Alongside 'do you want to swap mate' the 'so what’s the best car you’ve ever driven' question is the one I get asked most frequently as a motoring journalist. Especially at dinner parties. And my answer is always the same.
'The Ferrari F40' I will reply, hoping secretly that the speed and confidence of my answer will force the conversation in another direction. To which the person who originally asked the question will inevitably ask 'Why?'
Thinking about it now, I’m not entirely sure why I always say it’s the F40 – because I’ve driven many cars since that are 'better' than the Ferrari in every conceivable way, ie faster, roomier, sexier, better sounding, more economical and so on. Yet the F40 is always the one I come back to.
I think this is because it’s the car that left its mark on me the most the first and only time I drove it, which was on a cold and empty piece of road that winds its way across the moors just north of a town called Kirkbymoorside. It terrified and thrilled and excited me, all in equally overwhelming terms, and all at exactly the same time. It freaked me out to be honest, and for a while all I wanted to do was climb out of it and be somewhere else.
But it’s the memory of driving it that has remained so rich in my mind. It’s a memory that may well have changed and become richer and less disturbing than it actually was as the years have gone by. But there was a lesson served up by the F40 that seems more relevant than ever in 2013; that perfection itself is not always the result of containing no flaws. Perfection, indeed, may even occur BECAUSE there is the odd inconsistency in the finished product.
Put it another way; a Ferrari F40 wouldn’t see which way a Ferrari 458 Italia had gone over a decent road, but if you presented me with the keys to both and the last gallon of fuel on earth to pour into just one of them, the 458 wouldn’t get a look in.
Progress sometimes comes in the strangest of forms. You may even need to look backwards to move forwards sometimes, and that doesn’t mean resorting to pastiche or retro design.
The F40 was as modern as it got at the time but it still paid homage to cars that had gone before it. And it’s been copied but never bettered many, many times since. That’s why it’s the best car I’ve ever driven.