The real proof of a new thoroughbred’s pedigree has been amply demonstrated at Ferrari’s test track, Fiorano. Handled by one of the company’s test drivers, the F40 — manufactured to celebrate 40 glorious years of Ferrari car making — has lapped the cramped little track faster than Gilles Villeneuve ever could in the 3-litre flat-engined 1980 Ferrari 312T5.
The fact that the T5 was one of the worst Ferrari Formula One cars in living memory is irrelevant. The point is that Ferrari’s stunning new “street legal” F40 epitomises the technical progress made by the 1980s generation of supercar and makes one wonder whether, in ten years time, the Ferrari “F50” (or whatever) will be quicker than the F187 Grand Prix car with which Gerhard Berger challenged Nigel Mansell so effectively in the opening stages of the Hungarian Grand Prix.
It is probably already too late to get your hands on this latest Maranello confection, even if you are in a position to stump up the £160,000 tax-paid price which Maranello Concessionaires, the English importer, anticipates the cars will cost in the UK when they become available next year. But the F40 — effectively a Group B racer in roadgoing clothes — represents as much a technical exercise for Ferrari’s engineering capability as a “celebration” of the company’s 40-year history since it first fielded racing cars under its own name.
A total of 450 Ferrari F40s will be built over the next two-and-a-half years. Built round a conventional steel frame, the F40 makes extensive use of carbon-fibre composite panels joined to the frame by a structural adhesive, leading Ferrari to claim that it is using, for the first time in series production, techniques previously applied only to competition cars or experimental prototypes. In fact, in designing the F40, Ferrari’s design team has drawn from the experience gleaned from a number of prototypes including the 408, a four-wheel-drive machine which also incorporated active suspension into its design.
Heart of the F40 is a light-alloy V8 block identical to that used on the GTO (another recent Maranello classic) but with a revised 82 x 69.5mm bore/stroke for a total capacity of 2963cc. Multiplied by the coefficient which is expected to be applied for these engines in Group C in the future, it comes out at just beneath the magical 5-litre maximum permissible in this category. As potential rival to the 4WD Porsche 959, the F40 is a worthy challenger, with a 0-124 mph acceleration figure quoted as 12.0 seconds and a top speed of 201.3 mph.
Using twin IHI turbos and Weber/Marelli electronic injection and ignition, similar to the system employed on the current F1 cars, the F40 develops 478 bhp at 7000 rpm, and it evoked strong memories of the sleek 250LM of 20 years ago when the wraps were taken off it at a recent Maranello press conference.
Wheels are 17in diameter and 13in wide at the rear, and shod with Pirelli P700 rubber. The car has foam-filled, anti-impact bag tanks with a total capacity of 26 gallons, and the wishbones/coilspring suspension has a speed-sensitive adjustment which lowers the shock absorbers by 20mm to impart more aerodynamic efficiency. They can also be raised by 20mm for manoeuvring at low speeds. The whole package is topped off by a neat full-width aerofoil on the rear deck, the engine open to view through the slatted perspex rear screen.
The two prototypes yowled round Fiorano for a few laps, delightful to the ear, but we were not offered rides in them, far less given a stint behind the wheel. Go back to the first sentence of this article and, on reflection, you will probably understand why! AH