Reimagining mid-engined supercars decades after their debuts can be a tricky challenge indeed. Calling for a new De Tomaso Pantera 50 years after Ghia’s original to reintroduce pop-up headlights is a reasonable venture. Yet to touch the Ferrari F40, the limited-production, racing-derived road car built to celebrate the company’s 40th anniversary…that takes guts from even the most seasoned of artists. In this case, we’re talking about former Ferrari-Maserati design chief Frank Stephenson.
The F40 is not only an icon penned masterfully by Pininfarina, but perhaps also the purest representation of a road-legal motorsport prototype ever made. Designed by Pietro Camardella and Pininifarina’s engineering ace Leonardo Fioravanti to become the last proper Ferrari personally approved by Enzo himself, the F40 came out in 1987, showing off a unique powertrain under a Kevlar and carbon body with the most ideal supercar proportions.
The F40 was bodied by composite specialist Casare Bagni, who supplied the factory with lightweight panels for prototypes such as the Ferrari 312 PB, as well as the 712 production fiberglass 308 GTBs built between 1975 and ’77, the Kevlar-intense 288 GTOs, succeeding F40s and even the F50s. In fact, Bagni’s personal F40 was equipped with an F50’s shifter knob. No excess weight, no design nonsense in sight, just a few NACA ducts where needed, exciting yet discreet headlight units, a pair of round taillights on each side floating in what feels like an acre of black mesh, and straight-cut slits and gills for more heat extraction under a flawlessly integrated rear wing. The icing on the cake is the Lexan engine cover showing the 3.9-liter V8 twin-turbocharged to 477 horsepower. No wonder that it feels like modifying this rare anniversary special should only lead to the creation of yet another endurance-ready F40 LM.
However, Frank Shephenson begs to disagree. As a fan of huge stacked rear wings, we must also note that during his time at Ferrari-Maserati, he never got the chance to do a clean-sheet design. Stephenson’s Ferrari F430 was a re-bodied and heavily upgraded 360 chassis. The FXX was a weaponised Enzo, while the Maserati MC12 was a GT1 prototype based on the road-going halo Ferrari. Knowing this, one could argue he has experience finding his way around certain set parameters.
After arguing about the superiority of Pininfarina’s F40 over Bertone’s Lamborghini Countach for a good 53 minutes as a guest of Harry’s Garage, Stephenson set out to modify the classic Ferrari to make it “more Ferrariesque.” In the designer’s translation, that meant adding more curvature all around, with an almost pointy nose replacing the clean lines of the original. Stephenson also worked in extra canards—what he calls a “Joker grille”—shrunk headlight units, and added one giant NACA duct in the middle, arguing that the F40’s detailing looked almost generic for such a special product.
With more aggressive openings and most of the F40’s straight lines bent one way or another, Stephenson also opted for an even higher double-stacked rear wing. Then he penned bigger wheels, Toyota Sera-style gullwing doors with curved glass and pillar-mounted mirrors not unlike on some early McLaren F1s, and a completely transparent Lexan C-pillar, because structural rigidity is a factor apparently only engineers need to take into consideration.
Make no mistake, I know how hard this must have been. The functional beauty of an F40 doesn’t leave much wiggle room, and for that reason, I fear all Frank Stephenson could do is make the car look busier and heavier, distancing it from the serious tool Ferrari created 33 years ago.
It’s also not a good sign that the first car that popped into my mind after seeing his F40 concept was Gemballa’s one-off MIG-U1. Being associated with the German tuner rarely turns out to be a compliment.
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