In an era where “ultra-high performance” also means “uber-complex technology” and “space-age materials”, the word perfection has taken on a whole new meaning in the automotive industry.
Today’s performance cars are posting ludicrously quick 0-60 times and outstanding performance figures, with an emphasis on being the most perfect driving machine ever built. But what if all this modern-day perfection was too perfect? I’ve driven many of today’s latest and greatest supercars: the McLaren P1, Porsche 918 Spyder, Ferrari 458 Italia, and many others. But I just drove the greatest car I’ve ever experienced…and it was built in the 1990s…and it is unquestionably perfect: the Ferrari F40.
Picture this: it’s a nice, sunny, and mild morning. You’re with your friend and he hands you the keys to his Ferrari F40 and says, “you drive.” It sounds like the beginning of most car enthusiasts’ wet dream, right? Well, this exact scenario actually happened to me a couple of weeks ago. My friend called me one morning and asked if I was free to go for a drive in the F40. Obviously, I obliged and within an hour, he pulled up on my street and the low-slung F40 sat idling with a low grumble.
Mind you, this F40 is fitted with an uprated cat-back exhaust and sounds as gnarly as Satan himself. I hop in the passenger seat and become re-acquainted with the automatic seat belt that tries its absolute best to strangle anyone that volunteers to be its next victim—I guess it’s the price to pay to experience the F40 from a passenger’s perspective. We are running low on gas, so we pull into a gas station just a short distance away. As we are standing there, admiring the car as it’s being fueled, he hands me the key.
While the owner tops off the fuel tanks—yes, that’s plural—I hold the key and try to absorb what is about to happen. “What kind of man gives a 20-something the key to his F40?” I asked myself. The answer? A very kind and trusting individual.
Getting into the F40 is an event in itself. Stepping over the large lip of the carbon fiber tub and trying to sandwich yourself between the seat and oddly angled steering wheel is no easy task. Place your right foot on the floorboard in front of the seat; place your right hand on the steering wheel and your left hand on the seat bolster; drop yourself in the seat and hope you don’t miss your aim—or you’ll find yourself awkwardly (and painfully) straddling the seat bolster on the left or the seatbelt clip on the right.
Once your backside is in place, lift your left leg over the massive Carbon Kevlar door sill. The seating position takes a moment or two to get used to. Your legs are bent at what seems like a 90-degree angle while your arms are stretched to nearly their full extension. Reminiscent are the days when I drove the 5 mph go-karts at the local amusement park. Why on earth would the pedals be this close to the seat to cause such a godawful bend in your legs!
Attempt to push the clutch in, and that awkward seating conundrum quickly becomes understood: you could easily fulfill your leg-day workout by pushing the clutch of an F40 in and out three times. Seriously. So yes, engage the clutch, turn the key, and press the start button; the car roars to life with the ferocity of a bear awaken from hibernation. Never have I felt a greater sense of pleasure—please don’t tell my fiancé that.
At idle, the car growls with intensity, waiting to be unchained on the open road. Engage the dog-leg first gear and let off the clutch, the gas pedal “pops” when first compressed. From a standstill, the car seems…gutless. The revs climb slowly, much slower than I would’ve thought. “Gee, this isn’t so bad,” I thought to myself. However, this car is all about the element of surprise, ladies and gentlemen. A slight hiss of the turbos spooling turned into a banshee roar and a kick to the back that felt like getting slammed by a Freightliner. Redline came before I knew what hit me and the rev-limiter bounced like a basketball handled by Kobe Bryant. It took nearly all my might to press in that awfully stiff clutch and grab second gear. The boost kicked back in as soon as I stepped on the gas for second gear and the car lunged into, what seemed like, another dimension. My knuckles were white and my palms sweaty as I grabbed onto the steering wheel, praying for dear life.
This car is true sensory overload. You are enveloped in a carbon fiber casing of sound, vibrations from head to toe, and sights that blur past you quicker than your visual cortex can register. The rear of the car hunkers down at speed like a panther ready to pounce on its prey. Striped white lines on the road blur into a continuous stream as I approach fourth gear. I hit redline as the car screams and demands more.
Do I push harder or do I let off? Logic and reasoning overpowered my emotions and curiosity, so I backed off the gas and tried to apply the brakes. The exhaust burbled and backfired like a fireworks display on the Fourth of July; it sounded like I was in the middle of a back-alley gunfight. The brakes took nearly as much effort to apply as the clutch; never have I experienced stiffer pedals. After only five minutes, I felt physically and mentally exhausted from this car, but there was nothing I wanted more than to just keep driving, and driving and driving. This car gives you such a feeling of occasion that nothing in this world can replicate this side of winning the lottery.
Upon getting onto the freeway, I maintained composure and drove fairly cautiously to allow myself to process exactly what was going on. At my control is one of the rarest, most iconic cars ever made, and there are no safety nannies such as ABS, power steering or traction control to save me if shit hits the fan. This is not my car; let all of that sink in for a minute. I begin to settle down and truly focus on driving rather than getting caught up in all the terrible “what-ifs.” As a highway cruiser, the F40 is surprisingly good. The seats offer fantastic support and when the car is not being driven in anger and on boost, it’s very docile and manageable. After several miles of highway blasts, we pull off the freeway and head to some twisties to see how the car handles.
The downforce of the F40 is very noticeable in mid-high speed corners. On low speed corners, the F40 can be a bit tricky upon corner exit as the turbos like to sneak up on you—if you’re not careful, you will end up ass-backwards quicker than you can say “F40.” Because the car has no assisted steering, the input is very direct, and the feedback through the wheel is like rubbing the road with your bare hands. Once the brakes begin to warm up, they grab with great ferocity and the gear lever becomes very fluid if you use just enough finesse. Driving an F40 spiritedly on mountain roads is a religious experience; one that, no matter how detailed one is with words, it will never be able to be fully replicated or described without experiencing it first-hand.
Before I knew it, over an hour had passed and I had racked up a sufficient amount of miles on the odometer. I get back onto the freeway and cruise home. I park the car and just sit there, trying to comprehend what I had just experienced. I step out of the car as my legs trembled; I wasn’t ready for this. I never thought that something like this, something so “simple,” could have such a major impact.
Later, after the car was tucked away waiting for its next drive, I looked back on the event and came to these conclusions—I’ve never felt so connected with an inanimate object as I have with the F40, it felt like an extension of my physical being.
For me, the F40 is the king, it’s an experience like no other. I’ve been very fortunate to experience the cars that I have, but the F40 still reigns at the top. The McLaren P1 is a truly sensational, borderline bat-shit-crazy, car, but it still doesn’t have that extra bit of “rawness” that the F40 has.
Will these hybrid hypercars be able to steal that top tier that F40 resides on its own? No—but I’ll gladly spend a few more miles in any car to see if there’s a match for my favorite prancing horse.
By Gil Folk