Riding Sideways in an F40 Changed My Life
The upward pull of a horizontally-mounted level releases the composite door with a muffled, hollow click, startling you with its lightness as you pull it back with a measured force learned from a lifetime of opening doors that weigh significantly more than what feels like a hinged Styrofoam cooler lid. With a bit of contortion and momentarily suspended dignity, you climb over the massive, nearly foot-tall sills and slide your feet along a bare carbon floor with joints seemingly sealed with green bathtub caulk by a disinterested plumber in a hurry. Your feet are heavily offset to the right, resting on drilled alloy pedals, your right knee partially obscuring an open-gated, dogleg five speed mounted atop a felt-covered center console—the dash is covered with the stuff, too. It’s gray, fuzzy, and looks like it belongs at the bottom of a skill crane in the shape of a plush elephant. It’s littered randomly with cheap, insubstantial Fiat switchgear, as if someone stuffed the contents of a Ritmo production line bin into a shotgun shell and blasted them in the general direction of the front bulkhead.
Pull the cooler lid shut by a suspended wire and it closes with a distant snap, reminiscent in feel and sound to assembling a no-glue model kit—not the most reassuring feeling for what comes next. Twist the key one notch and hear the fuel pumps whirr for a second or so, then turn it a bit more—a conventional sounding starter motor spins for a moment before a twin turbo, 2.9 liter V8 explodes with a deep and bassy flare of guttural, dry-throated revs far larger than its modest displacement would suggest is possible. Pull the shiny black ball rubbing your kneecap left then back until you hear the chrome stick it sits atop clink into first gear, and slowly let out the clutch—gearwhine and the sound of thousands of tiny rocks pinging against the uninsulated floor are the predominate sensations… until you drop that massive hammer.
What I’ve just described is the single greatest moment of my life as a Gearhead, the time I was blessed with a childhood passenger ride in an F40—it was more than twenty years ago, yet I remember it like it happened this morning. One tends not to forget a trip in what’s generally considered to be the greatest supercar ever built.
Originally conceived to compete with Porsche’s amazing 959 in Group B road racing, old man Enzo decided Ferrari should instead switch the project’s focus to building a suitable legacy for their impending 40th anniversary when the FIA cancelled that infamous formula in 1986.
Developed as an evolution of the beautiful 288GTO, the F40 used a version of that car’s existing small-bore V8, tuned to 478HP at 7,000 RPM. Combined with a weight of only 2,400 pounds, the F40 could blast a 60 MPH hole in the air after only 3.9 seconds from rest. It was the first-ever “production” car to hit the double-ton, with a 201 MPH top speed.
Body panels were primarily carbon fiber, Kevlar, and aluminum over a stressed tubular steel frame, and suspension consisted of double wishbones all around. In front of a diminutive, simple, three-spoke steering wheel mounted at a bus-like angle is said to be the most communicative, accurate, and feelsome rack ever mounted to a road car, equaled in quality only by the MKI Lotus Elan’s according to Gordon Murray—appropriate for a car whose handling is often compared to that of an Elise on an insane, steroid-fueled, murderous rampage.
Today, barely 25 years since its introduction, F40s are worth roughly twice their approximate $400,000 original sticker price, despite more than 1,300 rolling off the line between 1987 and 1992, with prices only set to rise exponentially in the coming years—the legacy Enzo had in mind, it seems, is quite secure.
In moments of extreme stress and discomfort, I close my eyes and think hard back to that incredible ride in my formative years, and a calm washes over me. I remember blasting down the northbound 95th street Dan Ryan expressway onramp, squealing my little 10 year-old lungs out as my uncle’s rich friend selected 2nd and mashed the throttle to the floor, the slightly-scared sounding laugh he let out as he dabbed on a degree or two of oppo. Immediately upon merging we were pulled over by the angriest cop I’ve ever seen, game over, but I like to imagine we hit an indicated 200 MPH blasting pass the El station between north and south bound traffic, our slipstream sucking the hats of waiting commuters right off their heads.
Apparently he and my uncle had a falling out shortly afterwards, and I never met him, or his fabulous F40 again. Wherever you are, old bald guy in aviators and a Cosby sweater, thank you, sincerely.