F40

Everything you need to know about Ferrari’s rawest supercar.

F40 1
July 26, 2013

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.

 

Marketplace

 

When the F40 was introduced, Ferrari implied it would be a true limited-production model. As a result, while the first European-specification F40s listed at $250,000-300,000, lucky first owners were able to flip their cars for over $1 million. Likewise, the first U.S.-spec cars, which appeared in 1990, had a list price of roughly $440,000 but a market value above $1 million.

However, where the company built only 272 examples of the earlier 288 GTO, intense customer demand led to 1,311 F40s being produced over six years. (In other words, there were more F40s built than any previous model aside from the Testarossa, 308 and Dino 246; as a comparison, Ferrari built only 1,291 Daytonas.) Due in part to the higher-than-expected production numbers, prices later plummeted, bottoming out in the late 1990s at approximately $225,000-250,000. Today, the F40 remains the bargain buy of Ferrari supercars.

F40 2

That said, the F40 and the 288 GTO are the only collectible Ferraris of the 1980s, and both have seen their values climb quickly over the last several years. Beyond the price range shown above, a 1992 F40 will command a $50,000 premium over earlier cars, while a rarely (or never) driven time capsule with fewer than 1,000 miles can bring more than $1 million.

Traditionally, European F40s have remained in Europe because the cost to convert them to meet U.S. Department of Transportation requirements was incredibly expensive; among other things, there are frame differences between European and U.S. cars. Today, however, the earliest F40s are more than 25 years old, which means they are exempt from DOT and EPA requirements and can be imported freely. (These cars are still subject to state emissions laws, however, which is bad news for buyers who live in California.) While there’s been no change to the F40 market in the U.S. so far, imported Euro-spec cars could have a significant effect on pricing in the future. —Michael Sheehan

 

F40 3
Model                                  Low               High            
F40 $600,000 $700,000

 

This price range is for cars in excellent condition with less 10,000 miles that are up-to-date on maintenance.

 

On the Road

 

F40 4

The F40 offers a mix of speed and driver involvement not found in any other road-going Ferrari. Here’s some of what we’ve written about the experience.

 

When the road opens up and allows me to sink the pedal to the floor, the result is incredibly intense. The turbos light up at 3,500 rpm, and by 4,000 the F40 is lunging maniacally towards the horizon, shoving me firmly back in my seat. The rush continues well past 7,000 revs, and suddenly I’m upon the 7,800-rpm redline. I shift into third, and plant the accelerator again. The F40 accelerates at a seemingly unabated rate.

The steering is a little vague on center, but once I’ve dialed in some lock feedback pours through the wheel, which writhes and kicks back over surface undulations. On harsh tarmac, the F40 again reveals its age, crashing and shaking over potholes or sharp bumps. On smooth asphalt, it’s decently comfortable, if still quite firm, and displays towering levels of grip and stability, really hunkering down at higher speeds with virtually no detectable body roll.

The Ferrari leaps out of the turns, its wide exterior shrinking around me, with a deep, insistent shriek from the exhaust and a whoosh from the turbos. Mechanical sounds accompany my every move. The wastegate chirps—sshpitt!—when I lift off the throttle, dip the heavy clutch and select the next gear. When I drop from third down to second, blipping the throttle to match the revs, the exhaust pops and bangs deliciously on the over-run.

All in all, the F40 story is one of sensory overload. The speed, the fury, the rawness and the sound all add up to a unique driving experience. This is truly a supercar for the ages.

—Zachary Mayne, “Are You Experienced?” FORZA #91

 

I shift up to second gear and plant the throttle, but not a lot happens at first. Then the engine starts to perk up at around 3,500 rpm, and at 4,000 rpm the boost hits in earnest. Suddenly, the F40 is a completely different car. It rockets forward with a howl, and I snatch third gear around 7,000 rpm. The steering is equally transformed, now light and full of feel. A few seconds later, at around 130 mph, I press on the brake pedal to slow down. And, once again, not a lot happens.

Many years ago, Sports Car International likened using the F40’s unassisted brakes to “trying to tread a brick down into a pool of almost set concrete.” I’ve never forgotten that description, and it’s certainly an apt one. Now, sitting so close to the pedals proves useful; it’s the only way I can get enough leverage to slow the car quickly.

The brake-pedal effort, manual gearbox and turbo lag aren’t the only things that distinguish F40 from 458. The F40’s nose hunts along invisible lines in the road, meaning that I have to stay alert at all times. The cabin is constantly noisy, although not too loud, and the car’s ride is quite stiff, though not usually harsh. When exiting corners, the challenge of overcoming the accelerator’s stickiness and predicting exactly when the wave of boost will hit often leaves me bogging down or surging forward too soon. Sounds bad? Quite the opposite. Driving hard in the F40 is visceral, challenging and truly thrilling. The sensation of exiting a corner with the turbocharged engine just hitting its stride, the rear tires barely starting to twitch, sends goosebumps shooting up my arms.

F40 5

As my heart rate drops and I climb out of the F40 on weak legs, I wonder if I’ll ever again have such an intoxicating driving experience. Believe the hype: For better and worse, everything you’ve heard about the F40 is true.

