Design Criticism:
Ferrari f40

by Mark Angelo Cela



With the inception of the F40, Ferrari unknowingly created a new category of sports car that has become known as the hypercar. Sports cars are a category with the primary purpose of a quick and enjoyable driving experience. Supercars have the same focus, but are often made of rarer materials in exceptionally fewer numbers. Hypercars are the absolute rarest and represent the pinnacle of what an automotive manufacturer may achieve in both technology and quality. Hypercars are the crown jewels of these companies, not intended to make money, and often cost more to produce than what they sell for. Enzo Ferrari’s F40 is arguably the first of the hypercars.

The Ferrari F40 is regarded as one of the most iconic cars in automotive history. Created for the Ferrari brand’s 40th anniversary, the F40 was founder Enzo Ferrari’s final automobile design. His desire to create the ultimate driver’s car was met with strong praise and criticism when it was released to the public in 1987. At a time when automotive technology was moving toward digital and analog driving assistance that made powerful cars more manageable to a wider set of drivers, Enzo Ferrari moved away from that concept and developed a car that required a capable driver. The resulting car has become one of the most recognizable forms in automotive design, and one of the most sought-after cars for Ferrari collectors (Hicks, 1994).



The story of the F40 began with the preceding model, the Ferrari 288 GTO (Wright, 1993). Ferrari designed the 288 GTO to fulfill eligibility requirements for Group B racing. In fact, GTO stands for Gran Turismo Omologato, which translates into Gran Touring Homologation, the certification a car must pass in order to race in a specific series. Group B racing homologation required manufacturers to develop a road-legal version of their race car to be sold to the public in numbers of no less than 200 examples. This standard was meant to ensure that the cars being raced had a direct lineage to their road-legal models rather than just resembling them. Many of the same components in the race versions of these cars had to be present on customer models (Hicks, 1994).

In 1983 every example of the 288 GTO hypercar sold quickly at a price of $85,000, with the last few being gifted to F1 drivers byEnzo Ferrari himself. Ferrari would build 277 editions of the 288 GTO road car to fulfill Group B homologation and six 288 GTO race cars named the Evoluzioné (Evolution) (Sparrow & Tipler, 1994). Unfortunately for Ferrari, Group B racing began to come under scrutiny for safety. After the death of a driver his navigator, Group B Racing ceased permanently. Ferrari was left with six cars and no series to race them. These 230 mile-per-hour stripped-down cars became the test bed for what would become Enzo Ferrari’s final project, the F40. The Evoluzionés were brutally fast due to their lack of creature comforts and straight-forward design, and this was the design concept Enzo Ferrari desired to use for the F40 (Sparrow & Tipler, 1994).



The F40 was developed in thirteen months by design firm Pininfarina under the direction of Enzo Ferrari. Designers were Leonardo Fioravanti, Pietro Camardella, and Nicola Materazzi. The F40 would be constructed primarily from Kevlar, carbon fiber, and aluminum, the same as the Evoluzioné. The final design contained only one creature comfort, which was an air conditioner. There was no radio. Interior door handles had been replaced by bare metal wires. There was no glove box or the leather trim Ferrari customers had become so accustomed. There was no carpeting or sound-deadening materials. The first fifty cars had Lexan door windows with a small opening for air, which were replaced on later runs with glass and a manual window crank. Beads of green caulking were visible everywhere, and not cleanly applied. There was no room for a spare tire, and none was available for purchase. The steering wheel was permanently locked into a specific driving position specified by Enzo, with no option to adjust. There was no power steering, no assisted braking system, no traction control, and no driver assisted electronics. At just over one-and-a-half tons, the car was produced with a 471horsepower twin-turbo V8, and a trip to Italy to learn how to drive it safely (Jamieson, 2017). It went on sale for $400,000 in 1987, or $840,000 in 2017.



The design was divisive from the moment the F40 was unveiled to public. Ferrari had turned an opposite direction from competitor Porsche and their 959, a Group B road car which not only held many performance records, but was the most technologically advanced car ever made (Sparrow & Tipler, 1994). The 198 mph 959 was comfortable and luxurious. Ferrari had produced a 201 mph street legal race car with no options other than seat widths (Jamieson, 2017). Journalists noted Ferrari’s obsession with weight savings left the body paint so thin that carbon fiber was still visible through the paint. The F40 was too Spartan for some journalists and collectors, who felt that Ferrari was mocking their customers by charging more money for less options. The rear wing was audacious, but was functional and instantly supplied the car with a desired, recognizable, profile. To some diehard Ferrari enthusiasts, the greatest sin was the inclusion of the twin-turbocharged 288 GTO engine, which was a V8 for homologation reasons, but not a naturally-aspirated V12 classic Ferrari owners desired. The F40 V8 twin-turbo had noticeable turbo lag that abruptly launched the cars several seconds after acceleration.

