Though I’d never admit it to my AlphaLuxe colleagues, as soon as I was clear of the gates from our pre-drive briefing, I broke into a Le Mans style run. Parked on the adjacent street was an automotive icon, and I had to maximize every second of our time together. Jogging up to the door of the Ferrari F40 and pulling the delightfully mechanical door latch felt nothing short of surreal. Like being granted unrestricted access to one of the dreams of my youth. The grand-daddy. The benchmark by which every supercar following would be judged.
Even today, the Ferrari F40 reigns supreme to many as the G.O.A.T. (Greatest Of All Time) and here I was, key in hand…
Is there really a car more striking to experience in the flesh? The squared-off body panels, droopy headlights, and integrated rear wing ooze exotic charm and cool-factor. Upon close inspection, the texture of the carbon-kevlar weave is visible through the bright red paint- perhaps maddening to detailers, but a car tech enthusiast’s wet dream. Deeply-dished two-piece forged wheels sport center-locking wheel nuts, one of the first production vehicles to bring this technology to the street.
Pictures do little justice to the absolute jaw-dropping presence of this vehicle, so I implore our readers to do everything in your power to see one of these marvels in the flesh.
Settling into the spartan cabin, it became immediately apparent that the F40 meant business. Many of its interior design cues still impress in a late-model supercar, let alone in the early ‘90s.
Exposed carbon weave on the door panels and seat backs? Surely, a quantum leap in tech at the time of this car’s release. With a dash swathed in carpeting lifted from a ‘90s office park, an Alcantara-wrapped steering wheel (before it was cool), deep racing buckets, and an active fire suppression system, there was no mistaking this Ferrari’s intent. It was a car built for one purpose – to convert rubber and petrol into world-beating lap times.
I admit, I harbored some preconceptions about the probable ease of use of a supercar of this era. Having driven several supercars of this vintage and spoiled by modern conveniences like dual-clutch automatics, electronically adjustable ergonomics, and safety features, my expectations for the user-friendliness of the car were, admittedly, low. But slotting the gated, dog-leg shifter into 1st felt stiff and purposeful- not difficult.
Gingerly releasing the clutch, expecting a violent grab or lurch, the car smoothly rolled into motion with only a sprinkling of throttle- hardly the dramatic experience I had envisioned. Within minutes, I was rowing through the gears and rev-matching downshifts like I had been driving the car for years.
Apart from the hilariously minimal front-end clearance, the car was a darling to pilot around town at low speeds. Even the lack of power steering was only an issue with the car fully at rest.
That’s not to say the car is without its quirks. At only 5’11”, nestled inside the fixed-height racing buckets, I had about a half-inch of clearance between my head and the roofline. Those over 6’0″ need not apply. Slightly awkward, also, is the forward-canted steering wheel, of which I would have loved to adjust. An exposed steering rack in the footwell will also rub a hole through your shoe, if you’re not careful. But, these tiny niggles were quickly forgotten as city streets gave way to Southern California’s beautiful canyon roads.
My first opportunity to open her up presented itself on a long, straight road outside Calabasas. And oh, did I seize it. Instantaneous throttle response had the F40’s revs climbing at an alarming rate, and the unmistakable “whoosh” of twin turbochargers spooling to life sent the car rocketing forward. An 8-cylinder symphony built to crescendo just aft of the cockpit, as the rev counter peaked at 8,000 RPM. Not a high-pitched naturally aspirated wail, though spine-tingling nonetheless.
I didn’t dare push the car any further on public roads, so I abruptly let off the throttle, unleashing the most grin-inducing wastegate cacophony in the pantheon of automotive history. These are the noises that JDM (Japanese Domestic Market) bros have been trying to replicate for generations- and I suspect I just stumbled upon the source. Needless to say, the auditory experience inside the cabin of the F40 is oft imitated, but most certainly never replicated.
Soon, straights gave way to endless canyon curves, providing an opportunity to shake down the Ferrari in the lateral plane. Immediately perceptible was the direct, analog connection between my hands and the front axle. Any steering input I provided was transmitted onto the pavement at an almost alarming rate- so quickly could the car dive into a corner, that some finesse was required to not overwhelm the mechanical grip of the tires as the car effortlessly changed direction at rates seemingly belying the laws of inertia.
After re-calibrating my brain to the lightning quick steering rack and reminding myself I had no nannies to keep me safe, I slowly ramped up the corner speed. Zero perceptible body roll meant the car inspired plenty of confidence; though at license-retaining speeds, it was clear that the limits of mid-corner grip were orders of magnitude beyond the level I was pushing the car. Up-rated brakes on this particular car hauled me down to near-standstill with eye-popping efficiency, making me glad to be strapped into the car’s race harnesses.
