Note: This article was originally published a decade ago. While much of this information is still relevant today, tools and techniques have changed. Please contact us with any Ferrari-specific questions!

Ferrari F40: 60 Hour Restorative Detail by ESOTERIC

Very few supercars in history generate as much passion in automotive enthusiasts as the Ferrari F40. The aggressive yet timeless styling, the raw feel of a race car disguised for street use, the intoxicating sound, and the amazing performance all make for a car that will always hold a special place in automotive history.

Ferrari F40: A True Supercar!

The F40 was designed and built to commemorate Ferrari’s 40th Anniversary, and the designers and engineers pulled out all the stops when developing the successor to the rare and very limited edition 288 GTO. Although manufactured from 1997 through 1992, only a total of 1315 F40’s were ever built.

Powered by a 2.9L, 471hp twin-turbo V-8 engine, the F40 was capable of 0-60 runs in just 3.8 seconds, and a top speed of 200mph! It was the first road-legal production car to reach 200mph.

While some supercars look very similar to others, there’s simply no mistaking the F40 for anything else out there. In my opinion, this is one of the most stunning vehicles ever produced!

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A Professional Detailer’s Responsibility to Preserve History

When a professional detailer is commissioned to perform paint correction on an F40, or any highly collectible vehicle for that matter, it is imperative that the goals are to make the vehicle look much better while at the same time preserving the history. The level of expectations should be thoroughly discussed and agreed upon by both the detailer and the owner of the vehicle, and they should be realistic as well. These expectations will be based upon the current condition of the vehicle, the types of defects that are present, and where the defects are located. There are so many (thinly painted) edges, corners, and tight areas that present a high level of risk when doing paint correction on an F40. A highly skilled detailer will know how to evaluate the defects and risk factors and will know when to say when. Trying to chase down defects that are in dangerous spots is very risky when working on a car like the F40, and in my opinion, the risk of damage or too much paint removal is not worth getting another 5% worth of correction. On this particular vehicle, for instance, there were areas that I was able to achieve 95% correction, while others were 75%-80%. Some may have opted for wet sanding on a few of the remaining defects on this car, but quite frankly I think that would have been an irresponsible approach. Because of the Carbon and Kevlar-weave construction on the body of the F40, the paint thickness is very inconsistent, and there are areas where you can clearly see the texture and weave of the body. This causes potential problems when trying to measure thickness, which leaves you guessing in some areas. So should you decide to take such an aggressive approach with wet sanding to fully correct a deeper scratch, you could either cause immediate damage by striking through the paint, or you could possibly thin the paint so much in that area that there won’t be adequate paint thickness to do any further corrections down the road. There are simply some defects that should remain as part of the vehicle’s history. Paint preservation should always be a top priority!

Something else that is important on vehicles like the F40 is to preserve originality as much as possible. That’s not to say that if the car originally came with buffer trails, holograms, or swirls that they shouldn’t be corrected because I’m sure that when the car was designed and developed it was never intended to get shipped that way (and many Ferrari’s do). But if the cars notoriously came from the factory with paint drips or runs, then they should stay that way.

Having the opportunity to restore a vehicle like the F40 is an honor and a big responsibility. The work you do will become part of the car’s history. Everything gets documented and passed on to future owners. The more precise documentation on the history of the car, the more that it can add to its value. The key here though is to become part of the car’s history, and not to create your own history. What that means is that if you’re doing paint correction and preservation (or any other type of work on the car), it should simply look good when you’re done without leaving any traces of evidence that you were there.

The Evaluation and Game Plan

Despite having only 3,500 miles on the odometer, the 20-year old Ferrari was still, well…20 years old! The condition of the paint was actually pretty decent for a car of this vintage, with a medium level of swirls, scratches, and other light defects. The undercarriage, suspension, brakes, and engine compartment however required a lot of work as it appeared as if it had ever been detailed, it was a very long time ago. There were also a few other small fixes and repairs to be done to various components, and we had plenty of opportunities to freshen up hardware and hoses.

