In the 1980s, when too much wasn’t nearly enough, the Ferrari F40 and Lamborghini Countach made indelible marks on our car obsessed psyches.
There were few things more excessive in the 1980s, a decade defined by excess, than that era’s supercars. Speed, style, and expense all came in equally high measure, and sharp angles and big engines ruled the day. Italian rivals, Ferrari and Lamborghini, built some of their most important and memorable cars in that decade including the Ferrari F40 and the Lamborghini Countach. Both of those cars have become icons, setting the bar for what we talk about when we talk about supercars.
Gearheads, grease monkeys, and car nerds like us love spirited debates over the merits and demerits of classic cars, whether it’s what’s sitting in our driveways or pinned up on our garage walls. For this classic clash we decided to pit two of our favorite supercars of all time, the Ferrari F40 and the Lamborghini Countach, to see which is the most ‘80s supercar of all.
The story of the F40 began back in 1984 when Ferrari engineer Nicola Materazzi had the idea to use the new Group B rally circuit as a testing ground for new Ferrari designs. The hope was to bring back that element of excitement and, to be honest, danger to a product line that had “softened” in recent years. Enzo Ferrari and company GM Engino Alzati gave their blessing, but only if the project was worked on outside of the team’s regular 9-to-5 duties.
And thus, the 288 GTO project was born. By 1986, Materazzi and his team had completed prototypes, both road and racing versions, of the 288 GTO just in time for Group B to be canceled. Rather than scrap the project entirely Materazzi convinced Ferrari to continue development on the car. Enzo Ferrari saw the car as an opportunity to celebrate the company’s 40th-anniversary and as a capstone project on his decades-long career. The car would be the epitome of all the Ferrari name stood for: elegance, sophistication, and above all, speed. There was only one hitch for Materazzi, the project would have to be completed in time for Ferrari’s 40th-anniversary, which was just 11 months away.
Development and testing proceeded at a frenzied pace and in 1987, the new Ferrari F40 debuted. The car delivered on every metric. It looked the part of a full evolution of Ferrari’s prior designs. Its throaty growl sounded like a Ferrari should. And it’s claimed top speed of 201 mph made it, according to Ferrari at least, the fastest road-going car in the world.
The F40 featured a mid-positioned 2.9L twin turbocharged intercooled V8 with port fuel-injection and paired with a gated five-speed manual transmission. At 475 horsepower and 424lb-ft. of torque, the F40 was astonishingly powerful for its day. Ferrari’s claims of a 201mph, while never officially verified, wasn’t too far from the truth. Car & Driver’s review of the F40 stated they got the car up to 197mph. The F40 was also a marvel off the line with a 0-60 time of just 4.2 seconds and a quarter mile of 12.1 seconds.
Feats of speed like this were owed not only to the refined V8 but also the grip provided by the new Pirelli P Zero tires, specially developed for the F40 and the first 17-inch tire made for a road car. The F40 also gained speed by dropping weight. Ferrari made extensive use of carbon fiber, Kevlar, and aluminum in the body and other components in the construction of the F40. As with many track-focused sports cars of today, the F40 also deleted creature comforts to save weight. It featured manual windows, deleted armrests, and a simple, stripped down interior. It did, however, come with air-conditioning. The F40 weighed in at a svelte 3,000lbs.
The F40 looked every bit as good as it performed on the pavement. Designed by Leonardo Fioravanti and Pietro Camardella of Pininfarina, the F40 remains as distinctive today as it was in 1987.
Up front, the sloping hood features two NACA ducts, there are twin pop-up headlights, and vents (real, functional vents) all over the F40. The doors swoop inward, giving the car a curvaceous waistline. The mid-ship engine is enclosed beneath a transparent, vented plexiglass cover. The rear wing features ‘80s appropriate 90° angles. And around back the F40 sports simple, yet elegant round taillights and black mesh. The design is rounded out with a centrally located tri-tip exhaust. The F40 came in just one color, red.
In 1970, Ferruccio Lamborghini called upon chief engineer Paolo Stanzani to begin work on a successor to the legendary, groundbreaking Lamborghini Miura. Designer Marcello Gandini, who’d also worked on the Miura, came up with a radically low, wedge-shaped prototype that lead to exclamations at the Geneva Motor show in 1971. One astonished utterance, from a speaker of Piedmontese, was “countach”. Gandini liked the sound of it so much the name stuck.
