In July 1987, the world’s automotive media gathered in a darkened auditorium in Maranello for the debut of, well, no one knew. Enzo Ferrari, in one of his last public appearances, greeted his guests then gave a signal. A red car cover was swept aside, and the audience gasped. Before it had ever turned a wheel in public, the F40 was a legend.
Built to commemorate the company’s 40th birthday, the F40 was Ferrari’s answer to arch-rival Porsche’s 959. Each was the world’s fastest road car when launched, but they otherwise couldn’t have been much more different. Where the Porsche was hailed as the most technologically advanced street machine ever created, the Ferrari relied on well-proven technology, light weight and big power to make it the first road car capable of topping 200 mph.
At heart, the F40 was a development of Ferrari’s first supercar, the 288 GTO—or, more accurately, the 288 Evoluzione race car. With its purposefully aggressive composite bodywork, basket-handle rear wing, extremely wide rear haunches and tires, slatted rear window and low stance, the Pininfarina-penned F40 looked like a competition car for the road. That impression carried into the car’s cockpit, which featured a pair of race-ready seats, a fabric-covered dash and no luxuries (including leather, carpeting or a radio).
Tucked underneath the enormous rear clamshell was a twin-turbocharged 2.9-liter V8 engine that produced 478 hp. Thanks to that output, and a curb weight of just over 2,700 pounds, the F40 could sprint from rest to 60 mph in just over 4 seconds—an astonishing accomplishment for the late 1980s.
More than pure speed, however, the F40 served up a savage and visceral driving experience. Even the most jaded journalists used up their monthly allotment of superlatives when describing the new Ferrari’s Sturm und Drang, even while acknowledging that part of the thrill came from trying to master a car that was ready, if not eager, to bite the unwary.
Only 1,311 F40s were built, but that makes the model far more common than Ferrari’s earlier and later supercars. As a result, F40s cost less than the 288 GTO, F50 and Enzo, although they are far from inexpensive. Regardless, if you can afford one, the F40 is a Ferrari like no other.