ces­sity to com­bat the in­tense heat gen­er­ated by the en­gine. Ev­ery­thing else – car­pets, door trim, doorhan­dles, a ra­dio – was ditched in an at­tempt to save weight.

At the launch in July 1987, Enzo him­self stated: “I ex­pressed a wish that we pro­duce a car which could re­mind us of Le Mans and the GTO.”

Pin­in­fa­rina’s Leonardo Fio­ra­vanti was in charge of the styling. “In the 1960s, it was pos­si­ble for the pri­vate driver to buy a car that was very sim­i­lar to the rac­ing cars,” he said at that same launch event. “What we have done with the F40 is to build a ma­chine which pays lit­tle re­spect to the lim­i­ta­tions of mod­ern times… This car, for us, has a spe­cial mean­ing. This world has too many com­put­ers, too much tech­nol­ogy and here we have re­cov­ered the de­sign of a car as an emo­tion, just as in the old days. It is not nos­tal­gia, but we prove that even to­day it is pos­si­ble to make a car with a hu­man ap­proach.”

At the time, there were those who con­sid­ered the spar­tan F40 to be some­thing of an anachro­nism, thanks mostly to the re­cent in­tro­duc­tion of the 959 – Porsche’s tech­no­log­i­cal tour de force. Cer­tainly the Ital­ian car’s whole ethos couldn’t have been fur­ther re­moved from that of its Weis­sach ri­val. As Roger Bell wrote in Car, they shared common ground ‘only in what they do, not how they do it. The Porsche is by far the safer, more for­giv­ing ma­chine, the Fer­rari

em­phat­i­cally the more de­mand­ing and ex­cit­ing’.

Re­spected road-tester Mel Ni­chols was work­ing for Au­to­car at that time. “The Porsche had a broader per­for­mance en­ve­lope,” he re­calls, “and I re­mem­ber think­ing that the 959 was more sig­nif­i­cant as a gen­eral ad­vance­ment of the mo­tor car. The Fer­rari was much more spe­cialised, more of a week­end toy. I don’t sep­a­rate the 959 and F40 as land­marks – I see them to­gether. They’re in­ex­tri­ca­bly linked. The 959 in­tro­duced us to that new level of per­for­mance, and the F40 was an­other car in that realm.”

Ni­chols reck­ons that he was pos­si­bly the first jour­nal­ist to get into an F40. “There was go­ing to be a big an­niver­sary event at Imola in 1987,” he re­calls, “and we’d got word that they were go­ing to take the F40. I flew to Mo­dena with a pho­tog­ra­pher on a Fri­day and waited all day at Maranello. They said that the car was out test­ing, and that they might let us have a look and maybe a sit in it – but not drive it.

“It didn’t get back un­til af­ter 6pm, so we went back on the Satur­day and, at mid-morn­ing, got a num­ber of laps at Fio­rano along­side the test driver. I then rode in it down to Imola.

“We went back to Fio­rano the fol­low­ing May to drive it. In late 1987, I’d spent two days in Ger­many with a 959, so I knew how good that car was in all con­di­tions. The Fer­rari had a much more raw ap­peal. We were think­ing, ‘Okay, it’s the fastest-ever Fer­rari, twin-turbo V8’ – it had the po­ten­tial to be fright­en­ing. You could get into tune with it, though, and it wasn’t vi­cious – but that was on a track. Maybe if you cov­ered more miles in dif­fer­ent con­di­tions, it would get tricky, al­though I didn’t feel that.

“Com­pared to to­day’s tur­bos, the F40 had that ‘on-off ’ as­pect. Be­low 3000rpm it didn’t do a lot, then it took off. At lower speeds there’d be a touch of un­der­steer, but, as the speed built in a fran­tic rush, this trans­for­ma­tion hap­pened. It would go very swiftly from mild un­der­steer to full-on over­steer. The great thing was that you could feel it all – once you had con­fi­dence in it, you could bal­ance the at­ti­tude as you wished.”

Writ­ing in Au­tosport in July ’88, Pierre Dieudonné agreed: ‘In­side, you feel the proud tamer of a wild animal. In fact, it’s ex­tremely docile… as soon as the car be­gins to break away, grip can be re­gained with ease.’ It should per­haps be re­mem­bered that Ni­chols was hugely ex­pe­ri­enced in terms of driv­ing fast cars and Dieudonné was a fine rac­ing driver, but their re­marks res­onate with the owner of our fea­tured F40.

“It was eas­ier to drive than I ex­pected,” re­ports Peter Bullard of his first ac­quain­tance with the Fer­rari. “The cabin was nois­ier, though, and the gen­eral drama and silli­ness is in line with what you would imag­ine. The clutch is heavy, the gear­box is heavy, the steer­ing is heavy, but it’s easy to get into driv­ing it. It’s more dif­fi­cult to drive it quickly, though. There is no safety net – an av­er­age driver could eas­ily find them­selves a bit be­hind the curve.”