My goal then was to achieve a high level of correction to the painted surfaces, while Craig’s was to freshen up as much as he could within the engine compartment.

Ferrari F40 Paint Correction Detail

The first step in the process is always to fully prep the finish for polishing during the wash and claying process to ensure a clean and smooth surface that is fully stripped from any waxes or sealants. For more information on this process, please refer to my article on How to Prep a Car for Polishing.

For the F40, I started with the hood to develop a process and combination of pads and compounds/polishes that would work for the entire car. Each polishing job is different and requires some testing to see what’s going to work on that particular vehicle, on that particular day. Everybody asks how one knows what combination to go with, or they ask if (x) polish and (y) pad would be good for (z) car. With experience, you typically have a good idea of a starting point based on the car you’re working on (some paint is soft, some hard), what level of defects you have to work with, and what level of correction you’re aiming for. While this will help us narrow down our selection, it’s still not an exact science because some cars simply react differently from others. It’s simply a matter of having an outline based on what you have to work with, and then testing your combination to see if it achieves the desired results. Once you have your system dialed in, then you can proceed with the rest of the vehicle.

The single-stage F40 paint is similar to that of the 288 GTO in that it required a more aggressive approach to get the desired level of correction. I wouldn’t necessarily call it “hard” paint like on the 430 or 458, but it still required some massaging. I found that for the compounding stage, the best combination was Meguiar’s M105 on my Makita rotary teamed up with a Lake Country Cyan Hydro-Tech Pad.

In this photo, you can see that I am using the 4″ spot pad to get better access to the defects next to the raised edge on the hood. The smaller pad in areas like this will give better cut, and provide more control as well which is very important when dealing with delicate and highly valuable vehicles.

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With the exception of the main part of the hood and the roof, the F40 required the use of 4″ pads on the rest of the car! Because of the smaller pad surface, you have to work with, you can plan on spending a lot more time polishing. There are just very few large, flat surfaces on vehicles like these and you have to take that into consideration when calculating the amount of time it will take to work on them.

In this photo, you can get an even better example of why the F40 takes so long to polish. Not only am I using the small 4″ pad, but in many areas like this, I can only use a very small part of that pad. The trim is completely taped up to protect it from the pad and backing plate, and the entire process is slow going. I don’t recommend polishing areas like this right after downing a few cups of coffee as you want and need a steady hand!

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And yet another example of why the F40 requires so much time…there’s a tremendous amount of hand-polishing required! As you read through this post and look at the photos, take note of all the ducts, vents, and other small areas that can’t be polished by machine. While you’re not going to achieve the same level of correction by hand as you would by machine, you can still achieve good results when using Meguiar’s M105 Compound and M205 Finishing Polish.

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Normally my process would be to go around the car for the compounding stage, and then when finished I would start at the beginning again with the finishing polish stage. For the F40 however, I decided to change it up a bit and work in sections. For the front end, in particular, I did all of my compounding, and then moved onto finish polishing with Menzerna 106FA polish and a Lake Country Tangerine Hydro-Tech Pad before moving on to the rest of the car. The front end alone took an entire day! The reason I did this is that a vehicle this complex can become a daunting task. I knew that it was going to require a tremendous investment in time, and I wanted to compartmentalize the car a bit to keep each area fresh. The compounding stage, in particular, requires a lot of focus, and you can quickly get both physically and mentally drained when all you’re doing is compounding all day long (for multiple days). By breaking the car down into sections, I was able to compound, then do my finishing polish, and I knew that I was “done” with that section. There are also a lot of challenging areas on the F40, and it’s good to keep your focus on that specific area until you’re finished. Had I done it the “traditional” way, I’d have to get my mind wrapped around those angles and set of challenges, and then do it all over again once I came back around for finishing polishing days later. I would get into a zone so to speak while working a specific area until I was finished with it, and then move on.

