Living with the Legend: This Ferrari F40 Is How You Spend That Million

 

Story by Johan Dillen • Photography by Dirk De Jager

There’s no denying that the Ferrari F40 is one of the iconic poster cars of the ’80s, the one that defines “supercar” for many enthusiasts. As such, it is the stuff of many a car buff’s dreams.

So let’s just imagine that today is your lucky day: A spare million dollars has shown up in your bank account. Meaning you, you lucky bastard, now have enough money to buy yourself a Ferrari F40. Prices for these have been up and down a bit, but if you show up with a million-dollar check, you’ll have everyone’s attention.

What can you expect from your new purchase?

Creating a Supercar

The F40 was presented in 1987 to celebrate Ferrari’s 40th anniversary; it was an achievement that moved the goalposts so far, the dictionary had to be rewritten. Theterm “sports car” no longer cut it when describing the F40, the first production car to crash through the 200 mph barrier. At the F40’s top speed of 202 mph, only thePorsche 959 could keep it in its sights–and the Porsche topped out 5 mph slower.

Then there’s the F40’s historical significance: This would be the final Ferrari to get the go-ahead from the great man himself. Enzo Ferrari passed away in 1988 at age 90.

Stylistically, although it looked like no other Ferrari that came before it, the F40 had definite ties to the brand’s lineage. Its engine could partially be traced back to thefaithful 3-liter V8 of old, while those big scoops were also found on the 308 and also the 288 GTO, the F40’s direct predecessor.

Its most distinctive elements, however, including that very prominent fixed rear spoiler and the clear arrow shape created by Aldo Brovarone as his final design for Pininfarina, were its own. Not only was it an instant classic, it also looked precisely as fast as it was: otherworldly.

Ferrari had planned to build just 400 copies of the F40; between 1987 and 1992, they turned out 1315 of them.

All Red, All the Time

What’s the reality of F40 ownership? “The F40 was completely conceived as a racing car, easy to disassemble then,” explains specialist Philippe Sébille. “The F40 is actually less of a nightmare to own than you’d think it would be.”

As Sébille explains, the car’s electronics aren’t terribly complicated. And while theF40 may have a full-carbon body, it’s wrapped around a tubular chassis.

“Every body part can be removed with minimal fuss, and all parts are still available,” he continues. “They are not cheap, but still easy to source.”

All F40s were painted Rosso Corsa red and built with left-hand drive, though exceptions exist and some owners had their cars repainted later. On an original F40, the red should be applied so thinly that the bodywork’s carbon fiber pattern is just visible through the paint.

That thin paint was the result of an intense focus on keeping the weight in check. A U.S.-spec F40 should weigh just 3000 pounds, with the European ones lighter still.

The twin IHI turbochargers blew 0.6 bar–about 8.7 psi–from the factory and helped the car’s 2.9-liter engine produce 478 horsepower. Ferrari said that the F40 could reach 60 mph in 4 seconds. Some road tests at the time clocked it even quicker.

 

Service With a Smile

It’s possible to boost the turbos to 1 bar, delivering more than 500 horsepower. “It is not a complex engine,” Sébille says. “It is very durable, and it does with four valves per cylinder rather than the complex five-valve operation the 355 had later on.”

Ferrari placed that V8 longitudinally in the chassis, locating the belts at the front of the engine bay. “But a belt change does not require the engine to come out,” our expert adds. “You just have to remove the seats and the firewall in the back.”

That belt change should be carried out every three years; budget about $3000 for the service. New fluids every year should also be planned, which would set you back another grand with a specialist.

“One of the biggest costs are the fuel tanks,” Sébille continues. “These are rubber bags with a sealant foam inside, both solutions as you would find in a racing environment.” After 10 years, he explains, these fuel bladders can start to leak. Replacements can cost about $12,000. Good news for those with American-spec cars: These came with aluminum tanks that weigh more, but don’t need regular replacement.

Another part of a major service is the replacement of the fuel lines. “They operate under high pressure, up to 8 bar,” our expert says. “In cars that are used only sporadically, they tend to harden over time.” These lines should only need replacement every 10 years; when added to a major service that also includes belts and water pumps, budget about $12,000.

