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The Ferrari F40: History of a Legend

All things Ferrari F40 Series on Automobile.

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Ferrari F40 Essential History

What is the greatest Ferrari from history? Don't drop that conceptual bomb on a group of enthusiasts unless you're prepared to spend more than a few hours fielding a series of frenzied arguments for and against the entire gamut of the cavallino rampante's long line of mostly red automotive stunners. Of course, of the many front runners—cars like the 250 GTO, 166 MM, Daytona, and Testarossa come to mind—the inimitable Ferrari F40 endures as not just one of the greatest Ferraris, but one of the mightiest and most iconic supercars of all time.

Surprisingly, this was Ferrari's intention from the beginning, though the project famously phoenixed itself from the ashes of a stillborn rally program. In 1984, Ferrari engineer Nicola Materazzi approached Enzo Ferrari with the idea of using the flourishing Group B rally class as a testbed to hone future Ferrari production cars.

The 288 GTO Sets The Stage

Enzo Ferrari and management agreed the cause of faltering sales was rooted in overly "soft" cars when compared to its contemporary rivals. The program was approved, so long as the project was worked on entirely outside regular hours. With a small team of engineers, the 288 GTO road car was quickly developed, soon followed by the race-ready 288 GTO Evoluzione.

As the GTO program neared completion, the FIA dissolved Group B, putting an end to any of Maranello's rally aspirations. Now, Ferrari was left with five 288 Evos and nowhere to race them, so Ferrari considered selling the cars off to interested parties. Before the program's lights were completely flipped off, Materazzi stepped in and convinced Enzo and management he could turn these hardcore race prototypes into a hardcore road-going supercar. Enzo, now at a wizened 88 years old, looked to this potential road car project as both a celebration of 40 years of Ferrari and as his final legacy as he entered the late winter of his life.

Birth of the Ferrari F40

With a full-scale engineering effort at Ferrari, and help from Pininfarina, the car that would become the F40 went from 288 Evoluzione concept to full production model in just 11 months. Envisioned as the most focused and spartan road car Ferrari had produced to that point, the F40 made use of advanced material sciences, including early use of carbon fiber and bonded Kevlar panels. All comfort and convenience considerations were left on the drafting board; seats were ultra-lightweight cloth buckets, the dash was wrapped in felt and unadorned aside from a few switches and gauges, and interior door handles and armrests were foregone in place of simple pull-cords to open the door.

All this dieting brought the F40 down to around 3,000 pounds; fairly featherweight for a supercar of that era. An evolution of the 288 GTO's powertrain resulted in a mid-mounted 2.9-liter twin-turbocharged V-8, capable of a heady 471 hp and 426 lb-ft of torque, managed by a five-speed manual transmission. With its downturned front nose and large fixed rear wing, the F40 was aerodynamically slippery; coupled with the tremendous output, Ferrari claimed a top speed of 201 mph, making it the fastest production car up to that point. No one outside of Ferrari has verified this top speed, but seeing as the current production speed record brushes the 300-mph mark, we'll take Ferrari's word for it.

Sales Stunner

Immediately, the F40 was a roaring sales success. When the car went on sale for the 1987 model year, Ferrari planned on an initial production run of 400 units, a boost from the 288 GTO's 272 units. The prior kink in the 288's production hose, coupled with both an explosively booming economy and rumors of Enzo's imminent passing whipped speculators into a frenzy. Checkbooks, cashier's checks, wire transfer numbers, and fistfuls of Rolexes were crammed into Maranello's mailbox, so the production cap continued to grow until the F40 retired in 1992. When the final F40 was delivered, a total of 1,315 units had escaped. When the economic bubble popped, F40 prices crashed—but some speculators were still trying to flip the supercar for double (or more) the original $400,000 sticker. Said speculators were irate with Ferrari, and Ferrari learned its lesson, capping production on future special models like the F50 (349 units), Enzo (399 units), and the LaFerrari (499 units).