—Aaron Jenkins, “Clash of the Titans,” FORZA #121

 

The Garage

 

The F40 represented a major leap forward in performance compared to the earlier 288 GTO, but it wasn’t, and isn’t, an easy pony to tame. It rewards talented drivers but will punish the unwary. Likewise, it takes a skilled, knowledgeable mechanic to keep an F40 performing at its best; otherwise, this supercar can become a problematic, unreliable nightmare. Only the twin-turbocharged F40 and 288 GTO (total combined production: just under 1,600 cars) utilized the Weber-Marelli engine-management system, and since few of these cars have accumulated significant mileage, there aren’t many mechanics out there with much experience working on them.

Many F40s have been subjected to fiddling and twiddling in search of more power, generally through adjustments to the wastegate and fuel injection. As a result, the biggest challenge for a mechanic is usually putting the car back the way it should be and sorting everything out. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done; there are no shortcuts, and the process is usually both money- and time-consuming.

The greatest threat to an F40’s health is regular disuse. Most F40s spend more of their life on display than on the road—which is why there are so many extremely low-mileage examples out there—and this can lead to all kinds of problems, from frozen brake calipers and leaking oil seals to clogged fuel-injector nozzles and corroded cooling-system components. One example: A few years ago, an F40 that had lived most of its life in its owner’s living room (!) came to me after it was returned to the street and its engine overheated. To make a long story short, the shop that had been entrusted with making the car road-worthy had changed all the fluids but failed to notice that the coolant had turned to jelly inside the radiator. The outcome was severe (and severely expensive) damage to an engine that only had 4,000 miles from new.

In any event, due to their usual regimen of occasional use, F40s rarely adhere to normal maintenance schedules. Instead, these cars typically receive some combination of time-related servicing (e.g., timing belts and fluids) combined with upgrades, repainting and refinishing of parts, modifications for specific uses and so on. As such, no two services are the same and it’s impossible to put a general price tag on the costs of owning an F40.

There are a handful of grey-market F40s in the U.S., but I would recommend sticking with a U.S.-spec version. The factory made many worthwhile improvements to the car in the period between its launch and U.S. homologation.

Finally, due to the F40’s composite bodywork and construction, it costs far more, and is far more difficult, to repair a car that’s been damaged. In order to avoid any lingering accident-related issues, I recommend buying an accident-free car, even if it costs more. —Brian Crall

F40 6

MAJOR ISSUES

UNDERRATED FUSE PANEL
The F40’s fuse/relay panel suffers from the same problems as the one in the Testarossa, 328 and Mondial: It simply isn’t up to the task of reliably handling high-load circuits, such as the fuel pumps, radiator fans and air-conditioning system. There are several aftermarket sources today’s owner can turn to for help, including Scuderia Rampante Innovation’s repair and upgrade service.

FUEL WOES
The factory fuel-pump covers are made of plastic, and are prone to cracking and leaking fuel. The aftermarket has fixed this issue with aluminum replacements.

Also prone to failure are the rubber components inside the fuel tanks that support the fuel pumps on U.S. cars. Modern fuels eat away at the rubber, which disintegrates and wreaks havoc on all the fuel-system parts downstream. Factory replacements are sporadically available, and I’m not aware of any aftermarket alternatives. Some owners have replaced the “in tank” pumps with externally mounted, inline pumps; while this is far from concours-correct, it does eliminate the issue.

FAST-WEARING SEATS

Probably the most common issue found on F40s is their short-lived seat material. Thanks to the car’s high door sills and the seats’ tall bolsters, climbing in and out can subject the seats to a great deal of wear and tear, an issue compounded on U.S. cars by the seat-belt design and buckle placement. If great care isn’t exercised when entering and exiting the car, the seats can quickly get rather beat-up. The proper replacement material is very difficult to find and very expensive to purchase.

 

MINOR ISSUES

Enthusiastic drivers have been complaining about the F40’s underwhelming brakes since the cars were new. For normal road use the brakes are perfectly fine—but who buys an F40 to drive it normally? OE supplier Brembo offers several brake upgrades, some of which can be used with the stock 17-inch wheels.

Thanks to its low ride height and long, low nose, the F40 is susceptible to underbody damage. Many owners fit scuff plates to protect the bottom of the car. However, beware of ill-advised modifications that are intended to keep the car from bottoming out, such as small wheels or castors installed under the nose; these can cause the driver to lose control.

The F40’s center-lock wheels are not easy to remove or install. The process requires two people, a special tool (which should be in the car’s tool roll) and a $600-1,000 torque wrench.

Ferrari initially thought that a recurring loss of hydraulic pressure in the clutch was caused by the porosity of the magnesium bell housing. In fact, the problem was due to a chemical reaction between the magnesium and the brake fluid. Any cars with this issue should simply change to a non-reactive brake fluid like AP Racing 551.

Also from Issue 128

  • 458 Spider U.S. road test
  • F12 Berlinetta vs snow
  • 330 GTC restoration
  • Collector Jon Shirley
  • Ferrari's greatest races
  • F1: Ferrari struggles for consistency
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