The F40 was launched in 1987 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the marque and it would be the last car that Enzo Ferrari would sign-off before he died. Though intended to be a limited edition car, by the end of production in 1992 just over 1,300 cars had been sold. Ferrari were more than happy to capitalise on the demand for its fastest ever road car even if that meant upsetting the original customers who thought they had invested in a much rarer, more exclusive car.
Looking at it now, It is perhaps no surprise that the F40 was so popular. Its striking looks and hard-hitting performance ensured that this Ferrari instantly became a dream car for thousands of enthusiasts around the world. Its 471 bhp twin-turbocharged V8 engine, impressive aerodynamics and low-weight construction meant that it would hit 60 mph in well under 4 seconds and go on to a top speed of 202 mph. These are big numbers by any standards even if there are numerous supercars that can keep up with the F40 today. But the raw driving experience and the ferocity of acceleration when the turbos kicked-in meant that this was a car that deserved respect. When I interviewed renowned car collector Lord Mexborough, he told me that it felt faster than any other car he had ever driven, even though others were supposedly faster. Coming from a man who had just told me he had driven a Bugatti Veyron and McLaren F1, that meant a lot. It wasn't just Lord Mexborough that felt this way. In the articles I had read it always came across a car that would bite you if you weren't concentrating. I had even been told by some Ferrari specialists that it was likely to spit you off the road if the turbos came on boost on a wet surface.
So the Ferrari F40 is rare, fast and seriously eye-catching. It is also quite scary to drive and, costing between £300,000 - £400,000, very expensive to replace should you crash one.
In fact, I experienced quite the opposite reaction. Before this trip the F40 had seemed so distant from my world that it was a car I rarely thought of. For many car enthusiasts it is one of the cars that they would most like to drive, if only once in their lives, but I didn't feel that way. I had assumed that there was no way it could be that exciting and other cars topped my list. But spending each day in a convoy with one, hearing the noise it made as we passed through tunnels, watching passers-by point and stare, and seeing it sat next to my own car every morning soon started to change that feeling.
I don't quite know what I was expecting but the acceleration was ferocious. I had never experienced anything quite like it this side of a jet plane. Every time that a gap appeared we would spring forwards violently, noise seemingly erupting from all around until the next corner appeared and spoiled the party. We were supposed to be heading towards the long winding road that follows the Var inland from Nice, a road that I had driven a year earlier and been very impressed by. Instead we were struggling to escape a sinuous network of roads that linked hillside villages together high above the valley. Though frustrating, it gave me a chance to see that an F40 can be hustled quickly along tight roads without incident if you know what you're doing, calling on a strong grip from its huge tyres and changing direction with no discernible body roll. It helped that the owner was a very experienced driver and racer. I would probably have felt uncomfortable with the speed we were carrying along these roads in almost any other scenario but I felt very safe in this car with a driver who knew how to get the best out of it.
Clearly getting bored with these restrictive roads and with the sight of another village up ahead, the car's owner reacted to the frenzied waves of a father and son out for an afternoon walk by spinning up the rear wheels in first gear and wiggling up the road on full boost, somehow controlling the surge of power before normal service was resumed. In an instant I had been shown how this car is far from unpredictable if you know what you're doing but, by contrast, is capable of breaking traction very easily if you're not careful. We eventually found ourselves down near the Var and identified a quiet stretch of dual carriageway scattered with roundabouts. It would do nicely for a beginner F40 driver. I was given a few more pointers - the brakes are not the most responsive, the top of the throttle pedal travel is a bit sticky and the gearbox can be notchy - and then it was my turn. Typically, as I played with the pedals to get a feel for their weighting in the roadside car park we had stopped in, I stalled the car. Somehow that made me feel a lot more comfortable, reminding me that this car is just like any other at low speeds.
It's a strange machine. In some ways it feels crude and dated but in others it feels focused and very ahead of its time. The steering is heavy at low speeds but direct. The car feels rigid and will bobble around on road imperfections but the suspension is not uncomfortably firm. The sound is intoxicating from within and outside of the cabin, with the roar of the engine overlayed with a "psshhhht" sound whenever you lift off the throttle. It looks like a big car but it feels very intimate from behind the wheel and, judging by some of the roads we experienced in the course of the week, is actually very usable. It managed high speed runs along the motorway in torrential rain, tackled slower traffic on tight mountain roads and even dealt with the French speed bumps and underground car parks I had feared would be an issue before the trip.
I stepped out of the driver's seat barely 15 minutes after strapping myself in. I looked again at the evocative design of the car and glanced once more at its stripped-out interior. Now all apprehension had completely evaporated and I was hooked. I hadn't even begun to scratch the surface of the abilities of this fantastic machine but thankfully I had already been shown what it was capable of from the passenger seat. My thanks go to the owner of this F40 for trusting me with his pride and joy for long enough to understand why it is so highly rated. I have now driven one of the motoring world's biggest icons and I am no less excited about the experience five days later.