The Story of the Ferrari F40 LM

This is the story of when one of the most exciting cars ever built became even more exciting.

3y ago
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When you look at the Ferrari F40, and consider the incredibly special place it has today in the hearts of car enthusiasts everywhere, it's hard to believe that upon its initial release, people looked at it with genuine disdain.

The go-kart-esque feel – a common likening which everyone who drives it makes reference to – was something of substantial critique back in the day; whereas now, people love the purity and excitement such simplicity brings.

Next to its main rival – the Porsche 959 – the F40 appeared to be something of an ark. As similar as they were in terms of performance, their approaches in achieving that performance couldn't have been more different.

The 959 was so fantastically advanced you could say it was the Veyron of its day; whereas the F40 was a steel tubular chassis, a plastic body, and a bomb that some called an engine. Even in the 60's, the F40 would've been considered primitive. But while all these things amalgamated to form something that was of little to no critical success in its time, the love that people have for it now serves as a worthy pardon for the initial dishonour.

As wonderful as the road going F40 was, it was far from the ultimate expression of what the car could be. Even with ancient technology forming its backbone, the car had phenomenal potential! And that potential was explored when customers started pestering Ferrari to make their hyper-fast hypercar even faster – the result of which was the manic Ferrari F40 LM racing car. This is the story of that wonderful machine.

The idea of turning the F40 into a racer may nowadays seem like the perfect thing to do – but back when the F40 was originally released, Ferrari never intended to take the car racing. Even though the F40 was an evolution of the 288 GTO – a car that was built to homologate a racing car that never got the chance to race due to the premature termination of the Group B series it was made for – the motives behind the F40's birth had nothing to do with racing; it was designed purely to be the fastest and most exciting car on the public roads.

Arguably, the F40's most significant achievement is that it was the world's first 200mph road car. According to Italian magazine Quattroroute, their tests resulted in the car maxing out at 202.6mph. Even though there has always been conjecture surrounding the validity of the F40's claim to fame – mainly due to the fact that the car never actually reached the double tonne in any independent tests conducted outside of Italy's carefully coordinated soil – it has always been referred to as the first production car to crack the magical 200mph figure.

That status was enough to lead some owners to look at the F40 as a platform that could be extended upon for the job of racing. After all, it was a sensationally fast car back in the day, and still is now – taking just 3.9 seconds to get from 0-60mph, and 8 seconds dead to get from 0-100mph.

A number of customers approached Ferrari, enquiring into the possibility of a racing version. Ferrari however showed little interest in this idea. Through their eyes, the F40 was the ultimate expression of just how exciting a road car could be, and to engineering it for racing would pollute their initial intentions for the car; however, through the intervention of one of Ferrari's most important associates, the LM ball started rolling.

The person in question was a man called Daniel Marin – a manager at a company called Charles Pozzi S.A., that had been set up by the French racing driver of the same name and became the official Ferrari and Maserati importer in France. His influence was enough to provoke Ferrari into seeing a demand for a racing F40. And so, Ferrari approached the expertise of Michelotto Automobili and entrusted them with the holy important task of turning the F40 into a competitive racing car.

The business of turning supercars into racers was nothing alien to Michelotto, for they were a Ferrari dealership that specialised in turning road going Ferraris into fire-spitting racing cars. In order to create the LM, Michelotto started out with standard F40 road cars, and modified them – to a rather insane level.

Extensive alterations were made to the car's aerodynamics, which included a new rear wing – which could be adjusted inside the cabin at the driver's behest – and a much larger and more pronounced front splitter to keep the tyres buried in the road at high speeds. The front in particular saw a number of modifications for the job of dissipating the intense heat the car produced. The main intake at the front became much deeper to feed cooling air to where was necessary; the front end also had a number of large chunks removed all in the name of allowing heat to escape. There was even a new type of vent added only previously seen in aeronautical applications called a "NACA" vent. The vent – which resembles the above profile of a DeltaWing – was used because of how much air it could swallow, and in the process how little drag it created. Another couple of these vents were added at the back of the LM just in front of the rear wheels in order to feed the engine with the copious amounts of delicious speed-inducing air it needed.

