During the 1980s, you had three choices for your bedroom-poster supercar: Porsche 959, Lamborghini Countach or Ferrari F40. Any one of these cars was a testament to the technological advancements in engineering and design, and set new benchmarks for supercars. Any one of these cars could blow the doors of just about any car out there. For this new episode of Petrolhead Corner we dive into the hardcore F40, and find out there’s an F40 that isn’t regarded as a Ferrari by Ferrari themselves! Its name: LM Barchetta.
As a youngster I loved all three of these cars. On one hand, you had the incarnation of sophistication, made by Porsche, then there was the brute and flashy youngster from Lamborghini, and finally the full-fledged athlete from Ferrari. All three had strong attributes and still capture the imagination of many car enthusiasts. Seeing any of these cars in real life is a special occasion, mostly due to their reputation and their rarity. And rare is a relative subject of course, as Ferrari initially planed a 400-piece run but demand far exceeding production bumped it up to around 1,300 cars.
The story of the Ferrari F40 has one particularly interesting twist in the plot and we’ll get to that in a bit. It was the very last car to be developed under the supervision of Il Commendatore Enzo Ferrari, before passing away. It was a hardcore, barely road-legal racer with a 2.9-litre twin-turbo V8, producing 478bhp (and said to deliver far more). Paired with a composite centre structure, tubular space frames and a lightweight composite body, it pushed the car to 201mph (323kph). The F40’s biggest claim to fame was being the first production car to break the 200mph barrier. The car was stripped of any unnecessary luxury features: no radio, no floor mats, no air-conditioning, even the door opened by pulling an exposed cable in the door instead of a chunky, and thus much heavier, handle-and-lever construction typically found on cars. As a result of this dedication to the performance of the car, it seems rather crude in places.
Enzo Ferrari had always seen his road cars as a way to fund his racing programmes and, of course, the F40 was no exception. Ferrari enlisted the help of Michelotto, a long-term Ferrari race car builder, to make the F40 eligible for the IMSA GT Series in the US. Michelotto extensively rebuilt the F40 and turned them into the F40 LM. The chassis was changed, the suspension was changed, the bodywork was altered and the engine was tuned. The final result was 720bhp, a huge increase in power compared to the road-going F40. Top speed increased from the original 201mph (323kph) to an astonishing 229mph (369kph). To make the car run in other series as well, it was changed to the F40 GT, the F40 GTE and the F40 Competizione, although changes were limited to restrictions in safety and power output only, depending on regulations.
A total of 19 Ferrari F40 LM models were built with the help of Michelotto, although Ferrari acknowledges only 18 of them as true, original Ferraris. That final one, the F40 LM number 19, is where the story gets interesting and a little weird. This particular car was raced by Jean Alesi and Jean-Pierre Jabouille, both of Formula 1 fame. After retiring from racing, the car was bought by Jean ’Beurlys’ Blaton, a Belgian billionaire with a passion for cars. The Belgian was an avid racer and competed in the 24 Hours of Le Mans more than fifteen times, mostly with Ferrari. Not satisfied with a one-of-nineteen car, an ‘ordinary’ car that any fellow billionaire could purchase, Blaton wanted his car to be unique. In theory at least.
Jean Blaton enlisted the help of Belgian car-builder Tony Gillet for the intended changes. Michelotto also enters the scene again and was contacted to supervise the rebuild into the Ferrari F40 LM “Barchetta” (a term for a topless car). The roof was cut off, the bodywork was altered again, a competition windshield was installed, the engine’s restrictor was removed, the exhaust was rerouted to exit on the side, a roll-cage was installed and the chassis was upgraded with F1-style pushrod suspension. Oh, and the car was painted yellow, the official historic racing colour for Belgium.
One of the things you might notice when you go over images of all these F40s is that where other cars had “F40” stamped into one of the uprights of the massive rear wing, this one doesn’t. It has no Ferrari badge either, per order of the Italian manufacturer. The brand is so protective of its cars that changes of this magnitude disqualify them as a Ferrari product. So, occasionally, a cease-and-desist order is sent out to remove all prancing horse badges, Ferrari logos and trim from the car(s) in question. And thus the car is scrapped from the company’s archives and “lost”, even though most of its history is known.
In 2005, along with 41 other cars of Jean Blaton, the F40 LM Barchetta came up for auction, expecting a strong result but in the end, didn’t sell. After that, the ownership and story of the car becomes a bit murky, but it seems to be in Dutch hands right now. There is quite a bit of footage of the car as it appears in historic racing or track day events every once in a while.
The full story of the Ferrari F40 LM Barchetta, or the F40 ‘Beurlys’ as it is also known, is very interesting. It is well documented in these stories on DriveTribe and Jalopnik, with the latter featuring lots of detailed images of the build process of this unique, non-existing Ferrari (according to Ferrari that is).
Studio images by Gijs Spierings.
Edit 4-7-20: video to RSRNurburg channel added