Any good news for an F40 owner? “Yes,” Sébille says, “the rear lights are from the400 and the 512 BB–easy to find and not so expensive.”

Tires are also readily available, but at a price, of course: “They will cost about $2000.”

Despite all of these costs, Sébille is adamant that the F40 can be relatively reasonable to run on a year-by-year basis–provided body damage is avoided. “It is definitely cheaper to run than the F50 that followed it,” he observes.

 

Thrills for Days

What do you get in return for those expenses? A mythical driving experience.

The F40 comes with a reputation that started with the man himself. “When thedriver steps on the gas I want him to shit his pants,” Enzo Ferrari is rumored to have said at a briefing on the car. While the F40 is still a monster, let’s call it a rather compliant one–or easily tamer than that reputation would suggest. Treat the F40 with respect, and it will be one of the most impressive Ferraris you could ever drive.

Let’s start with the performance. Even today, the F40 still qualifies as a supercar. It is still almighty quick, mainly because of its very low weight.

There isn’t much turbo lag present, just a great big push that only becomes stronger as the revs climb. Press the throttle deeper, and the experience intensifies. Theengine is eager to rush toward 7500 rpm. The V8, quite colorless at idle, becomes brutal as the revs rise. Its metallic, sharp snap bellows loudly through the interior. Snap off the throttle, and the engine hisses through the waste-gate valves, only to pick straight up again should you desire to have another go. (And trust us, you will; the F40 is an addictive thing.)

The car does require some time to get acquainted with it. The clutch pedal has a long travel, although the engine has enough torque that launches are still fairly easy. The dog-leg, six-speed manual gearbox shifts a bit slowly, but its movement feels very precise across the gate.

The same can be said of the brakes: The racing-style box doesn’t provide much feeling, but there’s still great braking power. The system does fine without ABS.

The bucket seat puts you in a very straight position and towers overhead; you feel like you should probably wear a helmet. The rest of the interior has been completely emptied of all excess luxuries: There are just basic air vents, carbon surrounding the chassis tubing, a pull-cord to open the doors, and manual, wind-up windows. Earlier cars came with plastic side windows that slide open; we imagine those cars are like a sauna on wheels during a hot day. The steering wheel is small and faces a quartet of simple Veglia gauges that are similar to the ones found in a 308.

Don’t follow that tach needle too closely, though, because the F40 requires both eyes on the road–and both hands on the wheel. Depending on the road surface, thecar’s front end can be a bit stubborn and go in search of its own trajectory. You’ll definitely need to keep a good hold of the steering wheel at all times in order to keep the nose on the right line–or in the right lane. No relaxed elbow-out cruising here. Not that there is anything to lean your elbow lean against, just the carbon panel.

Wheels Straight, Then Gas

In the corners the F40 delicately pitches a little, nicely indicating where the grip lies. As long as the steering wheel is turned, you’ll want to stay careful with thethrottle: The turbos can come in so brutally, the car will snap away if not treated with respect. “Leave the hero stuff for the race tracks, where there is runoff,” Sébille tells us. “If you have it at an angle when the turbos kick in, it’s gone.”

Even though this Ferrari contains so much race car DNA, it’s still very easy to drive through traffic. That’s especially impressive considering this was the fastest four-wheeled thing on the planet in its day, which usually means it’s not going to work well on the street.

The Total Package

Once you’ve spent your million to purchase it, the good news is that you really could use the F40 on a day-to-day basis. The 17-inch Pirellis actually offer a quite complacent ride–hard, yes, but not too harsh.

Speed bumps are a bit of an issue, but the factory eventually added a fix: Later models feature an electronically actuated front spoiler. (Our feature car has thebutton on the dash, but the actual system is not installed.) The problem, however, comes from just behind the front wheels: On the steepest of speed bumps, the sills can scrape and make a very expensive sound as the carbon drags across thepavement. A small front trunk provides some space and offers some consolation.

Does it matter that the F40 is a little impractical? Probably not. Simply put, this car is great–if not the greatest ever. That’s worth some sacrifice, especially since you won’t feel like you’ve traded anything once you start driving it.

Our thanks go out to Philippe Sébille at GPS Racing (gpsracing.be) for helping out with this feature.

 

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