With Ferrari’s F40 regarded as one of the most iconic cars ever made, it often overshadows its anniversary successor, the F50, despite the latter being a much rarer machine, with just 349 made, against the F40s 1315, and an F50 is worth about three times as much!
Both the F40 and F50 are of course anniversary models, with the F40 coming exactly 40 years after the first Ferrari badged car was built in 1947, whilst the F50 jumped the gun by a couple of years. Not that a couple of years matter when you start to soak up the detail of a car created to give a lucky owner as close an experience to driving a grand prix car as is possible to get.
The big difference to the F40 is, whilst that has all the huff and puff and whoosh and wheeze of a turbocharged engine, the F50 has got the rapturous harmony of a glorious, naturally aspirated V12.
It sounds fantastic and is the same 65 degree, V12 block that powered the 3.5 ltr ferrari 641 Formula 1 Grand Prix car, in which Alain Prost took five wins and Nigel Mansell took one, back in 1990.
The engine was then stretched to 4 ltrs for use in their 333 sports prototype and then stretched even further, to 4.7 ltrs for the F50, pumping out a full 520 horsepower, albeit 230 less than the very high revving formula 1 engine, it will still launch you to 62mph in just 3.9 seconds, and whisk you effortlessly to 202 mph.
Ferrari said they wanted to give the driver the full grand prix experience, so they created a carbon monocoque. They literally bolted the V12 to the back of the chassis, the same as an F1 car.
The engine is a stressed member of the whole construction, and the rear suspension hangs out on the back of the gearbox. Doing that, of course, means there is very little insulation from all the vibrations of the engine coming through the chassis, and that’s part of the unique sensation of the F50. You not only hear the engine, but you also feel it through your body.
Once you start winding it up, the sensation just gets greater and greater, to the point where you start to imagine you are Alain Prost!
The only thing that doesn’t give the same experience as Prost’s 641, is the gearbox.
The F50 doesn’t have the flappy paddles, they were in the early segment development when the F50 was built and it was a bit too complicated to fit them, which most owners are delighted with, because instead, there’s the classic gated ferrari gearshift, leaving the steering wheel completely uncluttered, no paddles, no switches, nothing but a neat round steering wheel.
The F50’s not quite so simple on the outside, with ducts and intakes appearing across the carbon fibre body work, along with that iconic wing moulded into the rear corners of the car.
The styling created a lot of debate when it first came out. It looks great from some angles but not so great from others, Clarkson even going so far as to call it ugly, which is a bit harsh.
The F50 weighs in at a quite high 1,397Kg’s, and with 42% of that weight on the front wheels and 58% on the rear, unlike the perfect 50 50 split so many people talk about, Ferrari made a definite decision with the balance. After all, you need slightly more weight on the rear to get all the available power on the road.
Handling wise, the F40 is very much the rough and tough racing car, ready to dance to whatever tune you play, with instant oversteer available on tap to put a smile on your face.
In contrast, the F50 has a much more smooth and refined approach, the power curve is consistent throughout the rev range, and it has a mild understeer, so some thought is required before you pitch it into the corners. All of this ads to the uniqueness of this car, it’s a true drivers car!
The secret to this being a sensational car is mostly in the steering. It has the most amazingly well sorted weight. At slow speed, it’s quite heavy, trying to just do a three-point turn, but as soon as you’re over about 10mph, it just comes alive in your hands, guiding you into a corner, kissing the apex, and then firing you out the other side.
Ferrari intended to use the F50 to go racing, and produce three F50 GT prototypes, but the regulations changed, and they cancelled the program.
So, while the F50 never actually got to be a racing car, it really is the closest you’ll ever get to driving a Grand Prix car on the road!
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