For the vast majority of us, aspiring to own an F40 is not an option. Prices have skyrocketed in the last few years, but in reality, they were never cheap. And they have never been a car that is easy to use. Despite that Ferrari made over 1300 of these crazy vehicles, just how often do you see one driving down the road? On a Saturday evening in London, Los Angeles, or Dubai, there are processions of mouth-watering supercars, both classic and new.
But seeing a F40 would be a very rare treat. Why? — The F40 was an evolution of the 308 GTB. In Ferrari speak, 308 signifies 3.0 litres and eight cylinders. The first evolution of the 308 was the 288 GTO, which externally looked like a 308 on steroids. But it was radically different. The 288 was conceived for Group B racing, and the engine capacity was reduced to 2.8 litres to comply with regulations. The engine was placed longitudinally as opposed to the 308’s transversely mounted lump to make space for the twin turbochargers. Track and wheelbase were slightly more than the 308, but otherwise the cars were similar in appearance. Unfortunately, before Ferrari could produce the required minimum of 200 cars to go racing in Group B, the rules were changed, so all 288s were finished as road cars. Only 272 were made.
Getting into a 288 feels similar to getting into a 308. The car is comfortable, and reasonably quiet. But putting it alongside a 308 at Hal Far would make the 308 look ridiculous. The 288 would do the quarter mile while the 308 was only half way there. And the power delivery of the 288 is smooth and relatively predictable. Despite the relatively mundane styling, these cars are extremely sought after by aficionados, and due to their rarity,values are more than twice that of an F40. At the end of the 288 production, Ferrari made a few ‘Evoluzione’ which were a cross both visually and mechanically to the next evolution, the F40. It was the last car sanctioned by Enzo Ferrari before his demise. It was his swansong, and in many ways represents the end of an era. And by many it is considered to be the last real Ferrari. Brutal in performance, looks, and comfort, it bears no relationship to modern day cars made to appeal to everyone from a Sheik to a Rockstar. Enzo did not conceive this car to race, but it is the ultimate boy-racer, never bettered before nor since. It’s main rival at the time, the Porche 959, is simply boring in comparison despite its sophistication.
The Porsche did nearly everything as well as the F40, with much greater comfort, but can just not generate the passion felt when standing in front or sitting in the Ferrari. Take a walk around the Ferrari, and you are struck by the perfect mix of aggression and beauty that the car exudes. It looks every bit a race car made for the road. And then you are struck by its size. Yes, much smaller than true race cars like a Porsche 962. Then remember the F40s roots. Yes, this car is the ultimate evolution of the 308GTB, and apart from a substantially lower roof, the dimensions are hardly changed from it’s relatively humble predecessor.
The body was made of a combination of composites and aluminium, resulting in strength and light weight. From the low nose to the high rear wing, everything looks right. When Pininfarina designed the body, they somehow sidestepped the awkwardness that other wedge designs of the period have through today’s eyes. Open the door and drop your derrière onto the seat squab, which is lower than the glorious carbon fiber sills. Drag your legs in, and you are sitting in a cockpit that was not designed for creature comfort. No leather seats, no carpet, a basic dashboard covered in cheap felt, and instruments that look like they came out of a Fiat parts bin. The seats are thin, covered in a flimsy fabric, but they hug your body to stop you being thrown against the door while cornering. If it wasn’t for the omnipresent carbon fiber, you could be excused for thinking that you were sitting in a kit car.
Start the engine. It bursts instantly into life and settles down into an easy idle. The noise is not excessive. Push down the heavy clutch, and snick the stick into first. Drops of sweat form on your forehead and under your arms. What is this twenty-five year old car going to perform like? Ease the car away gently, and then the turbo kicks in, leaving you gasping for breath and immediately searching for second. The turbo kicks in again, the rear wheels spin, the back starts to come out, but you just about manage to keep it in line. And this is just on part throttle. Third should be easier, so you put more pressure on the loud pedal. And the rear wheels spin again! There’s only one place to drive a F40 for the first time, and that’s on a race track with plenty of run-off space, and no other cars around you. Using all the power is almost impossible unless you’re an accomplished race driver. Flooring it in second will almost certainly result in a spin as the rear end breaks away under acceleration.
Despite outstanding road holding, most people will never use anything close to the potential of this car. The reason that you don’t see these cars on the streets of London or Los Angeles is that the only way of handling them in traffic is to keep the revs low enough to avoid the turbo kicking in. But on the open road, overtaking is like most of you have never experienced. And no, please don’t even think about using it in the wet. You would be better off with a Land Rover. Despite being designed as a road car, the F40 is uncomfortable, has virtually no suspension, and is so low to the ground that sleeping policemen need to be avoided like the plague. It will probably need the services of a highly qualified mechanic every couple of thousand miles, and that mechanic will probably live at least 500 miles from you. The only consolation is that a full service is actually easier and cheaper than on a 355 or Testa Rossa, as you don’t have to pull the engine out. But it still costs as much as the average secondhand car. Driving such a car in Malta will result in mind-blowing frustration, and driving it in Italy south of Rome will probably result in you being yanked from the cockpit at gunpoint and thrown into the ditch to listen to the howl of the exhaust as the car disappears to it’s new home. Using such a car will result in the loss of your driving license within a few hours in most countries.
Its rightful place is probably not in your garage, but your front room. You obviously don’t need it, but do you really want it? Buying an F40 will cost about the same as a decent house. But assuming you can afford it, make sure that the parlour is big enough to park it, and ask the wife first. Because you're not going to be using it very often.