Now on to the driver’s side of the car, I’m working on the lower rockers. This area is typically bad on all cars, but on the F40 it was in pretty rough shape because it’s quite difficult to get in and out of the car without having your shoes or leg rub up against it. I wasn’t able to get the camera angle and light just right to capture the severity of the defects, but you’ll just have to trust me on this one…they were bad!

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After polishing:

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The door handle area on both sides of the car had quite a bit of deeper scratches from years of handling. What made this area even more challenging was that the edges of the recessed door handle were so thin that you could actually see through them. I used plenty of tape, and did a lot of very slow passes to safely clean up as many of the defects as possible.

Driver’s side before:

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Passenger side before:

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When working around all of the dangerous curves and thin edges of the F40, being cautious was the top priority. On the fuel caps, for instance, the edges had already been compromised at some point in the past so I made sure that the buffer never came close to preserve as much paint integrity as possible.

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Here as well you can get a good idea of the amount of taping that is required for protection. I went through several rolls of Meguiar’s tape on this car!

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The left side of the car at this point had been completely compounded and polished, and a quick check-in the halogen shows it to be defect-free now with a significantly improved level of depth and gloss.

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Another early morning in the shop as I start to work on the passenger side of the car.

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Another check in the halogen after compounding and polishing reveals a finish that this F40 hasn’t seen in many, many years. As the swirls were removed and the finish was leveled, the true shade of red came out at the same time.

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The huge door sills on the F40 were challenging to say the least. They had some of the highest levels of defects, they are very hard to reach all of the areas, and the multiple edges were very thin (I could see right through the paint in some areas when using my Brinkmann Dual LED inspection light). I taped it all up and polished to get as good as I could while being safe. In the end however, these areas achieved about a 75% correction level.

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Here was one of the many areas that couldn’t be reached with a machine, so I viewed the defects through the light of the Brinkmann while polishing by hand to get it as good as I could.

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And yet more polishing by hand…

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The back end of the vehicle had by far the most challenging areas, so I saved it up for last and made it like a mini-project in itself. There were a lot of different issues to tackle while back here for sure!

The taillights get swirled up and hazy just like the paint does, and they can be polished out as well. When you look at the first photo here, the lens doesn’t look too bad…that is until you look at the second, “after” photo.


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After: Look at how the clarity has been improved by removing the haziness.

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The painted surface underneath the emblems typically get neglected, and there’s no way you can fully polish them out to match the rest of the surfaces without removing them. So…I had Craig remove the Ferrari emblem at the back of the car (which wasn’t the easiest task!). Look at how hazy the paint is where the emblem goes:

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After polishing

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This was quite a labor-intensive section of the F40

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The Porter Cable 7424XP D/A was used in tighter areas.

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And my wife wonders why I’m so physically worn out at the end of the day!

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At this point, I have finished all of my compounding and polishing, and am ready to clean the paint and apply a sealant. For compounding, I used Meguiar’s M105 Ultra Cut Compound and Lake Country Cyan Hydro-Tech Pads. For finish polishing, I used Menzerna 106FA Super Finish and a Tangerine Hydro-Tech pad in some areas, and Menzerna PO203S Power Finish and a Black Pad in others.

For paint cleaning and to prep the surface for my sealant, I used Chemical Guys EZ Creme Glaze applied with a PC. For my sealant, I used Blackfire Wet Diamond also applied by PC.

Before we move on to other aspects of the detail, let’s take a quick look at how our paint is looking now that it’s completely polished and sealed:

The color is looking much better, and the gloss and clarity have improved considerably as well.

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Now that is what red is supposed to look like!

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First of all, this angle really shows just how beautiful this car is! Secondly, it makes it painfully clear why it takes so long to polish the F40.

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Got Gloss?

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And yes, I did polish all the way inside these vents by hand!

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The embossed F40 logo was all polished by hand because of the thin edges.

