It’s 04:30 a.m when we pull into the parking lot of official Ferrari dealer Scuderia South Africa Johannesburg, and even in the dark the profile of the waiting F40 is unmistakable. I first saw this Ferrari almost two years ago, and today, for the first time, I will be driving this legendary 1980s’ supercar.
Over the past 20 years, countless writers have evoked the F40’s pin-up status. It’s such a cliché, but it’s also true: I had two F40 posters in my room as a teenager. One was from a photo I took at a Ferrari meet at Brands Hatch in England in the early 2000s, the other was a regular commercial print that the car’s equally legendary designer, Leonardo Fioravanti, signed for me.
Anyway, back to the real-life car. This particular F40 (s/n 78673) is one of the first 50 units of 1,311 built, which means it wears the lightweight sliding side windows and forgoes adjustable suspension and a catalytic converter. The F40’s well-known 478-bhp power output was quoted for the later catalytic-equipped cars, and it’s rumored the non-cat models offer closer to 500 bhp. Whichever way you look at it, this is the F40 to have—and it’s not the only Ferrari I’ll be driving today.
Parked next to the Kevlar-bodied dream machine is an example of Ferrari’s newest regular-production mid-engine machine: the 488 GTB. In terms of design, the new model will never have the impact of the F40, simply because its overall design is so closely based on its predecessor, the achingly pretty 458 Italia. Nonetheless, even before the sun has risen, the 488 grabs my attention with its huge front air intake, the way the roof tapers towards the rear, and the side air intakes with their tiny dividers.
The question of the day is simple: Besides the conceptual similarities—two seats, mid-engine layout, twin-turbocharged V8 engine, scarcely believable performance for their respective eras—are there any real similarities between these two Ferraris? Much has transpired in the automotive world since the F40 went into production in 1987.
I’m no racing driver, but the obvious venue to sample each car is a racetrack. Thus, the morning’s first objective is to arrive at Red Star Raceway, 60 miles away, by sunrise. There’s no time to waste.