Ferrari F40

“A little more than a year ago I expressed a wish to my engineers,” an 89-year-old Enzo Ferrari said in the summer of 1987. Listening closely to his every word was the automotive media, all having journeyed to Maranello for the introduction of a new model. “Build a car to be the best in the world. And now that car is here.”

The 1988 Ferrari F40.
The 1988 Ferrari F40 sported a tall rear spoiler but was otherwise sleek.
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With that last sentence spoken, a red cover was swept aside, revealing the jaw-dropping Ferrari F40. The car was named to honor the company’s 40th anniversary, and the journalists spontaneously broke into applause, mesmerized by a sensuous shape that screamed speed. A tall rear spoiler dominated the design, which showed a resemblance to the 288 GTO. But otherwise, the form was quite clean.

“To put it in perspective,” observed Road & Track’s Dennis Simanaitis, “recall how jarring the Testa Rossa first looked. By contrast, the F40 looks immediately right.”

That there was a 288 GTO “familiarity” was more than happenstance. To compete in Group B rally competition in 1986, Ferrari planned to make 20 GTO Evoluziones, a more-powerful ultralightweight version of the 288. Ferrari built five before the series was canceled, leaving the company the perfect starting point for the Ferrari F40. Ferrari’s engineers needed just over 12 months to radically rework the Evoluzione.

Like the 288 GTO, the Ferrari F40 had a tubular steel chassis but differed in its extensive use of carbon-fiber composites on the floorpan, dashboard, front bulkhead, and other areas. The body was also made of composite materials employed in Ferrari’s Formula 1 program, in this case a Nomex, Kevlar, and carbon-fiber weave.

The body of the 1988 Ferrari F40 was made of composites.
The body of the 1988 Ferrari F40 was made of composites.

The twin-turbo 2936cc V-8 was mounted longitudinally, and featured double overhead cams, twin intercoolers, and electronic engine-management systems. Ferrari quoted 478 horsepower, this in a car that tipped the scales at under 3,000 pounds in U.S. trim.

The interior was all business. The sliding windows were plexiglas, the doors and other panels were exposed carbon fiber. Seats were deep buckets, also made of carbon-fiber materials, and there was no carpeting. The only concession to luxury was a much needed air-conditioning system.

“We wanted (the F40) to be very fast, sporting in the extreme and spartan,” Ferrari’s Giovanni Perfetti told Autocar in 1987. “Customers have been saying our cars were becoming too plush and comfortable. The F40 is for the most enthusiastic of our owners who want nothing but sheer performance.”

That’s what the Ferrari F40 delivered. Road & Track tested one in a “World’s Fastest Cars” shootout; it hit 100 mph in 8 seconds flat, covered the quarter-mile in 11.8. That was quicker than both the Porsche 959 Deluxe and 959 Sport in the shootout. The test Ferrari topped out at 196 mph.

The 1990 Ferrari F40.
The 1990 Ferrari F40 was designed for performance, not luxury.

Customers lined up to purchase the Ferrari F40 at a factory sticker of $470,000, and Ferrari responded. Three years earlier, at the introduction of the 288 GTO, the firm announced how many GTOs it would produce. Prices skyrocketed in the secondary market. The lesson was not lost.

Initially, the company said it would make 400 Ferrari F40s. But 3,000 customers were waving checkbooks, pen in hand. Production was increased. It was reported Ferrari planned to stop at 1,000. Production wound up being open ended -- the company would build as many as the market would bear. Still, prices were driven up to three times sticker by “investors” in the speculator-driven hysteria of the late 1980s.

Values eventually came back to earth, and the speculator frenzy would be but a sidebar to the brilliance of the Ferrari F40 itself. The car developed a devoted following among true enthusiasts. Its legend only grew when Enzo died in 1988, making the Ferrari F40 the final Ferrari introduced under his watch.

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