It would take until 1974 before the team at Lamborghini finished their work on the LP400 Countach.
The Lamborghini Countach featured three different engines through it’s 16-year run, and all three were, you guessed it, V12s. The Countach had a rear mid-engine layout with rear-wheel drive, a five-speed synchromesh manual transmission, and a set of six Weber carburators. Both the initial LP400 and the LP400 S ran on a 3.9L longitudinally mounted V12 making 375 horsepower. In 1982, the new LP500 S Countach received a new 4.8L V12.
The LP5000 Quattrovalvole 5.2L arrived in 1985, and along with the extra displacement came a new four-valve design, hence the name “Quattrovalvole” name. This mill bumped up the horsepower to 455 and the torque to 420lb.-ft. To meet US emission standards the, the state-side version featured fuel-injection, which dropped the torque slightly to 369lb.-ft. The 25th-Anniversary Edition Countach kept the 5.2L engine but added small comfort improvements like power windows and power seats, along with better cooling from updates to ventilation.
Despite it’s 1970s origins, the Countach’s futuristic design perfectly anticipated the verve of the 1980s. Most notable is the car’s radically sloped front end. The sharp angle of Countach’s wedge shape continues throughout the rest of the car’s design. The scissor doors, a novel play on the classic gull-wing design, which swung up and out at an angle. To accommodate this, the tiny, windows-in-windows only opened a few inches.
The Countach’s look evolved over time. The LP400 S added rear wheel arches in 1979 to accommodate the new Pirelli P7 super wide tires. A large, wedge shaped wing was also added to the LP 400S. The wing wasn’t functional while adding weight to the rear of an already front-heavy car. But customers liked the look so much, Lamborghini engineers set the angle to 0° and tacked them on the cars in the plant’s parking lot post-assembly.
The LP5000 QV tipped the formerly horizontally mounted carburators back to vertical which added a hump above the engine compartment. This move improved cooling but further reduced the already comically limited rear visibility. To meet safety standards, the US version of the ‘85 LP5000 QV added blocky (ugly) safety bumpers in the front and rear.
The 25th-Anniversary edition of the Countach featured exterior design updates from Horacio Pagani included new duct work and a lower rear bumper.
Even though Ferrari had planned for only 400 F40s to be made, the car proved so popular that 1,311 were actually produced over it’s five-year run. Not as rare as some Ferrari models, but still far from abundant. The Countach wasn’t produced in large numbers either. Despite a full 16 years in production, Lamborghini only made 1,983 Countaches.
Both the Ferrari F40 and the Lamborghini Contach are highly desirable collectors’ cars. The Countach, which featured an original MSRP of a 1985 LP500 S was approximately $120,000. Today, prices on Countaches range from close to $1,000,000 for mid-70s LP400s all the way to $275,000 for later models. The Ferrari F40 started out at $399,150 and today averages $1.3 million.
The most important question when comparing the two cars isn’t speed. The F40 was decidedly faster with a 0-60 time of 4.2 seconds to the Countach’s 4.7-5 seconds (depending on your source). More important than raw speed however is styling. Both cars are eye-popping, bold, trendsetters of the era. Aside from the purely subjective, we thought to include public adoration to help gauge which will reign as the ultimate 80s supercar.
But the more 80s pop culture brand of its day was Ferrari. Miami Vice prominently featured both a Daytona Spyder and a Testarossa and Magnum P.I. a 308. The Lamborghini Countach, for its part, was featured in movies Cannonball Run 1 and 2 and Rain Man, as well as multiple episodes of Miami Vice.
The Countach is having something of a moment today. 1980s nostalgia is at its apex. YouTubers like Tyler Hoover, Harry Metcalfe, and Matt Farah sing the praises of their own Countaches. Influences aside, perhaps the biggest reason for the halo surrounding the Countach as the ultimate 80s excess car is the infamous scene in Martin Scorsese’s Wolf of Wall Street featuring a luded-up Leo making a comically slow drive home.
Though the Ferrari F40 might be the more exciting, more expensive, and more exclusive car, it’s the Lamborghini Countach that proves, in hindsight, to be the more “80s” of the two supercars. The wedge-shaped front end, the scissor doors, and all those sharp angles combine with that classic Lambo V12 to make the Lamborghini Countach the defining supercar of its era.