Ferrari F40 Highlights

Despite ever-expanding performance envelopes, we're not entirely sure there's been a more thrilling supercar launched in the 33 years since the F40 landed. Conspicuously occupying the same battlefield as the mighty Porsche 959, the two supercars couldn't be more different from each other. Compared to the relatively driver-friendly 959, the Ferrari was an atom bomb of screaming acceleration, razor's edge handling, and unrivaled feedback. The F40's body creaks, rattles, and shakes over rough pavement, the interior is unapologetically empty, and the ride quality has been most often described using adjectives more typically associated with first-time camel riders.

It's this rawness that made the F40 so spectacular. Many classic supercars look great but are a burden to drive; year over year, the F40 remains the de facto king of what most consider to be a "pure" driving experience. There isn't anything like the F40, and there never will be again.

Ferrari F40 Buying Tips

If you're one of the lucky few in the enviable position to purchase an F40, this likely isn't your first tango with a classic supercar. As you must know by now, this isn't going to be a cheap endeavor, so have your mechanic (and financial manager) on speed dial.

Like we mentioned in our history of the Ferrari F50, many F40s were originally purchased as investments. After landing in the buyer's driveway, a criminal number of F40s were mothballed, escaping only for a short low-impact cruise every few months, if that. As a result, the preponderance of F40s suffer from storage syndrome, wherein fuel lines are gummed up, rubber is dry and cracked, and fluids coagulated. In limited supercar terms, quite a few F40s were made, so you should have the pick of the well-cared-for litter, if you shop around. Most examples found at major auction houses and consignors are well-vetted, but as we say time and time again, a pre-purchase inspection from a marque specialist is your very best friend in the matter. Pay now, save later.

Mechanically, F40s are reasonably robust, so don't expect many more surprises than you'd run into with a Testarossa or 308. The fuel bladder is one of those infamous "timeout" parts that has a set shelf life, so expect to pay through the nose if yours falls into the service interval. Those neat Kevlar panels turn brittle over time, too, so keep an eye out for cracks, shellacking, and crazing.

Individual F40s differ tremendously between years and markets, so decide early if you're on the hunt for an earlier or later car, and if you're seeking a U.S. market example or a European-spec car. Suspension, engine, and exhaust differences between the two allegedly make for a noticeably different driving experience, with the European-spec cars going for more than the federalized counterparts.

Finally, if you're torn on what color to seek out, don't worry—except for a few sold into the vaults of Brunei, all were slathered in that classic Ferrari red.

Ferrari F40 Recent Auctions

Ferrari F40 Quick Facts

  • First year of production: 1987
  • Last year of production: 1992
  • Total production: 1,315
  • Original price: $400,000 (1987)
  • One of the all-time greatest supercars
  • Unbelievably pure driving experience
  • The last Ferrari approved by Enzo Ferrari himself
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Ferrari F40 FAQ

You have questions about the Ferrari F40. Automobile has answers. Here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked Ferrari F40 queries

How much is the Ferrari F40 worth today?

Unless you bought one in the 2000s, you really missed the boat. Barring coming across an F40 in really roached condition, you're not likely slide into a good example for less than $1 million. U.S.-market cars are particularly valuable, attracting bids that almost scratch the $2-million mark.

How many Ferrari F40s are left?

We can't say for sure, but we'd reckon more than a few of the original 1,315 units have been lost to crashes, floods, or in the case of an unlucky F40 in Monaco recently, fires.

How rare is the Ferrari F40?

Honestly, not very. The 1,315 examples built over its lifetime constitutes a comparably large production run as far as supercars go, and prices reflect that. If this number were halved, you'd see F40s changing hands for well over $3 million (or more.)

Who designed the Ferrari F40?

Leonardo Fioravanti and Pietro Camardella at Pininfarina were responsible for the Ferrari F40's design, and Nicola Materazzi was the lead engineer.

Ferrari F40 Specifications

ORIGINAL PRICE: $400,000 (approx. )
ENGINE: 2.9L twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve V-8/471 hp @ 7,000 rpm, 426 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 5-speed manual
LAYOUT: 2-door, 2-passenger, mid-engine, RWD coupe
EPA MILEAGE: 11/16 mpg (city/highway)
L x W x H: 171.6 x 77.6 x 44.3 in
WHEELBASE: 96.5 in
WEIGHT: 3,000 lb (approx. )
0-60 MPH 4.0 sec (est. )
TOP SPEED 201 mph