There are all sorts of things that you can learn, both about yourself and the car, when you drive an F40 with enthusiasm. But the one defining lesson that it continues to teach us, 23 years after its creation, is that weight – or the lack of it – remains such a crucial factor. You can tell as much not merely from the way an F40 accelerates, which is eyeball-poppingly obvious, but from its lack of inertia in general – the way it changes direction so cleanly, the way it stops so crisply as long as you lean on the pedal hard enough, even the way it turns in.
In all these areas, the F40 still outperforms its modern-day equivalent, and there has to be something that can be learned from this – even if there would be similarly little debate as to which car you'd take on a pleasure drive; namely, not the one with the tea-tray rear spoiler or the $30k see-through plastic engine cover.
Climbing into the Enzo after the F40 is like wandering from one room into another within the museum of supercars, except the dates seem centuries apart. The steering wheel is festooned with switches for things like the traction control and lights, and the center console is similarly space-age in its design. And this particular Enzo positively erupts into life when you press the starter button, mainly because owner Paul Bailey has removed the standard exhaust, cats and all, and replaced it with a set of straight-through Tubi pipes. This saves around 110lbs in weight and makes the 6.0-liter V12 (RIGHT) sound stark raving insane.
But maybe the most interesting thing to note, apart from the din it produces, is the extra weight the Enzo feels to carry beside the F40, and to a lesser extent the 458. On the move it feels big and impossibly intimidating, with super-quick steering responses and not a lot of throttle required to get it to go, and go hard. But it also feels clumsy in its reactions after the other two, as if it lacks the agility of its smaller brethren, which is a touch odd, given that it weighs 265lbs less than the 458.
Its paddle-shift gearbox, even in Race mode, is also hopelessly slow-witted beside the dual-clutch system of the 458. You'd happily swap it for the F40's heavier but more precise 5-speed manual. And when you start to lean on it through corners, that big, long tail feels like it might ruin your day in a big way if you so much as think about turning in on a trailing throttle.
In its way, the Enzo feels every inch as barking mad as the F40, especially under full acceleration, with its V12 screaming into your right ear, exhaust crackling like a giant bonfire on the overrun. Except, of course, the Enzo is actually less rewarding/more scary even than the F40 in extremis, because it feels like it could get away from you far more easily. And again it's the extra weight that betrays it beside the older car, which, by the way, is some 580lbs lighter.
And what of the 458? In many respects, it represents the best of both worlds, combining the Enzo's often amazing noise and performance and its breathtaking atmosphere with a big slice of the F40's red-raw driver appeal to go with it. That it does so at a price several hundred thousand dollars below that of the Enzo, accompanied by a level of everyday refinement that makes the old timers feel just that, is, in the end, the reason why we rate it as highly as we do.
There's no doubt that it's an incredible car, the 458, and the reason why is because it comes from such an incredible company, rich with historical high achievement, as this triumvirate clearly shows.
If it weighed a little less – say, 300lbs more than an F40 – it would be yet more extraordinary than it already is. And that's precisely what Ferrari will be aiming to do in the months and years to come. That's right, it's about to get even better.