Meeting face to face
I’ve always felt sorry for the Ferrari F50. It had such a hard job to do, living up to the F40 and all that the barely-disguised racer stood for and accomplished. The F50 was another sort of animal. Rather than being built to go racing, it was Ferrari’s way of showing off F1-derived technology to the world. It wasn’t so much of an evolution, but a different way of approaching the extraordinarily expensive supercar genre.
A lot of people never really understood it, me included, but now – 17 years on – I’ve had the chance to spend some time with what may probably be the world’s most recognized one of them all…
…the Liberty Walk F50. I’ve been waiting years to feature this car, patiently waiting for Kato-san to rebuild its engine after a mis-shift during a test drive sent the bottom end to stratospheric RPM, self-destructing in the process. But now, with a freshly rebuilt V12, the white F50 was all ready to go.
My day started with a very cramped and extremely sweaty ride in the car. Ryo-san from Liberty was my chauffeur, and after Kato had called ahead and sorted out a location for the shoot we headed off on what may well be one of the most theatrical rides I’ve ever experienced. I might have had my head right up on the headliner, my knees pressed against the dashboard, no air-con and windows that refused to lower in the midst of one of the hottest Japanese summers, but I loved every minute of the half hour drive, grinning the whole way! How about that for an introduction to a motoring legend?
After tackling some pretty tight countryside roads…
…we arrived at our destination, where Kato-san’s son was waiting for us, kindly assisting our ascent…
…to a location that was as equally epic as the car I was there to immortalize.
There’s no doubting that Kato knows how to make his cars look good. Seeing the caliber of car he didn’t want to mess around with it too much, aside from painting the exterior white to emphasize its presence.
As a contrasting addition, the stock wheels have been removed and stored away, replaced by a set of black, 19-inch Enkei Sports – the exact same look as the LB F40.
The wheels run Michelin Pilot Sport rubber, 225/35R19 front and 325/30R19 rear: a good compromise between everyday on-road usability and outright grip for when the car is taken out on tracks like Suzuka. Seeing brake technology has come a long way since 1995, the stock system has been upgraded with a more up do date and better performing caliper and rotor combination: six-pots at the front and four-pots at the rear, with large two-piece slotted discs.
Liberty Walk knows a thing or two about making a car sit just right and the F50 is no different, slammed as close to the ground as mechanically possible and implementing the stock front-end lift system to boost ride height by a few centimeters when things get bumpy.
With a need to get into the real nitty-gritty stuff, it wasn’t long before I was nosing around under that massive carbon fiber rear cowl…
…taking in every detail of the 4.7-litre, F1-derived V12 engine that makes up the F50′s heart. The 12 velocity stacks are fed by a massive carbon-Kevlar intake plenum, which in turn breathes through a pair of airboxes that make full use of the side intakes.
60 valves, 8,500 rpm
It’s so nice to indulge in a bit of engine porn once in a while, and the F50′s engine is beautiful to look at – still raw in form and construction, very different from the modern engines we are used to seeing these days. Underneath those black head covers are 60 valves: five per cylinder, three for the intake and two for the exhaust. Imagine the concoction of sounds these are able to create as the V12 nears its 8,500 rpm redline!
Kato-san couldn’t resist amplifying the stock exhaust sound just a tad, and fitted a pair of handmade, equal length headers…
…which connect up to the J-Wolf exhaust system. This features a pair of valves which when closed make use of the horizontally mounted silencer, but if left open turn the exhaust into a fully open system. Of course, no use of the silencer was made that day!
Much like brakes, suspension technology has come a long way in the last two decades and Kato made absolutely no compromises here. He got rid of the stock Bilstein adaptive dampers and had Quantum build a modern setup featuring harder springs…
…and taking into account the lower ride height of the car. The electronic adaptive damping may have been lost, but that is a small price to pay for top of the line, race-inspired items.
The result is nothing short of a masterpiece. A legendary supercar has been given a few, well-chosen modern day touches to keep it up to date with both the times and the expectations of demanding owners like Kato.
The Liberty Walk guys love the F50!
You may notice some differences at the rear compared to a stock car, and that’s because a body-colored diffuser has been added to address rear-end airflow and give yet another modern touch to the car. Furthermore, the rear mesh grille has been eliminated, replaced with a custom open item for a touch of uniqueness. It makes for a car as instantly recognizable as any other LB creation.
The interior is a stark reminder of just how focused cabins used to be back in the day. The simplicity of it all makes it a rather inviting place to be in, provided you fit (which sadly I don’t).
You sit tightly embraced by the Ferrari leather-clad buckets, grasping the suede racing steering wheel that Kato has fitted.
It’s just you and machine, with only the most simple and most direct of controls to interface with.
This is what a driver’s car is all about, and every second you spend with the F50…
…you are reminded of it.
It was also interesting to see how Ferrari build quality had improved in the 10 years since the F40. The quality of the carbon tub, the carbon trim and the overall fit and finish – albeit still being unquestionably Maranello-like – was quite an evident leap forward, but if I had to make a choice I would still, hands down, chose the raw lure of the F40.
But the time for lingering had run out.
It was time for a bit of on-road fun next, and believe me trying to keep up with Kato driving his pride and joy was not an easy task!
