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What The Hell Is Wrong With The Ferrari F50?

Illustration for article titled What The Hell Is Wrong With The Ferrari F50?

It’s got an F1-sourced V-12. It’s rarer than an F40 or an Enzo. So why is the F50 the unloved middle child in Ferrari’s line of hypercars?

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I just can’t put my finger on it. Some say it’s simply not as hard-core as the F40 was. The lunatics! Sure, it doesn’t have the punch-you-in-the-face-‘till-your-nose-bleeds twin-turbo V8 of its predecessor. Instead, Maranello put a V-12 in it, developed from the company's 1990 641 F1 car. In fact, the Italians sourced most of the F50 from that car. (The rest is probably from a Fiat Ducato.) Some also say it just wasn’t as advanced for its time as the Enzo in 2002. Wrong again. Everything Ferrari knew in the first half of the ‘90s is in the F50. And they knew quite a lot.

Soft? Compared to what? A group of Hellfire rockets aimed at your kitchen table?

I’m starting to blame Pininfarina. Maybe it’s simply the fact that the F50 is not as pretty as the F40 or the Enzo. Like me, the F40 turns 23 this year. But while I’m gaining weight due to intense beer consumption, the F40 remains slim, light, and beautiful. Like Sophia Loren, it's aging very well.

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How about the Enzo? It took me about a year to understand it after it came out, but time has passed. Believe it or not, the Enzo is eight years old. Hard to believe, as it was so ahead of its time. If it was introduced this year, no one would be complaining about the design. The Enzo is like a bottle of vodka. It just doesn’t, you know, go off.

The F50 is almost four times as rare as the F40. Only 349 were ever made, which makes it even rarer than the Enzo. Yet a good one won’t cost you more than an F40 in similar condition. So is it really just the looks? Must be. What else?

In their February 2004 issue, the staff of Evo magazine voted the F50 the best Ferrari supercar in their 288 GTO vs. F40 vs. F50 vs. Enzo group test. The F50 has even made it to seventh place on the magazine's Top 100 Driver’s Cars list. Again, way ahead of the F40 or the Enzo.

Illustration for article titled What The Hell Is Wrong With The Ferrari F50?
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It must be a fantastic car. No question about it. What's wrong with it? Nothing.

Don't like it? Give me yours. Really. It's no trouble. If you want, you can even pay me to take it off your hands.

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Máté Petrány is an editor and photographer at Stipistop, and Jalopnik’s European intern. All photos by the author.

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DISCUSSION

I would argue that both the F50 and the Enzo are the red-headed step children of the line.

Both the GTO and the F40 were complete and total, in-your-face innovative and hardcore.

The GTO was, arguably, the first real uber-Ferrari, and it is famous for that. Ferrari has always prided itself on incorporating race-developed technology into their road cars, but the 288 GTO was really one of the first modern Ferraris that looked, sounded, and acted like it was a race car with the absolute bare minimum required to meet street car standards.

Several years down the line, the F40 came around. It had a tiny V8 that made use of turbocharging, a rare thing in Ferrari road cars. It was completely unlike anything Ferrari had produced before, save in ideology: an uber-Ferrari to replace the 288 GTO. And like the 288 GTO, the F40 was raw and totally unrefined. Don't let the street-legal status fool you; it's not much of a street car. It's a race car that was meant to race, but could go on the street if absolutely necessary.

The F50 may have introduced the same level of technological advancement as its two predecessors, but it didn't seem all that innovative. An uber-Ferrari? Okay, it's been done. What makes this one more special than its predecessors? Does it have an unusual new engine design that was as daring as the F40's tiny twin-turbo V8? Nope. It uses a V12, which is pretty standard fare for a Ferrari. It was also much more refined than its predecessors, and that may be the key point. That refinement may have been a major turn off. Much of the appeal of the 288 GTO and the F40 was their raw, unpolished not-really-a-road car feel. The F50 eliminated much of that feel. That, combined with the lack of perceived innovation, is what makes it less desirable.

The same thing goes for the Enzo. The Enzo truly was an incredible piece of engineering innovation. But none of that was visible, where a normal, non-engineer could appreciate. It was also highly refined and fairly easy to drive fast, making its prodigious performance much more accessible. And that's why I doubt it will ever reach the same level of desirability as the 288 GTO and the F40. When you make it so easy for that level of performance to be obtained, you simultaneously make the feat of achieving that performance less special.

It's kind of like that new feature in the 370Z, which eliminates the need for a skilled driver to heel-toe. Sure, it's an innovative piece of engineering. But when you take the skill out of something, you also take the fun out of it.

Thusly, the F50 does not command the same respect that the 288 GTO and the F40 do; and neither, I think, will the Enzo.