The Ferrari F40 was, in the most literal sense, designed as the successor to the company's GTO supercar, but the project's meaning ran deeper. At ninety years old, Enzo Ferrari was keenly aware that his life was coming to an end, and was somewhat disappointed that Ferrari's dominance in international motorsport had faded somewhat over the years. As a result, Enzo wanted a new pet project put into the pipelines, something that could remind the world of the company's capabilities as a manufacturer as well as provide both a competitor to the Porsche 959 and come to be his masterpiece; the company's impending 40th anniversary provided just the right occasion for the car to debut. The plan was simple: create a vehicle that combined the company's best technologies into a no-frills sports car that would come as close as possible to being a full fledged race vehicle while still retaining the necessary equipment to be a street-legal product. It was the last car to be commissioned by Enzo himself before his death.
The Ferrari F40 was designed with aerodynamics in mind, and is very much a creation of its time. For speed the car relied more on its shape than its power. Frontal area was reduced, and airflow greatly smoothed, but stability rather than terminal velocity was a primary concern. So too was cooling as the forced induction engine generated a great deal of heat. In consequence, the car was somewhat like an open-wheel racing car with a body. It had a partial undertray to smooth airflow beneath the radiator, front section, and the cabin, and a second one with diffusers behind the motor, but the engine bay was not sealed. Nonetheless, the Ferrari F40 had an impressively low Cd of 0.34 with lift controlled by its spoilers and wing.
Power came from an enlarged, 2.9 L (2936 cc) version of the GTO's twin IHI turbocharged V8 developing 478 PS (352 kW/471 hp) under 110 kPa (16 psi) of boost. The suspension setup, like the GTO's, remained a double wishbone setup, though many parts were upgraded and settings were changed; the unusually low ground clearance prompted Ferrari to include the ability to raise the vehicle's ground clearance when necessary.
The body was an entirely new design by Pininfarina featuring panels made of kevlar, carbon fiber, and aluminum for strength and low weight, and intense aerodynamic testing was employed. Weight was further minimized through the use of a plastic windshield and windows and no carpets, sound system, or door handles were installed although the cars did have air conditioning. Early cars had fixed windows, although newer windows that could be rolled down were installed into later cars and the Ferrari F40 did without a catalytic converter until 1990 when US regulations made them a requirement for emissions control reasons.
As early as 1984, the Maranello factory had begun development of an evolution model of the 288 GTO intended to compete against the 959 in FIA Group B. However, when the FIA brought an end to the Group B category for the 1986 season, Enzo was left with five 288 GTO Evoluzione development cars, and no series in which to campaign them. Enzo's desire to leave a legacy in his final supercar allowed the Evoluzione program to be further developed to produce a car exclusively for road use.
The factory never intended to race the Ferrari F40, but the car saw competition as early as 1989 when it debuted in the Laguna Seca round of the IMSA, appearing in the GTO category, with a LM evolution model driven by Jean Alesi, finishing third to the two faster spaceframed four wheel drive Audi 90 and beating a host of other factory backed spaceframe specials that dominated the races. Despite lack of factory backing, the car would soon have another successful season there under a host of guest drivers such as Jean-Pierre Jabouille, Jacques Laffite and Hurley Haywood taking a total of three second places and one third.
Although the Ferrari F40 would not return to IMSA for the following season, it would later be a popular choice by privateers to compete in numerous domestic GT series including JGTC. In 1994, the car made its debut in international competitions, with one cars campaigned in the BPR Global GT Series by Strandell, winning at the 4 Hours of Vallelunga. In 1995, the number of F40s climbed to four, developed independently by Pilot-Aldix Racing (F40 LM) and Strandell (F40 GTE, racing under the Ferrari Club Italia banner), winning the 4 Hours of Anderstorp. No longer competitive against the McLaren F1 GTR, the Ferrari F40 returned for another year in 1996, managing to repeat the previous year's Anderstorp win, and from then on it was no longer seen in GT racing.
The Ferrari F40 was discontinued in 1992 and in 1995 was succeeded by the Ferrari F50, which until a newer generation of factory backed GT1 cars that came along, remained competitive. Performance
The F40's light weight of 1100 kg (2425 lb) and high power output of 478 PS (352 kW/471 hp) at 7000 rpm gave the vehicle tremendous performance potential. Road tests have produced 0-100 km/h (62 mph) times as low as 3.8 seconds (while the track only version came in at 3.2 seconds), with 0-160 km/h (100 mph) in 7.6 seconds and 0-200 km/h (125 mph) in 11 seconds giving the Ferrari F40 a slight advantage in acceleration over the Porsche 959, its primary competitor at the time. The Ferrari F40 is still heralded today as being one of the most raw and aggressive Supercars.