Bullard bought the car in Au­gust 2004, at which point he was liv­ing in Sin­ga­pore. Al­though he ad­mits that he “couldn’t imag­ine own­ing an F40”, he was look­ing at Fer­raris. A friend of his ran a deal­er­ship in the UK and had a 512TR, plus the F40. There was only ever go­ing to be one win­ner: “It was my first Fer­rari and I hadn’t even seen it, never mind driven it.”

Once Bullard had re­turned from the Far East, he set about mak­ing up for lost time: “I re­mem­ber sit­ting at home when I got an e-mail from the Fer­rari Own­ers’ Club say­ing that they had free space at a Sil­ver­stone track day. I didn’t know Sil­ver­stone that well and I’m not much of a driver, but it was nice to stretch its legs. The prob­lem with do­ing track days with an F40 is that you be­come a tar­get for ev­ery­one else!

“On the way home, though, it was a beau­ti­ful sum­mer’s af­ter­noon, the road was quiet and it all just came to­gether. It was one of those oc­ca­sions when, if there was some­one to over­take, there was never any­thing com­ing the other way. If you keep it on the edge of the turbo in third and fourth, that’s plenty.

“In those in­ter­me­di­ate gears, the noise is fan­tas­tic. You get into this fan­tasy world – it makes you feel as if you’re on a slow­ing-down lap at Le Mans. That was the be­gin­ning of my real bond with it – with some cars, you can just build a re­la­tion­ship with them.

“I’ve av­er­aged about 1000km a year and it has an an­nual ser­vice, but in gen­eral they’re well­made and re­li­able. I’ve got the three-piece lug­gage set that in­cludes a tan leather case that goes in the front wheel well. I’ve no idea why, be­cause you wouldn’t go tour­ing in an F40. The head­lamps aren’t great and it mists up in the rain. And un­less it’s the mid­dle of win­ter, you’ll be call­ing for help if the air-con stops work­ing. It gets so hot in there. I put it away for a cou­ple of months ev­ery win­ter and I think that maybe I should sell it. Then I get it out again in the spring and for­get all about that.”

Thirty years since the F40’s launch, and 25 since pro­duc­tion stopped, its le­gend has con­tin­ued to grow. “It was re­ally a state­ment for Enzo and for the an­niver­sary,” concludes Ni­chols. “The en­gi­neers ap­proached it with real pas­sion and a pu­rity of mis­sion.”

“It was a light­weight car with a lot of power and that’s what makes it fun to drive,” says Benuzzi. “And the work we did with We­ber on the driv­abil­ity re­ally made a huge dif­fer­ence. Of course, the han­dling was also very good. So, all in all, a very good pack­age! I think that, if we’d been able to adopt a steer­ing and brake servo, the F40 would still be a force to be reck­oned with among su­per­cars to­day.”

The Fer­rari’s head­line fig­ures – 478bhp, 0-100mph in 8.3 seconds, 201mph – have long since been eclipsed by later gen­er­a­tions of su­per­car. But this is not a ma­chine to mea­sure by statis­tics. They give no im­pres­sion of how it feels, how vis­ceral the driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence is, how it oozes malev­o­lent charisma from ev­ery pore. In re­turn­ing to its roots and plac­ing pure emo­tion at the core of the F40, Fer­rari cre­ated the great­est su­per­car of all time.

Thanks to Ja­son Har­ris and Joanne Mar­shall at Fer­rari, Mark Hawkins, Peter Bullard


Clock­wise: this is an ‘ad­justable’ F40, so the ride height can be raised 20mm if needed; 288GTO Evoluzione be­ing tested; func­tion and form; fa­mous Pranc­ing Horse badge

Fio­ra­vanti penned the ag­gres­sive shape. Far right: ba­sic cabin – seats came in three sizes and were fit­ted to first owner

Clock­wise, from left: rear vis­i­bil­ity is poor through lou­vred screen; in Pin­in­fa­rina’s wind tun­nel; as­sem­bly at Maranello; Fer­rari spec­i­fies tyre pres­sures for above and be­low 300kph – 17in rims stan­dard, with 245/40s at front and 335/35s to rear; brake cooling duct

Twin-turbo V8 is mounted well forward in en­gine bay; IHI tur­bos were used af­ter they’d been tested against KKKS, as fit­ted to Fer­rari’s F1 cars in pe­riod – the fea­tured F40 is run­ning a non-stan­dard ex­haust. Right: sig­na­ture tail-lights

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