Double Apex writer, Sudhir Matai ends up behind the wheel of his boyhood dream car, the Ferrari F40, in Italy and shares his experiences here.
Feeling my way
This street light must be old. The pool of light it’s casting into the darkness is dim and I struggle to locate the inside edge of the door-card. In my excitement I’ve also made a rookie error; I lashed up the Sabelt harness before ensuring the door was close enough to reach – GAH! I lean as far as I can and with outstretched fingers find an edge with my left hand, remembering that there’s no door handle, and with my fingertips pull the lightweight composite door towards me. It closes with an unsatisfying plasticky clatter…
I wriggle a little to reset my body in the figure-hugging race seat and do a cursory check of the mirrors. I also take a look around the cabin, which is best described as functional. The owner, a relative stranger, sits patiently alongside while I acclimatise myself to the unfamiliar surrounds. In the meantime, the boosted V8 idles innocuously awaiting driver input. Mr F40-owner has driven the car until now and thinks that the fluids are all up to temp, enough, anyway, to hand me the controls.
For the last 30 years there has been one car that I have consistently lusted after; the Ferrari F40. There have been flirtations with various other special cars, including a few racecars, but the F40 has remained at, or near, the very top of my wish list. Scarcely believable, I was about to set off into the hills above Ferrari’s hometown of Maranello in the car I glanced at every night before I closed my eyes since I was ten years old… a fricken Ferrari F40.
I blip the firm, mechanical throttle and it elicits a flare of revs from the small displacement bent eight. The large middle pedal requires a firm shove as it is completely unassisted and the clutch, the clutch is surprisingly light. I glance over my right shoulder to check for traffic, hmmm, not much to see there and I set off… in fricken Ferrari F40.
Easing out of the lay-bye I am, understandably, cautious. I modulate the clutch with just a few revs on the tacho keen to paint my driving in a favourable light for my co-pilot/benefactor. I short shift into second gear, first is, dogleg-style, down and to the left, so I am eager to dispatch with that awkward cog swap early. It is quite late into the evening so the road is virtually deserted, which means I don’t have to deal with traffic, thankfully. There’s no power steering, though once on the move this isn’t an issue. The slightly odd placement and angle of the wheel seem to fit my frame well; perhaps I was Italian in a past life?
Meeting your heroes
I dip into the long-travel throttle, but nothing really happens. I’ve explored about half the rev-counter and shifted up to 3rd. What’s that they say about meeting your heroes… As I make the straight movement from 2-3 I hear it, that famous metallic clack-clack as the lever slices through the open H-gate – I crack a smile, the first of many. It’s a noise I read about endlessly in my youth and one that modern Ferrari owners are definitely poorer for not experiencing.
In 3rd gear I explore the power delivery a bit more. With no traction control, or any electronic safety net, I figure that unleashing 350+ kW of power on an unfamiliar road in a stranger’s million dollar Ferrari F40 in a low gear is not a smart move. Deep into the throttle and there’s still very little happening, then I hear it… the build-up of pressure in the two IHI turbochargers over my shoulders.
Now we’re talking
Revs from the guttural-sounding V8 rise, slowly at first, and then faster until full boost is reached, then WHHHOOOOSSSHHH the scenery around us starts to accelerate very quickly. I lift, as we’re fast approaching a corner, which extracts a volley of crackles and pops from the twin exhaust pipes, this time both occupants are smiling. Our cumulative ages may be over 90, but inside we’re both 12-year-old boys. I hear chatter from the passenger seat, but it needs to be repeated as I am wrapped up in the driving experience of a fricken Ferrari F40. “Sorry, what was that?”
“Next time you shut the gas, look in the rear-view mirror.” Noted.
