Ferrari logo


Lasting Legacy  The Ferrari F40

Created in just over a year, the legendary F40 was an engineering masterpiece, boasting the latest F1 technology and a driving experience that was not for the faint of heart
Words: Jason Barlow / Video: Rowan Jacobs

Enzo Ferrari did not go out with a whimper but a bang. For a man who lived a life as full as his, that traversed two centuries and of course played a pivotal role in the rise of the automobile, it was only right and proper that the last car he personally signed off should be one of Ferrari’s best. Yet even by this company’s mighty standards, the F40 was epochal: an explosively fast and powerful machine that summed up everything Ferrari stood for, including a very particular bloody-mindedness.

A self-confessed ‘agitator of men’, Enzo was also a proven talent-spotter. When he hired the engineer Nicola Materazzi in 1979, he had recruited Italy’s foremost authority on the emerging turbocharging technology. As well as working on Scuderia Ferrari’s early 1980s F1 cars, Materazzi also oversaw the team that developed the GTO. This was originally designed to be a Group B racer, but was swiftly repurposed as a road car when the FIA cancelled the series amid safety concerns. Despite its complex birth, the GTO sold so well that Enzo Ferrari was keen to commission a successor. The F40 was named to honour the company’s 40 seismic years. Ferrari intended to manufacture 400, but production exceeded 1,300 units by the end of its run.

Watch the mighty Ferrari F40 in action…

Developed in less than a year, Enzo Ferrari accorded the development team an unusual degree of latitude. This allowed them to hone a car of rare focus and purpose, one that embodies the transfer of turbocharging technology from the race track to the road. Singularity of vision is, of course, one of the hallmarks of all great cars.

The F40 used contemporary F1 tech, with Kevlar panels bonded on to a tubular steel space-frame chassis. The doors, bonnet and boot-lid were all made of carbon fibre. The engine was a 2936cc V8, twin turbocharged to produce 478CV, mounted longitudinally to accommodate equal length exhausts and a brace of turbos. The block, cylinder heads, cam covers, and intake manifolds were cast in Silumin alloy in the Maranello foundry, while the crank was machined out of a solid steel billet.

The F40’s body went through extensive wind tunnel testing to make it as aerodynamic as possible

Weighing just 1250kg dry, the F40 could hit 100km/h in 4.1 seconds. More significantly, Ferrari claimed a top speed of 201mph (324km/h), which was a captivating achievement in 1987. Indeed, the F40 was the first production car to break that significant threshold.

This helped seal its stellar reputation. But this is also surely down to the savage beauty of its body design, credited to Pietro Camardella at Pininfarina. ‘We threw ourselves headlong into the work,’ the company’s chief designer Leonardo Fioravanti recalled. ‘Extensive research at the wind tunnel went into aerodynamic optimisation, to achieve co-efficients appropriate for the most powerful Ferrari road car ever. Its style matches its performance: the low bonnet with a very tiny overhang, the NACA air vents and the rear spoiler, which my colleague Aldo Brovarone placed at right angles, made it famous.’

Image one: an engineer working on the F40’s twin-turbocharged V8. Image two: the longitudinally-mounted engine. Image three: the interior was basic but purposeful. Image four and five: the F40 parked up, and out on the road – its natural habitat

The F40 is also a car that demands major respect from anyone fortunate enough to drive one. Gerhard Berger, who was racing for Scuderia Ferrari in 1987, noted wryly that the F40 was “very easy to drive… if you are experienced with racing cars.” That might even be an understatement. Forget the fact that these are now very valuable historic machines, the F40’s twin turbos, hair-trigger throttle response and the total absence of any traction or braking assistance make this a hugely exhilarating but nerve-shredding driving experience. Just sitting in it is intimidating: the door panels are naked, the dashboard is sparse, and there’s no carpet on the floor. The carbon fibre seats are covered in a Nomex fireproof cloth. This car clearly means business.

The F40 could hit 100km/h in 4.1 seconds before going on to a claimed a top speed of 201mph (324km/h), the first production car to exceed that significant figure

Push the starter button and the engine erupts. It’s race-car loud at idle, into the realms of the fantastical when you get moving. Right now, the car industry – including Ferrari – is figuring out how to add soul to electric powertrains, the magic ingredient some machines can conjure. The F40 is one such, for this is internal combustion at its most intoxicating. It accelerates with cosmic violence, its twin turbos whooshing and whistling, beckoning you to ride the wave. In a digital world, the F40 is an analogue overload.