Featured | Ferrari F40

Raucous, raw, harsh, compromised: just some of the accusations leveled at Ferrari’s 351kW V8 F40 when it first surfaced in 1987.

Others saw it as a cynical move by the famed Italian manufacturer, banking on an energetic speculator’s market for the model as Enzo Ferrari’s health deteriorated and it became clear the F40 would be the last car bearing his name that ‘The Old Man’ would personally oversee.

None of it mattered. It was – and still is – one of Ferrari’s most iconic models in a cavalcade of contenders.

Even today the F40 still looks like a Ferrari should look. In part a response to criticism that Ferrari sports cars were becoming too plush, the F40 was created for performance first, and everything else second.

Designed by Pininfarina, the bodywork was lightweight, shrouding mechanicals borne from Ferrari engineer Nicola Materazzi’s desire to use Group B competition as a test bed for faster road cars.

A carryover power plant from the 288 GTO, the F40’s V8 first fired into life under the stewardship of Materazzi’s team as they set about developing what would become the 288 GTO Evoluzione (on Saturdays and Sundays, so as not to affect normal 288 GTO production).

But the FIA also had plans of its own, ending Group B racing. Ferrari found itself with five 288 GTO Evoluzione homologation cars and no race series to enter them into.

The Evoluzione program was allowed to continue, however, eventually developing an exhilarating supercar that was as close to a road-going race car as the laws of the day would allow. It also didn’t hurt the F40’s quick gestation (it went from blueprint to production line in just 11 months) that Enzo himself saw the new model as the physical embodiment of his long legacy.

While an instant classic of the bedroom-wall-poster variety, those who actually took to the streets in an F40 after its arrival sometimes had different reactions.

Car and Driver Magazine called it a “mix of sheer terror and raw excitement”. The acceleration was the exciting bit; the terror came while piloting the supercar on busy highways, the magazine’s road tester reporting that rear vision was so bad, lane changes required “leaps of faith”.

It wasn’t particularly modern underneath its sensational skin either. Certainly not as much of a technical leap forward as its main rival, the otherworldly Porsche 959. But it was direct, balanced, nimble and fast, with a top speed of 324km/h and all the politeness of a hardcore track racer. As the company’s founder and namesake passed, so too did an era of razor-edged, skunkworks-developed genius, with the F40 as the final distillation of Ferrari magic and mayhem.

As to the Ferrari F40’s legacy nearly 30 years after the final example left the production line? Compare the number of F40 posters on teenagers’ bedroom walls to the number of posters of its successor, the F50, you might find. That tells you almost everything you need to know.

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