Enzo Ferrari emerged from World War II with a bold plan to design and build automobiles
under his own name. At first, he favoured the construction of racecars and had little interest building street-legal sports cars, but economic realities necessitated he pitch his products to a somewhat wider demographic.
So he compromised; he built cars that could legally be driven to the racetrack, and then win the race once they arrived. From the age of seven to 13 I was obsessed with these cars.
So when Christmas 1988 rolled around and my American cousins gave me a book called Classic Sports Cars by Brian Laban, with a Ferrari Testarossa on the cover, you’d think I’d have been overjoyed.
And I was. At first.
But there are two things you should keep in mind. First: Rooting for one team is always more fun if you have another team to hate. The Flames have their Oilers, Coke has its Pepsi, and Atwood has her Munro. Thus, by hitching my wagon to Ferrari, I became a sworn enemy of Lamborghini.
Second: As a youngster I loved statistics of any kind. The life expectancy of Bulgarians, the Gross Domestic Product of Nepal, or the height of the highest mountain in the Alps — if it could be put into numerical form I wanted to know about it. I even clocked the length of my urinations on my Timex Ironman watch.
So imagine my horror when I opened my new book to the Ferrari Testarossa chapter and discovered it has a top speed of 180 miles per hour (mph) and a maximum horsepower (bhp) of 390, only to later read that the Lamborghini Countach has a top speed of 190 mph and 455 bhp.
I was devastated. But this book was published in 1986 and old Enzo Ferrari had one last trick up his sleeve.
In 1987, he personally approved an automobile bearing his name for the final time. In honour of Ferrari’s 40th anniversary, the F40 rolled out of the factory gates. Enzo Ferrari died in 1988 at the age of 90, but rested in peace, knowing that he had created the finest, most beautiful sports car that ever would exist.
At the time of its release, the F40 was both the most powerful and fastest road car in history. It achieved a top speed of 201 mph and a maximum horsepower of 478. The North American version was slightly slower at 196 mph.
But these statistics are just part of the story; the single-minded integrity with which Ferrari pursued its goal of creating a street car that performed like a racecar impressed me. Despite its initial price tag of around $400,000, one look inside the cockpit reveals not so much as a cup-holder. The dashboard contains only the essential instrument panels — no CD player, only the gorgeous hum of a monstrous V8 engine. The hollowed-out doors do not even come equipped with handles. Rather, once you get in, you pull the door shut by yanking on a cord; I have no idea how you get out. But this lack of compromise provides the car with an austere brilliance that nothing in its class can match.
The result is a vehicle that weighs only 2400 lbs. — a feather strapped to a rocketship.
For a while I reveled in the F40’s ascension to the top of the supercar heap, but in 1990 Lamborghini introduced the Diablo. It had a top speed of 202 mph and 492 bhp. This struck me not as a legitimate victory for Lamborghini; it was just a dick-move.
Lacking imagination, Lamborghini created a car that went only one mph faster and had only 14 more bhp — like the guy at the bar that one-ups your story just so he can hear his own stupid voice. It should also be noted the Diablo really let itself go, weighing 1000 lbs. more than the F40. Justice would come in the April 1992 issue of Car and Driver Magazine, when they took both cars to a racetrack.
To quote: “(The driver) averages 1:29.4 (per lap) in the Ferrari, 1:34.8 in the Lamborghini. A difference of more than five seconds per lap. And the F40, he reckons, ‘has another couple of seconds under its belt, if we fiddle with tire pressures and start using all of the track.’
“Like a sore loser, the Lamborghini grumbles about this workout. “(The F40) conducts its business like a lean, mean, all-purpose predator. Darth Diablo works its magic from the other direction, doggedly attempting to dominate its driver, responding only to heavy hands and feet.”
The whole hullabaloo reminds one of the old parable, where the master musician tells his young student, “You’ve memorized the notes, now you need to learn the music.”
Sure, Lamborghini can pile a bunch of stuff in a chassis and call it a riff, but Enzo Ferrari knew a symphony when he heard one.