If there are two words above any others that epitomise the most dramatic changes the F40 saw, it's 'aero' and 'weight'. Not only were the wing mirrors moved from the wings to the side windows because that's where they cut the cleanest hole in the air, but the F40's trademark pop-up headlamps were ditched in favour of fixed lights, which sat behind super-light and super-durable lexan plastic. Plastic was also used instead of glass for the side windows, all helping reduce the weight down by a truly massive amount.

The original F40 weighed in at just 3018lbs (1389kg) - but a finished LM weighed a virtually anorexic 2315lbs (1050kg). When you look inside a regular F40, and see just how unbelievably hardcore it is, you can't help but wonder how on earth they managed to strip over 700lbs out of it. They couldn't have lightened it any further had they filled it with pure concentrated helium. It's absolutely nuts!

The F40's underpinnings also saw the benefits of massive changes. New vented brakes were added, with calipers so large they left little of the disc visible; a new suspension system was bolted on, as was a new high performance gearbox. It was still a racing-friendly dogleg pattern, like a road going F40, but for the LM, there was no synchromesh – all for the benefit of being able to flash through gears. A triple plate hydraulic clutch was added, and new lightweight OZ racing wheels that were wider than the road car's – meaning wider and grippier tyres could sit upon them. And then, if all that wasn't enough, there was what Michelotto did to the engine.

The F40's 2936cc displacement remained the same, but apart from that, the LM's V8 was a completely different animal. Much larger intercoolers, new cams, a new engine management system, and dual fuel-injectors per cylinder were just a few of the things added. The compression ratio was upped slightly from 7.7:1 to 8.0:1. Oh, and then there was the biggest change: the two IHI turbochargers that were fitted to the F40 were modified, resulting in the boost they produced elevating from the road car's 16psi, to the LM's 37.7 psi. The result of all this was power going up from 471bhp in the standard car to an astonishing 720bhp in the LM! The amazing thing was however, the majority of the time, the engine was being held back.

The engine's potential reached beyond 720bhp; for short bursts during qualifying laps, the F40 LM could pump out 900bhp!! But for regular prolonged use, the power was pegged back at 720 horsepower. Not only did the LM's power need limiting in order to make it comply with racing regulations, but according to Michelotto, any more than 750 horsepower resulted in rather violent wear and tear to the crankshaft. Don't allow yourself to be disheartened by the fact that the LM had its power contained, however. With 720 horsepower in such a heavily turbocharged car that weighed so little, Michelotto had turned what was already a monster into something that felt like an instrument to kick start the apocalypse.

In testing, the F40 LM was capable of hitting 60mph from a standstill in 3 seconds flat, and upon being driven around Nardo, it hit a top speed of 229mph! Back in 1989, this was otherworldly – even if it was a racing car, and had no place on the public highways.

Michelotto built a total of just 19 LMs – all of which were eligible to race in various GT classes around the world. The LM however, while built to be a racing car, was like a military weapon, ready to be called into action at a moment's notice. Very few of Michelotto's creations actually raced competitively, as they were either hidden away in private collections, or were used for private track days by their lucky owners. Naturally, this lead to demand for more LMs to be produced – but Michelotto had completed their limited run, and weren't going to make any more. Since the LM however was, fundamentally, a heavily modified version of an F40 road car, this lead to private racing teams purchasing one of the 1,311 road going F40s, and transforming it into LM spec, using some of Michelotto's components.

In total, a further 27 cars were made by privateers, completely unaffiliated with Michelotto's original run of cars. These cars were basically the same as Michelotto's, but with notable differences to the aero at the front and rear. Out of these 27, 19 of them went on to lead staggeringly hard racing lives waging wars on the world's circuits. The trouble with the independent teams that raced them is that they simply didn't have the money to maintain their LMs properly. Sadly, this lead to many of the raced private builds being left to rack and ruin. But not before they left their lasting impression on every circuit they touched.