While these opinions did exist, the majority of journalists and enthusiasts believed the car to be a perfect driving machine. The F40 required operators to possess driving skills beyond the average driver, which was one of the reasons a trip to Italy to learn how to drive the car was included in the price. Journalists who could handle driving an automobile with no modern driving assists and the power of the F40 proudly wore the experience as a badge of honor. The car was agile, balanced, and possessed unbelievable cornering grip when driven by a skilled driver. There were no distractions. The car had been designed to be driven and experienced rather than a mode of transportation (Overview, 2017). One did not drive an F40 to arrive at a destination, rather the F40 experience was the destination. Enzo Ferrari’s final design had not been a platform to display engineering prowess, but had been a car designed to demonstrate that Ferrari did not need technology to make the greatest driving car in the world. The car became a commercial and critical success.

Enzo Ferrari had made a statement with the F40. Porsche’s 959 had Group B racing roots and a limited production, but Porsche chose to evolve their car with technology. Driver aids allowed for unparalleled control of the 959, even by lesser-skilled drivers. Ferrari’s decision to omit driver-assistance was purposeful, because Ferrari believed it was not the responsibility of the company to deviate from the purpose of the car by making it more manageable, rather it was the responsibility of the driver to develop the skills necessary to drive the F40 safely (Sparrow & Tipler, 1994).



The speculators market for the F40 soon boomed, and perhaps the worst fate for the ultimate driver’s car became a reality. By 1990 it was estimated that only 10% of the cars produced were actually being driven. F1 driver Nigel Mansell purchased an F40 for the $400,000 price, but was so afraid to drive the powerful car, that he almost immediately sold it at a $600,000 profit. Mansell’s $1 million sale caused a frenzy (Evans, 2014). Speculators inflated the price of the cars up to four times the original price, and customers were buying. Infuriated by this, Ferrari corporate immediately lifted the production limit of 349 cars. By the end of the production run in 1992 Ferrari had produced 1,311 examples of the F40. This drove the aftermarket value closer to the original price but angered early buyers who had bought into the idea of a severely-limited run car. This would later hinder the price of the car for long-time collectors.



Time has been exceptionally kind to the F40, and today it is considered as a masterpiece of automotive engineering. Journalists praise the F40 as the quintessential driver’s car. Value in the market today is just over $1 million. The F40 predecessors 288 GTO and Evoluzioné sell for $2 million or more. The successors to the F40 were all limited to around 349 examples and sell in the $2 million range as well. While the F40 is widely regarded as the superior experience, the decision by Ferrari corporate to lift the 349 cars production run to 1,311 has since limited the value of the car (Evans, 2014).

This leads to the question of why the F40 has not been duplicated by other manufacturers, or at the very least Ferrari. The answer is that the design of the F40 is a result of the era in which it was designed. Today government regulations across much of Europe and North America would prohibit a car such as the F40 from being built. The F40 was simple technology taken to an extreme. There are hypercars today which are quicker and faster, but they do so at a cost to driver skill. Many of the cars today, including those built by Ferrari, are next to impossible to drive without driver aids, and even those who possess little driving experience may drive the cars safely with the aids turned on. Hip Hop artist Lil’ Wayne purchased a Ferrari 599 GTO for his daughter on her sixteenth birthday, a car with nearly 300 more horsepower than the F40.

Enzo Ferrari created customer cars for the sole purpose of making money to fund racing. Throughout the 1970s Enzo witnessed his road cars transform from modified race cars that could literally be driven to the track and raced, then driven home, to slow vehicles being sold to clients he neither had the patience nor respect for (Overview, 2017). Ferrari road cars had become toys for the wealthy, and the cars had become the kind of vehicles unskilled drivers could take for granted. The Ferrari F40 was a watershed moment for Enzo Ferrari. He created a product that alienated most of the individuals capable of purchasing such an extravagance. The F40 was a statement that he was not there to build cars for the wealthy, rather he was there to build cars for those who possessed superior driving skill.


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