Every self-respecting petrol-head has their bucket list of cars that they just have to slam the accelerator in before they kick it. Or not - for speed isn't the only thing that goes into making a great car. Also important is history, handling and a whole host of other less obvious factors that only true motoring aficionados will appreciate.
Out of our original list of 50 favourite cars, only one missile remains: the Ferrari F40.
There have been times – rare ones, I concede – where briefly the F40 is superseded in my mind as the greatest road car I’ve driven. It happened a few years back with the LaFerrari, and many years before with the McLaren F1. But once time is allowed for true perspective, there it always is. The F40. Enzo’s last car.
Ferrari’s thoughts on the car were much like the man: ribald and forthright. “This car is so fast,” he was reported as saying, “you’ll shit yourself.” And in 1987 perhaps that was a risk. But we acclimatise: you don’t expect any longer to run screaming from the room when Psycho comes on the telly, or vomit in your lap when The Exorcist is being shown, as did people originally, so I’m expecting the upholstery of Paul Winkelmann’s F40 to remain out of harm’s way. But that’s not why I’ve borrowed it from Bob Houghton’s Cotswolds Ferrari emporium. I don’t really care how fast it is, I just want to see, hear and, above all, feel it working one last time.
Paul’s is the perfect F40 – because it is far from perfect. It’s a totally original car, well used and fitted with neither catalytic converters nor adjustable suspension, which BH Ferrari’s F40 guru Russell Smith tells me is the most desirable spec to have. Bodily there is the odd blemish. Mechanically, it is bang on, completely standard but maintained in the peak of physical fitness. And as ever with these guys, there are no rules: here are the keys, bring it back when you’re done.
Damn, it’s exciting, and that’s just walking up to it. It looks mean. The door opens to reveal an interior shorn of all frills. You sit in a race seat, feet in a carbonfibre tunnel on carpetless footwells. The door pull is a cable, the dials simple white on black clocks. The dash is covered in a felt material to minimise windscreen reflections. And save some primitive ventilation controls, that’s all you have. And all you need.
Twist the key and press the little rubber button. Mayhem breaks out behind you. Anyone who says a turbo engine can’t sound good has never listened to one of these. It’s growling and gurgling, spitting and popping, and that’s just at idle. If its looks don’t intimidate you, the noise will.
The F40 is wide, left-hand drive and has rubbish visibility. Driving it in town is horrible. But you need to go slowly to warm the engine and gearbox oil before letting it off the leash. The iconic steel spindle slots with increasingly satisfying precision around that exposed five-speed, dog-leg gate.