Accompanied by the LB Performance M3, we made our way through what looked like abandoned little towns in Aichi Prefecture…
…before finding the on-ramp to a highway…
…where all hell broke loose. Nothing gives me more pleasure than seeing an owner enjoy and use his car as it was meant to be.
Hearing that unsilenced, freshly rebuilt 520hp V12 scream through the gears and then backfire continuously on the overrun…
…is a sound and memory I will never forget. I take my hat off to Kato-san and all the Liberty Walk guys for showing and reminding me what true passion is all about.
The great thing is they never stop coming up with new ideas, and aside from these rarities in Kato’s personal collection we always have plenty of fresh new projects to look forward to.
@CollaVerglas l'F50 mai m'ha agradat...
The Liberty Walk cars don't always appeal to me, but I love this one. Not really a big fan of the F50 (something in its proportions just doesn't look right to me!), but in this guise the car looks fantastic.
(Despite the very convincing argument in this article, the F40 still remains top of the Ferrari tree for me!)
jaw-dropping. stunning. exquisite. poor attempts at verbalizing the reactions caused by this article.
how can you tease with descriptions of a fully open V12 exhaust and the owner properly enjoying it on the highway without so much as a brief sound clip?? :P
epic post... thanks!
//As for the layout, IMO it's awesome. Super-clean, love the wallpaper option on the pics, and the chapters are a nice way to organize the posts. Although perhaps a single-page option would be nice for slower browsers, especially on mobile.
great article I went onto youtube to listen to one found this some might enjoy saying Liberty Walk have both
Dino just out of curiosity, how tall are you?
I have an acquaintance with a 288GTO, F40, F50 and Enzo...now I'm kind of afraid of even asking for a ride given that I am 6'4"
What a car....
@speedhunters_dino , take note: Enkei wheels, not Eneki ;)
Kind of a random statement, but every time I see photos of Kato-san, it strikes me how much of a complete opposite he is from Nakai-san. I haven't seen a picture of Kato-san where he isn't smiling and having a good time. He's a great example of someone who loves what he does and wants everyone to see it.
I love the car... great story! The guys at Liberty walk looks awesome. Anyway, I make due with the new layout. It's hard to move from the old one I was so familiar with.
I really like the new layout. I find it easy to read and actually a lot better to look at due to not needing to scroll for 5 minutes to get to the bottom.
The fact is, they spent time and money coming up with this new design, and unless you all are going to cover the costs of redesigning the site again, get over it an accept that the new layout is here to stay.
The best F50 I have ever seen. I still prefer the roughness of the V8 turbo'd F40 but this comes dam close. Awesome!
I know you all suck at spelling and have lacked on that part of things but this new website is so bad it makes reading you awesome journalism such a hassle you are left with such a shitty site nobody wants to bother reading the genius.
Simple is always better.
@tbtstt F40 FTW;)
@RiccardoMazzetti Hehe, grazie Riccardo
@nismoskyz The vidz I took with my phone are crap, the audio is all distorted as the thing was so loud! Thanks for feedback on the site :)
@Gvk Agreed! Although I prefer the F40, these magnificent shots of the F50 were glorious.
@DomoKun Chris Harris, lucky man!
@Mattsda Had my hands full with pix but did take some vids with my phone lol
@koko san Thanks:)
@CNCpics I'm 190 cm so yeah, you can forget fitting in those cars. Enzo will be tight but you will get in there :)
@academ_digital I agree, definitely should have used a coors light beer tap handle.
@JonCeballos1 Yeah on my phone lol
@Ben Chandler Thanks Ben-san:)
@TokyoCarGuy Thanks dude :)
@LouisSoon It does, I admit that. Something we'll have to address in future feature car stories I think :)
@Robert Kato-san has so much energy, he is awesome to be around. Makes stuff happen and keeps everyone entertained. Nakai -san is quite different, an equal lure, just done with a different approach :) Different personalities :)
@Robert Just a different personality type. Nakai-san loves what he does he is just more calm, collected and always observing. Kato-san probably does have more fun though. It's great to have different types of people. Just thought I'd comment because I associate more with Nakai-san, I'm quiet and always look like I'm not having fun when in reality I am enjoying myself.
@Meeve Thanks! Give it some time, it's early days yet:)
Like i said before, huge Speedhunter's fan here, my home page, check it every day after work. But now with new chapter post's I don't even click on some posts because i don't care to see another VAG with Ronal wheel's. However with the old site, i was forced to see stanced and tucked golf's, and u know what? They looked good.
@3nigm4 Scrolling is massively preferable to chapters as it doesn't require as much additional input to keep reading. It also works much much better on mobile because it allows you to load the whole article and then read continuously without constantly having to load new pages. Almost all sites that use a chapter or galleries view have an option to enable it or use continuous scroll...although continuous scroll is becoming the new normal. I was offering a constructive point of criticism instead of simply complaining that I don't like the new layout. The single biggest fix would be an option to disable chapters.
@oneslyfox Anything more to add to that?
@PVGUK An F40 is an F40. Full stop. Nothing compares...
@subieslow Obviously a bit of a stranger to sentence construction, grammer and punctuation, did you dictate this to your 8yr old son, son? Genius...
@JebbyDeringer I'm the same, I look pissed off most of the time but inside it's party time lol