In today’s world, we take for granted that all Ferrari models offer automatic transmissions. In fact, they don’t just offer one — they mandate it. There isn’t a single stick-shift Ferrari still available on the market today, as the last ones (a few stick-shift Californias and 599s) were made years ago.
But back in the 1980s, it was the other way around: Automatics were for luxury cars, and Ferrari models all had manuals — period. Although a few of the 4-seater Ferrari models began offering automatics starting in the late 1970s, all of the brand’s 2-seat sports cars were available solely with manual transmissions until the "F1" automatic made its debut in the F355 for the 1998 model year.
Except for one.
In 1989, Ferrari made an F40 with an automatic transmission. This car wasn’t converted after the fact, and it wasn’t a stick-shift F40 that was cut up to turn it into an automatic. Ferrari made an F40, with an automatic transmission, in their factory.
Naturally, the story behind this car is a little interesting. First off, it wasn’t built for just anybody: Ferrari made it specially for Gianni Agnelli, the chairman of FIAT, who owned a majority stake in Ferrari at the time. Agnelli was nearing 70 years old when the F40 came out, and he couldn’t operate a clutch pedal anymore — largely due to an injury from a car accident years earlier and partially due to his advancing age. But he still wanted an F40. And so the idea of an automatic F40 was born.
Interestingly, Ferrari didn’t stick a typical automatic in the F40 but instead created what’s essentially a manual transmission that could be operated with two pedals using an electronic-clutch system developed by the supplier Valeo. The F40 Valeo, as it’s called, used the normal F40 shifter gate and allowed gear shifting like a standard stick shift — but a computer-controlled clutch replaced a foot-activated system. It did this by sensing when the lever was about to be pushed into a gear, which quickly disengaged the clutch so the car could be shifted. Supposedly, safety features ensured the driver couldn’t over-rev the engine or start the car in gear.
The system wasn’t totally new to the F40: Lancia had used a similar system, also developed by Valeo, in the rally-racer Delta Integrale. And it must’ve worked in the F40, because Ferrari offered the Valeo electronic clutch as an option in a small number of Mondial models that were built later.
Of course, as we know, the rest is history in the Ferrari world: Although the brand dropped the idea of a manual transmission you could shift yourself, the "F1" gearbox used a similar computer-controlled clutch — and it quickly became standard fare in Ferrari models after it launched in 1998. One could look back on the F40 Valeo as the predecessor of the entire "automatic Ferrari" movement.
Despite all the work that went into his F40, however, Agnelli didn’t spend much time in the car. The second owner purchased it from the Ferrari dealer in Turin, Italy, after Agnelli’s ownership period — and it reportedly had less than 400 miles on the odometer.
In 2008, the F40 Valeo — Ferrari serial number 79883 — sold at an RM Sotheby’s auction in Italy for 419,000 Euros, or roughly $557,000 by the period’s exchange rates. These days, it’s surely worth much more — not just because F40 values have shot up, but also because it’s a one-off car with such an amazingly unique and bizarre history. Find a Ferrari F40 for sale
Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.