If it’s true that the Il Commendatore Enzo Ferrari only built road cars to fund his infamously expensive Corse department, then the Ferrari F50 promised to be the ultimate ‘thank-you’ to the road-car chaps for all of their hard work. After all, it was arguably the coffers made from selling 308s and 512s that paid for Alain Prost to win six 1990 Grands Prix in his 641 F1.
Such was the success of the 641, the elite Ferrari clientele put pressure on the Italian outfit to produce a road-car with that Prost-like vigour. Out of this demand and, as Luca de Montezemolo put it, “fifty years of racing, fifty years of winning, fifty years of hard work”: the F50 was born.
With those striking Pininfarina looks, penned in the pursuit of aerodynamic performance, it certainly left an impression. The F50’s body, flat under tray and those colossal twin venturis together produce 440kg of downforce. Highly impressive were the all-carbon fibre body and monocoque chassis, which aided the F50’s extraordinary handling and respectably low kerb weight of 1230kg.
Under that body, though, is what really mattered. With the brief of the F50 being about purity, the V12 engine from Prost’s 641 was chosen as the place to start. Bored out from 3500cc to 4968cc and with a reduced rev-limit from 13500 to 8000rpm the V12 produced a monstrous 513bhp. The same powerplant used to homologate the Ferrari 333 SP which won both the Daytona 24Hrs and Sebring 12Hrs and also ran at Le Mans.
Not satisfied with producing an engine that was only powerful, the masters at Maranello made the 4.7L V12 a stressed member of the car by bolting it directly to the bulkhead of the state-of-the-art F1-style full carbon body tub and then using the six-speed manual gearbox to carry the rear suspension. The suspension itself uses front and rear wishbones, with the rear coil springs being almost horizontal.
The ECU had been given the turn-of-the-century treatment too and could electronically balance the dampers during corners in 25 milliseconds. In contemporary road tests, journalists and racing drivers alike couldn’t think of another car that held the road like it.
The result of a wind-tunnel design and Grand Prix grunt was a car that humbled the 641 F1 car; believable when one considers the F50’s 0-60mph time of 3.7 seconds and top speed of 202mph.
The car offered here today was delivered new to Germany in 1997 and sold to its first owner in September of the same year. The correct and original specification of Rosso Corsa DS322 paintwork with black hide and red cloth large seats interior remains, and still gleams to this day. This is in no small part due to the meticulous care this car has no doubt received, and the sub 6,300 miles recorded is totally commensurate with the ‘as new’ condition, having just returned to these shores from a significant collection in Japan.
Perhaps most remarkable to this cataloguer was how such a powerful and competitively natured car could be so gentlemanly. Positively docile in traffic and when manoeuvring, any concerns I may have harboured about having to wrestle the car into submission were quickly nullified by the rock-steady feel and surprisingly simple driving experience. That said, i hardly tested her in the small lanes surrounding the collection where she resides. More practical than you might expect, the F50’s party-trick is to perfectly balance both Coupe and Roadster form with the addition or removal of the bolt-on roof which stores neatly into a bespoke roof-box for open- top driving and less interference of the spine-tingling exhaust note.
Sensible consideration such as the addition of a ride height adjuster to tackle speed bumps was standard on the F50 helping to ensure the car is suited to modern traffic.
The 349th and last example of the benchmark F50 left Maranello on 30th July 1997 to mark Ferrari’s half centenary. Joining the Ferrari dynasty is never easy but the F50’s pure performance, rarity and brief-fitting concentration make it epically capable and a Ferrari we rate very generously indeed. Built in far fewer numbers then the headline-grabbing F40, this is certainly a car to watch for the future - especially as it shares the same parallels of spine tingling big capacity V12 engine, mated to an all-carbon chassis tub and six-speed totally manual gearbox as its contemporary - the McLaren F1 - but it is a Ferrari and the ONLY open example of their immortal ‘F’ cars.