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Now that I’ve given you a taste of what the paint looks like, let’s move on to other parts of the car and to show a bit of what Craig had to work on.

F40 Engine and Suspension Detailing / Restoration

This was the part of the restorative detail that required a lot of meticulous work combined with years of mechanical expertise to do it all correctly. You’re simply not going to get this level of engine detailing by a detailer, so having Craig Reed to team up with is a huge bonus for me.

And the service that he/we performed wasn’t limited to simple cleaning of engine, suspension, and brake components. Many items were painted, some hardware and miscellaneous odds and ends were re-plated (in-house), appearance repairs were made, and some hardware was replaced. Craig himself had roughly 25 hours invested in his portion of the restorative detail on the F40.

So as the process started, Craig (pre-haircut) began to disassemble the engine.

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Things are really starting to happen now! Each item removed would be fully detailed, repaired, and / or painted as required.

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Now we’re in business, and Craig Reed can really get busy bringing the engine bay back to life.

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While Craig was busy working on cleaning up 20 years of grime in the engine bay (proprietary tools and methods), I started on the wheels. Given the design on these massive Speedline rims, it’s near impossible to properly clean them while they’re on the car. We had everything removed in order to get to the suspension and brake components, so it made the process much easier. I soaked the wheels in P21S Wheel Gel to break down all of the brake dust and grime.

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Wheels are soaking in the gentle and safe cleaner.

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All clean! They would eventually get sealed up so that they will resist the buildup of brake dust.

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Now I’m going to go into a series of before and after photos for specific components and areas of the engine, brakes, and suspension. There are no dressings or protectants in any of the after photos…


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After. Craig went back and touched up the “USA” writing as well before putting everything back together.

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Tubi Exhaust before

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Even items like these were fully cleaned

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Suspension before

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After (once again…no dressing was applied so you’re seeing the true condition)

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You want to talk about attention to details…notice how some of the coils are slightly bent in this photo. Craig went in and individually straightened each one of them.


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Now the engine, suspension, frame, and brake components are all cleaned up and ready for Craig to put back together once he’s finished with some painting, re-plating, etc.

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There were small cosmetic repairs here and there that needed to be tended to…in progress

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The factory protective film at the front of the car was delaminating on both sides of the car, so Craig went in and repaired them accordingly

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And even some of the decals within the engine compartment were tended to as well to re-adhere edges that were coming up

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Here’s the master Craig Reed himself at work (post hair-cut…Jason Statham would have been a dead ringer for the role!)

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Craig actually re-dyed the fabric on this hose to restore it to like-new condition

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Even small details were taken care of…note the buildup of washer fluid around the bracket before

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From a wide view, you can see the headlight mechanism on the underneath side of the hood.

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When I zoom in, you can see that all of the mechanical components and hoses were completely detailed as well (all of the gray stuff you see on the left is factory applied and original)

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We’ve covered all areas of the F40 now from paint correction to engine and suspension detailing to cosmetic repairs. Craig and I both put a lot of passion into the restorative detail on this piece of automotive history, and it is properly freshened up for many years to come.

Ferrari F40 Images: Finished Product

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Truly a beautiful sight!

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The F40 ended up with a very high level of gloss and depth once the detail was completed.

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For those of you who have never seen an F40 in person, I wanted to give you some perspective on how low the car sits by having my 10-year-old son Cameron stand next to it. The F40 is one of his favorites. 🙂

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What a stunning automobile!

And finally…

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Well, I certainly thank you for taking the time to go through all of the details and photos on this successful project. Craig and I both put a tremendous amount of effort into it, and we were very happy with the results (as was the owner of the car).

If you’re an F40 owner that wishes to have a similar level of restorative detail or the owner of a special vehicle(s) that desires to have an appearance and mechanical makeover performed by a highly qualified team, please get in touch with ESOTERIC! We regularly arrange the transport of vehicles to Columbus from across the country, so no need to worry if you’re not in the Ohio area.

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