I turn into a medium-speed corner and feel the grip build across the front axle through my palms; the Ferrari F40 really is a tactile car telegraphing every nuance to the driver, even though I am very far from exceeding the friction limit. As the radius opens up I see a straight and instinctively heel-toe back into 2nd, clack-clack, the pedals placed perfectly for my feet to do the three-pedal tap-dance. The motor responds with alacrity and is already building boost before I blat the throttle wide open… in a fricken Ferrari F40.
The sounds from the engine room are raw, un-synthesised and barely silenced. Waaaaaaarrrggghhh, WHHHOOOOSSSHHH. WOW! We’re both pinned to our seats by the hit of torque. I thought it felt quick in 3rd, in 2nd gear it’s eye-widening. Remember, this car is good for over 325 km/h and has ‘just’ five gears, so the ratios aren’t particularly short. I know its cliché, but the power delivery is like a slingshot. You pull it faaaaaaarrrr back as the revs build and when the turbochargers are on full song it fires you down the road as pent-up energy is released. This time I wring out 2nd to just shy of the limiter and make a snap shift to 3rd, clack-clack. The tail squirms as drive is temporarily disconnected then reconnected to the rear wheels. Those fat rear Pirellis are warm and provide plenty of grip.
Waaaaaaarrrggghhh, WHHHOOOOSSSHHH. 3rd gear is dealt with almost as quickly as 2nd and I slam another upshift. My heart is thumping, my brow is furrowed in concentration but still I am wearing an ear-to-ear grin, becasue I’m driving a fricken Ferrari F40.
I can’t recall another road car that has lit me up the way this F40 is doing right now. I shut the gas and glance into the rear-view mirror as instructed; the Italian countryside is momentarily illuminated by a golden hue as unspent fuel from the tailpipes meets cold, crisp night air. I am told the flames can reach half a metre in length… My synapses are tingling as the current wave of adrenaline abates… I have to have more.
We run uphill for several kilometres and my confidence builds with each one, Waaaaaaarrrggghhh, WHHHOOOOSSSHHH, it is addictive. I delve deeper into this car’s performance repertoire, leaning harder on the tyres and calling on my reserves as a driver. Before I get too familiar the owner calls for us to turn around. If a stranger was getting too familiar with my F40 I’d have made us turn around much earlier.
The descent is as smile-inducing as the up run. I wind-up the motor and unleash it down every short straight, made to feel even shorter thanks to the car’s prodigious power and dark ambiance, the turbochargers howling their signature tune into the inky surrounds. As we approach suburbia I back off momentarily. But since it is, probably, the only time I will pilot an F40, Waaaaaaarrrggghhh, WHHHOOOOSSSHHH.
Houses give way to shops and we are back in the piazza of Maranello. The F40, now at idle speed, is producing noises of a car in the aftermath of a hard drive: tink, tink, tink as metal cools. At the same time, my nerve endings are prickling my adrenal glands return to a relaxed state. Even in the place of its creation, the F40 attracts cellphone photography from all and sundry.
The locals, probably more than most, appreciate the last car that was signed off by, company founder, Enzo himself. We trundle between the old gate to the factory and the famous Ristorante Cavallino, with no cars in sight I give the loud pedal a stomp: Waaaaaaarrrggghhh, WHHHOOOOSSSHHH, one last time. I think old man Ferrari would have approved.
What started as a chance encounter with an F40-owning stranger, in a restaurant car park while visiting the historic Citta di Maranello, turned out to be one of the most exhilarating and memorable of my motoring career, which includes experiencing high-performance models from BMW and Mercedes-AMG, not to mention modern Porsches, Ferraris, McLarens and Lamborghinis on road and track. Driving those few kilometres up in the hills above Maranello in a Ferrari F40 will live with me forever and a day.
Price: don’t ask
Engine: 2,9-litre, twin-turbocharged V8
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Power: 357 kW @ 7 000 r/min
Torque: 577 N.m @ 4 000 r/min
Top speed: 325 km/h
0-100 km/h: 3,8 seconds
This article first appeared in Premier Magazine August 2018 and is reproduced here with kind permission of TCB Media