Each individual LM that raced – whether it be original Michelotto cars, or one of the extra cars built by private teams – has its own specific story to tell. Each unique serial number for each car isn't so much a means to identify it as a code to unlock the pages of countless fascinating tales. Success on the racetrack came in the form of a number of podium finishes in the GTO class of America's IMSA – a racing series for GT class cars with engines over 2.5L in capacity. It may not have taken home overall glory – but its success was enough to make the F40 a viable platform for future racing cars.

In 1993 – 4 years after the LM's debut – Michelotto was back up to their old tricks turning F40s into racers, converting 7 road cars into what would be known as F40 GTs. Aesthetically, if you ignore the sponsors' livery, these cars resembled road going F40s much closer than the LM – but underneath, it was still a dedicated racing car. The power of the GT may well have been down compared to the LM – at 560bhp – but that was all so it could compete in the Italian GT Championship.

F40 GT

F40 GT

In the 1993 season, the F40 GT finished 6th overall; in 1994 however, the car won the championship under the command of Vittorio Colombo. After this victory, Michelotto converted a further 7 F40s – this time for international competition in the BPR Global GT Series, called F40 GTEs. Of the 7 GTEs they made, 1 of them started out in life as an LM, and 1 of them a GT. The GTEs were 620bhp evolutions of the GT that had gone before, and even though they never packed the horsepower punch of the LM, they were more sophisticated underneath. This however didn't make the GTEs immune from trouble. Despite mild success – including a number of wins and podium finishes – reliability issues prevented the GTE from emulating the GT's home triumph on the international stage.

F40 GTE

F40 GTE

Regardless of whether any of the cars dominated racing or dropped out at every possible occasion, they are all magnificently special machines – with arguably the most special being the original racer and the most powerful, the LM. Some of the original 19 and private 27 have been converted for road use, providing clueless onlookers with an opportunity to accurately describe something fast that drives passed them as a "racing car". Not that you'll ever see one on the public roads to ogle at however, because these cars are now so valuable that owners understandably don't want to risk so much as a leaf falling onto one in a mildly brisk manner.

The most valuable examples are clean, unmolested original Michelotto cars. In the August of 2015, chassis No18 of the original 19 cars crossed the auctioneer's gavel at RMSotheby's in Monterey. Thought to be the greatest example in existence – never having been raced or driven in anger, and full of all original parts – the car sold for an incredible $3,300,000. And if you ask me, it was worth every penny, and more.

Chassis No18 that sold at Sotheby's

Chassis No18 that sold at Sotheby's

So much about the F40 LM makes it worthy of such a price tag. Not only is it the speed, the purity, and the heritage – but every little part of the driving experience gives a person some idea of what it would've been like to be a racing driver back in an era where motor racing was almost as dangerous as running directly into the heart of a warzone. And the moment you put your foot down, not only did the LM make you feel like you were close to death, but the noise told your ears that you were at the wheel of something that could deliver your soul to the other side of a tombstone with ease.

The noise the F40 LM is capable of delivering has to be heard to be believed. It makes every other car in the world sound filtered and mute. No matter how angry a road car can sound, compared to this, it's meek and mild. Never has any car given quite such an accurate aural projection of pure, vicious, unrestrained power. It is enough to make the walls of your every fibre tremble.

The craziness of the noise however befits the craziness of the car. Racing cars like this nowadays would never be allowed, just in the same way the clinically insane aren't allowed to mingle with normal society. Driving this thing right on the raggedy edge must've been like surfing a crocodile over a wave of massive and capricious boost; you just didn't know which limb you were about to say goodbye to.

To many, the Ferrari F40 is considered to be the ultimate supercar. The LM takes everything that made people adore the F40, and intensifies it beyond all imagination. For that, it is one of the all time greats.

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Written by: Angelo Uccello

Twitter: @AngeloUccello

Tribe: Speed Machines

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