Though I had nearly an hour behind the wheel, I was so overwhelmed by the experience, that it felt like minutes until I grudgingly handed back the keys.
Stepping out of the F40, I found myself in a state of bewilderment. I had difficulty putting the experience into words. Would I have loved to take the G.O.A.T. out on a racetrack, to truly unleash the beast? Of course. Am I undyingly grateful for the opportunity to have experienced it at all? Absolutely. Not until I sat down and put pen to paper was I truly able to fully wrap my head around the experience.
Foremost, I was incredibly impressed by the car’s usability in the real world. One would think such a track-focused and purposeful car, especially of this vintage, would be hopelessly difficult to navigate through the concrete jungle- and that’s simply not the case. As speeds pick up beyond “school zone friendly”, the sensory experience inside the F40’s cabin is without equal. Porsche’s Carrera GT may be a close second- but the F40 bests it on the sheer variety and absurdity of mechanical clatter inside the cabin.
And, good God, would you look at it? Just seeing the car in motion made me weak in the knees. Something about this car’s presence and sex appeal just can’t be put into words, only experienced viscerally by the most subconscious parts of the human brain.
Driving the grand-daddy through a Southern California canyon simply can’t tease out the limit-handling behavior of such a capable machine, but it’s safe to say that the F40 is one of the most confidence-inspiring, direct, and communicative vehicles I’ve had the pleasure of piloting. I’ll leave it at that, until AlphaLuxe decides to let me strap on a helmet, and see what this thing can really do, on a race track.
There are cars whose performance knocks your socks off. There are cars whose sleek, sexy styling gets you drooling at your local cars & coffee. And there are cars that prioritize the “experience” over absolute performance such as the Lamborghini Diablo. And then, there’s the one car that ticks all the boxes. In my time with AlphaLuxe, I’ve driven an impressive fleet of cars, any one of which could qualify as some car enthusiast’s “G.O.A.T.” But, never have I gotten out of a vehicle in such a state of stunned silence, unable to process the overwhelming sensory experience.
That’s what the Ferrari F40 delivered- it left me, the guy who’s supposed to come up with all the words, speechless. And, sometimes, silence is more powerful than words.
Counterpoint by ThomasM
I never wanted an F40.
As an anti-thesis to why I chose Lamborghini as my first exotic supercar love in the 1970’s and 80’s: because it’s not a Ferrari; I was never interested in the F40 for a similar reason: because it’s a Ferrari.
Yet, I continued to hear all the adulation, all the accolades heaped on it. And the more I heard the cult-like adoration, the more I knew I didn’t want it. Until I grew up and realized that NOT wanting something because it is so popular is just as bad as lusting after something because it is popular. Both enslave us to the opinions of others. As I matured as a Purist, I realized I had to find out for myself.
They say you should never meet your heros. But what if you EXPECT to be disappointed; and not only are you NOT disappointed, but every reasonable expectation is crushed and exceeded to the point of bringing you to tears?
The sheer analogueness of the F40, the melding of man and machine, the responsiveness of the throttle and steering, so aptly described above by Kevin, as if the mechanical switches were hardwired to your cranial synapses, without a hint of mechanical sloppiness, or worse, digital buffering and phase delays…driving the F40 past stop and go city traffic is truly a revelation.
In pictures I was seldom impressed by the Fioravanti design, much preferring his 365/512 GT BB and 308/328 designs as being more sensually integrated and complete. In person, though, the F40 has a presence that is undeniable. And not just because of its cult-like icon status…
Having driven a few specimen and putting on more than a few miles in the driver’s seat, I now have to grudgingly admit the F40 deserves that adoration; has earned its title as a G.O.A.T. Even to a reluctant cynic like me, I find the F40 offers one of motordom’s most analogue, most direct, pure and raw experiences in the performance driving world. Unlike the over rated Dino, which ultimately adrenaline junkies will find underpowered, there is enough of everything one looks for in an exotic supercar to keep the F40 from ever becoming boring.
Even the low end pre-boost torque from the smallish 2.8L V8 doesn’t frustrate as much as one would expect from an engine of that size.
Yet ultimately, is the F40 a permanent part of the AlphaLuxe Unicorn Sanctuary? I’m still not sure.
What is the one unassailable weakness of the mighty Icon in my eyes?
They made too many.
Author’s Biography: KevinB
KevinB is a 29-year-old auto enthusiast – a Mechanical Design Engineer by day, and serial side-hustler by night. By age 4, he could spout the make and model of any passing vehicle, and by 12 he was an expert in the inner-workings of the internal combustion engine. His love for all things motoring expanded into the two-wheeled world at age 17. He currently owns a 2014 Porsche 911 GT3, and a 2018 Ducati Panigale V4, and has somehow managed to retain his driver’s license.