Ford GT leaves logic in the dust
Why did Ford bother to revive fiscally impractical GT? It's so fast and fun, who cares?
November 27, 2003
BY TONY SWAN
FREE PRESS COLUMNIST
From a certain perspective -- the anxious perspective of a Ford stockholder, for example -- this car doesn't seem to twitch the needle on the fiscal good sense meter.
From another perspective -- looking over the steering wheel as the scenery rushes toward the windshield, for example -- that other purview evaporates like a smoke ring in a wind tunnel.
Corporate good sense? What? Where does it say supercars are supposed to make sense?
You think the people who acquire cars like Ford GTs want them because they're sensible? Please.
And do not doubt that the word supercar is any kind of a stretch here. This car can glide right in amid Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Porsches without a hint of apology.
We are talking fast and furious, with the added virtue of being docile enough for some comfort on public roads.
How fast? Officially, GT development team members will admit the aero package was tuned in anticipation of "speeds in excess of 190 m.p.h."
Unofficially, they admit they've seen more than 200 m.p.h. in test sessions. Considerably more.
Here's the back story:
The GT made its first public appearance in Detroit as a concept at the 2002 North American International Auto Show, a near carbon copy of the Ford GT40s that rolled to victory in four successive Le Mans 24-hour races: 1966, '67, '68 and '69.
Public response was so enthusiastic that Ford Motor Co. Chairman Bill Ford suggested to those involved that it would be swell if they could adapt the concept to production. Without changing the car's appearance. At all.
And, oh, yeah, the adaptation should include a business plan. With a bottom line written in black ink.
Suggestions coming from the guy whose name is on the cars and the buildings are essentially imperial mandates, and before you could say supercar, work was under way.
New product threshold
And here's the finished product, which I've had opportunities to drive on public roads and a couple of racetracks: Laguna Seca Raceway near Monterey, Calif., and GingerMan Raceway near South Haven.
Let me sum up my impressions from these encounters in one word: Yeeeeee-HA!
The GTs on hand for these sessions were very early cars -- one of them with Bill Ford's name engraved on the driver's door sill -- and thus not really showroom ready, but it's clear that Ford has crossed a new threshold in its product history.
Yes, the company sold street-going versions of the old GT40 race cars, but that was a different era with different rules and regulations.
The GT in contrast is a contemporary supercar that meets crash standards and emissions regs, not to mention mundane requirements like comfort and everyday drivability.
Inspired by and faithful to the GT40, the Ford GT is a mid-engine design with a robust aluminum frame that could easily double as a bridge.
It's a bigger car than its famous ancestor -- 6.9 inches wider, 3.8 inches taller and 19.8 inches longer, which goes with creating a street-legal car for this era rather than the primitive comforts of a mid-'60s converted racer.
The skin, like the chassis, is aluminum, the independent suspension is race car simple, there are manhole-size brake discs lurking behind the forged aluminum wheels, and the fat, low-profile tires deliver the kind of adhesion we normally associate with octopi.
Power? No shortage. The 5.4-liter supercharged V8 spins up 500 horsepower and 500 pound-feet of torque, which finds its way to the rear wheels via a six-speed manual transmission and limited-slip rear differential.
Applied to a car that weighs in at just over 3,400 pounds, that's enough thrust to light up the rear tires with an incautious tap on the throttle -- traction control is sissy stuff in supercars, after all -- and passing performance on two-lane highways is right now!
Allow me to furnish some statistical support.
According to the Car and Driver magazine test results, the GT sprints to 60 m.p.h. in 3.3 seconds, to 100 m.p.h. in 7.6, and to 150 in 16.9. It covers the quarter-mile in 11.6 seconds at 128 m.p.h.
Formidable. So is the braking: 70 m.p.h. to 0 in 153 feet.
There are few cars that can match this kind of performance at any price, and none at the $150,000 level, which is where the GT is expected to land when it goes on sale next spring.
Inside, the GT affords surprisingly good head and leg room for a car that's only 44.3 inches tall.
The seats, styled after the original GT40 seat, are fabricated by race car supplier Sparco and look terrific.
But there are other niggles. The shifter tends toward stiff and reluctant, view to the rear is restricted, the right side mirror in the preview cars was largely invisible from the driver's seat, and storage space is conspicuous only by its absence.
There's a zany aspect to the trunk space, which is big enough to hold about a pound and a half of tofu, the only substance sufficiently flexible to fit in the miniaturized and oddly shaped trunk. Nevertheless, Ford has installed one of its emergency trunk release handles, in case someone should find a way to get trapped in there.
Obviously, Ford's safety consciousness has expanded to include elves, pixies and various small invertebrates.
What counts is in motion
But none of this seems to matter when the car is in motion.
Besides its big-time punch, the GT has gunfighter reflexes and polo pony agility. It attacks corners with zeal, and even in merciless on-track driving the brakes perform without a hint of fade, stop after stop.
And for all its athleticism, the GT manages to be reasonably comfortable. It matches its Modena rival in ride quality, though neither is likely to be confused with a Buick. These are exotic sports cars, after all.
Just as the original GT40 was a response to Ferrari -- rebuffed in his bid to buy the Italian company, Henry Ford II vowed to beat Ferrari at Le Mans -- the revivalist GT team chose a Ferrari as its development target, the 360 Modena coupe.
Does this sound far-fetched? With its $150,000 price tag, blazing performance, gorgeous styling and fancy pedigree, the mid-engine Modena is certainly a seductive thoroughbred.
But the GT trumps the Ferrari in every performance category. Every one. Handily.
Ford has done a remarkable thing here. Not only is the GT the company's first production supercar, this formidable creation has emerged essentially from scratch in less than two years.
The basic business plan is to build 4,500 GTs in three years at an undisclosed but undoubtedly small profit.
The bigger business plan -- can we call it the business excuse? -- is that the GT will cast a compelling aura over all the products arrayed alongside in showrooms.
Folks might not be able to afford the revived legend, but having been close to it, they'll find themselves unable to leave without buying a Focus or an Explorer.
Another possible view of the GT's mission is that it's an exotic smoke screen masking the absence of any new Ford cars -- cars for real people -- in the last four years.
But as noted earlier, among supercar aficionados this kind of thinking is irrelevant.
What's relevant -- what will be remembered -- is that Ford set out to create something extraordinary and did exactly that.
Rating: No rating, preproduction
Vehicle type: Mid-engine, rear-drive, two-seat sports coupe
Base price (est.)
As tested (est.)
Standard equipment: Antilock brakes, six-speed manual transmission, limited-slip differential, air-conditioning, AM-FM-CD audio, power windows, power mirrors, cruise control, tilt-telescope steering, keyless remote entry, aluminum alloy wheels
Engine: 500-h.p., 5.4-liter supercharged V8
Fuel economy: 14 m.p.g. city, 21 highway
Wixomv Key competitors: Ferrari 360 Modena, Porsche 911 Turbo
TONY SWAN is executive editor of Car and Driver magazine. He was Free Press auto critic from 1993 to 2000 and remains a regular contributor.