Octane
By Amos Kwon
on 7.29.13

It’s easy to marvel at modern supercars — the Bugatti Veyron, Ferrari 458 Italia and Lamborghini Aventador. They’re remarkable automobiles that almost defy logic, packed with technology that can turn just about anybody (short of a ham-fisted, oblivious SUV-driving soccer mom) into a semi-competent driver. But there are some cars that usurp respect and admiration from even these titans of technology. They’re so iconic, so wickedly ravishing to behold, and so pure in their purpose and performance that to own one is to reach automotive nirvana. To see one in the flesh is enough to take your breath away. The Ferrari F40 is just such a car.

MORE DROOL-WORTHY ICONS Porsche 917 | BMW M1 | Lamborghini Countach

What It’s All About

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The legend himself, Enzo Ferrari (though he must have realized that his legacy of creating some of the best cars in history would persist long after his death), wanted to depart this world with a resounding statement. At the age of 90, he knew his time was limited. Both Enzo and Ferrari management fully acknowledged that their racing reputation had suffered of late, largely due to poor Formula One performances in the early 1980s. What’s more, the 288 GTO, which had been built for homologation for Group B Racing, never officially competed due to the cancellation of the series in 1986. Enzo was left with five track versions of the GTO, known as the 288 GTO Evoluzione — which was fast, ferocious and perfectly suited for the development of Enzo’s swan song vehicle. This competition version of the 288 GTO gave birth to the F40, so named to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Ferrari.

The ultimate goal was to produce a supercar infused with the lifeblood of Ferrari’s racing technology: a track car built for road use. Pairing lightness — for excellent power-to-weight ratio, structural rigidity and racing-pedigree handling — and the very conspicuous absence of creature comforts would lend to a pure, unadulterated focus on driving. Its performance would have to trump the ridiculously fast Porsche 959 and the Lamborghini Countach in order for it to fit the bill for Ferrari. That would be no small feat.

Technical Rundown

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Naturally, the car’s body would have to be light in order for it to possess track chops, and naturally, it would have to be designed by Pininfarina, the Italian design house responsible for iconic Ferraris such as the 250 GTO and the 275 SWB. Though the F40 would carry over much of the 288 GTO Evoluzione’s technology, the design of the body was not copied or derived from any previous Ferrari. The body panels would be constructed of Kevlar, carbon fiber and aluminum, producing all-important lightness and rigidity. Ferrari would even go so far as to install a lightweight but extremely strong plastic, Lexan, in the side windows, the windshield and the vented rear engine cover. The first 50 versions of the F40 didn’t even have roll-down windows; rather, they were racing-style sliding Lexan. Not exactly convenient at the toll booth, but then we suppose one could just drive under the gate arm, were it not for the massive rear wing.

So committed was Ferrari to keeping the car light that they spurned carpet, audio equipment and even door handles. But since it would be used on the road and the mid-engine design would build up a large amount of heat behind the driver, air conditioning was mercifully included.

The car also needed to be both slippery and stable — meaning it needed to handle like a track car while still being able to top out with the best of them. The Pininfarina body had a low front end, huge vents on the front quarter panels to dispel heat from the brakes, an undertray to provide sufficient airflow to cool the car, rear diffusers and a huge but purposeful rear wing to improve airflow and create the proper downforce necessary for supercar handling. The rear quarter panel shark gill exhaust vents emitted waste from the engine itself and the central dual exhaust at the rear dispelled waste from the twin turbochargers. Though they were, of course, purposeful, these also lended to the beauty of the car’s design.

It’s not exactly convenient at the toll booth, but then we suppose one could just drive under the gate arm, were it not for the massive rear wing.

Just a quick glance at the F40 made clear its intended purpose: to be fast, both in straight line and through whatever curves would be thrown its way. Ask any motoring enthusiast today to describe the F40’s looks and you’ll undoubtedly get a response along the lines of form following function. That’s what makes it truly stunning. It was perhaps the first time in Ferrari’s history that a car with such a singular purpose was built for the road; the result looked “clinically beautiful”.

Though its body was purely original, the F40 was powered by a larger displacement version of the GTO’s engine, a 2.9 liter, twin-turbo V8 with 471 prancing horses within. This power, coupled with a weight of only 2,425 pounds, gave Enzo Ferrari the kind of numbers he was looking for. 0-60 came in 3.8 seconds and 120 arrived in 11 seconds, slightly faster than the Porsche 959. Most importantly, however, was the F40’s top speed. It was the first production car to break the 200 MPH barrier, clocking officially at 201.4. The engine was mated to a proper 5-speed manual transmission and made use of the classic Ferrari shift gate. The purity of it all is so good it almost hurts.

Its Place in History

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Though the F40 was never intended for the track, it appeared in various modified forms on the racing circuit and saw success. But the real legacy of the F40 lies in the road car. Over a quarter of a century later, it’s still considered to be one of the best supercars ever made, and though the original $400,000 price tag was high (even by today’s standards for a supercar), low mileage versions in excellent condition can command prices in excess of a million dollars. Top Gear’s own Jeremy Clarkson declared it “the best supercar ever made”.

What remains today is a name known worldwide. Enzo Ferrari had the foresight of a true master — and his dream was executed with surgical precision in the creation of one of the best cars the world will ever see. Enzo passed away shortly after the F40’s creation, but went to his grave knowing what he had wrought: an automotive icon.

octane-promo-box-logo-gear-patrolThis article is part of a new original series, OCTANE -- a premium take on all things motoring.