Mike Stevens | Dec 21, 2008 | 3 Comments

"Power, beauty and soul", these were three words that I could have expressed over the course of a few days with the Ford GT. But they were not the first to come to mind.

Try "startling, scary and hold on!" For this is the 2005 Ford GT. Not a mere replica of the 60’s legend, but a fire-breathing (literally) 550hp all-American muscle car.

Of course, no look at the Ford GT would make sense without the perspective of the racing pedigree and history of the legendary race car of the 60’s - the Ford GT40.

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The original racer was built in 1964 after Ferrari’s four-in-a-row wins at Le Mans, later to extend to six-in-a-row (a streak beginning 1960). Infuriated by Ferrari's dominance, Ford’s managing board instructed its R&D team to build a Le Mans winning race car that would send Enzo Ferrari back to Italy with his tail between his legs. With the pride of America at stake, pen was put to paper to design the ultimate GT endurance racer.

The end result was the Ford GT40: 'GT' for Gran Turismo , '40' as its roofline measured just 40 inches from the ground. It was a true GT endurance racer, measuring over four metres in length, with a width of 178 cm and a long 241 cm wheel base for high speed road-holding.

The engine came from Ford’s high capacity V8 racing line of engines, from 4.7 litres all the way to 7.0 litres in later versions. With a kerb weight of just over 900 kilograms, it was a winning design from front to back. It was also ready to be sent to Europe to grid up against the competitor it was designed to beat, Ferrari.

The first two years of endurance racing for the GT 40 did not bring the expected success, but the car was steadily improved. In the 1966 Le Mans, after 24 hours of racing, three Ford GT40 race cars finished first, second and third. Their success made a mark in endurance racing history so deep it is cemented forever in the annals of Ford history.

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This historic clean sweep signalled a four year dominance in Le Mans endurance racing for the GT40, winning in seasons 1966 to 1969.

In fact, the GT40 transformed the rules that made Le Mans. By 1969 they were reaching a staggering 350 kph on the Mulsanne Straight. This led to safety concerns and sweeping rule changes to limit the engine capacity of all cars in an attempt to limit their top speeds. With its high capacity V8, this ended the Ford GT40’s dominance.

With this racing history within the bloodline, Ford's decision to pay homage to the GT40 by creating a modern GT may have been an easy one.

The prototype was unveiled at the 2002 Detroit Auto Show to much acclaim and a full production version of the GT was announced soon after. It appeared in 2005: bigger, wider and three inches taller than the original, but still showing strong styling cues of the original Le Mans car - it was a hit.

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A British engineering firm had naming rights to the original ‘GT40’ and was rumoured to be chasing $40 million for it, so the new car was simply named the ‘Ford GT’.

Some 4038 Ford GT’s were produced between 2004 -06 all in left hand drive and only two worldwide have gone through the costly conversion process to right hook. I was about to drive one of them.

It was with great trepidation that I held the keys stamped 'car 002’ on a drizzly Friday morning.

The forecast for the day of pickup was torrential rain. Imagine the frustration: to be handed the keys to a car as rare, as steeped in racing pedigree, as beautiful as this, to be asked not to drive it and keep it off the road until tomorrow’s clear skies; it felt like the day before Christmas.


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Perhaps, when you look at the performance figures, this instruction made some sense.

Try these numbers: 0-100 km/h in 3.7 seconds, 0-160 km/h in 7.4 seconds, top speed 330 km/h (electronically limited). It's powered by a mid-mounted 550hp 5.4 litre V8 with a Roush built supercharger. Fuel efficiency, you don’t want to know (ok I’ll humour you), try 20 l/100km if you’re seriously enjoying the car. That translates to a range of 160km on a full tank.

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Come Saturday morning, clear skies and the keys to the Ford GT sitting on the table. Pulling the car out of the garage and into the morning waking sun, the smooth lines and race car aesthetics are something to behold. Quite simply, in 'candy apple red' with two fat white racing stripes nose to tail, it is one of the most beautiful and purposeful cars I have ever seen.

The exterior design has been massaged just enough to allow better interior space but not to sacrifice the exterior curves. Its lines flow no matter which angle you approach it. The side profile is perhaps the most striking: the large 19-inch 315 rear tyres filling the arches - making the rear flanks appear to almost bulge over to fit them within their girth.

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Pressing the small hidden rubber button on the side releases a wide-swinging door and you immediately notice the cutaway roof section, again a homage to the original race car. The gap in the roof allows you to easily slide across the narrow sill and into the wide cabin.

The leather seats are surprisingly comfortable. They do not hold as tightly as many high-performance cars; let’s call them 'American-sized' sports-seats. They have just a simple manual adjustment for the angle; the seat shells being fashioned from every supercar's friend - carbon fibre.

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The interior dials and controls layout are again a tribute to the yesteryear GT40 with functional gauges laid horizontally across the dash. The rev-counter is centrally located and the speedometer is stuck far out on the left, almost on the passenger side as if it’s not important (won’t be looking at that one much then).

The basic switches for fog lights, hazards, etcetera, are laid out neatly in a row across the front of the dash, all made from metal, neatly designed and operating with a solid click.


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Climate controls in polished metal are laid out on the central tunnel which incidentally contains the centrally mounted fuel tank. Some interior plastics do feel a little cheap to the touch in places - the plastic around the hand brake lever seemed to have worked loose - but overall the cabin feels comfortable and built for work.

Optional is the McIntosh Audiophile system which adds an 8” subwoofer nestled between the seats which, I have to say, spoils some of the view back to the engine bay.

Turn the key in the barrel to full lock, depress the clutch fully and hold the red starter button on the center console for two seconds. Instantly, the Eaton supercharged dry-sumped 5.4 litre V8 breathes into life settling to a low rumble, supercharger inaudible at idle and distinctly deeper and gruffer than any Italian V8.

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Pulling away in first or second (the choice is yours there’s so much torque), you notice immediately the lightness of the clutch and the firm feel to the brakes.

The first hour of driving is a real competition with the car, between your courage to pin the pedal and the relentless speed it quickly builds. Initially there is a steep learning curve - you know what can be unleashed with just a flick of your right foot. You want to keep the accelerator pinned to the floor, but do it and all hell breaks loose with G-forces pushing you deep into the padded seats.

It’s a game you try and play, trying to extend the point before you let up on the accelerator as it climbs to the red-line, engine and supercharger screaming together, before your courage runs out. On full load the supercharger rises to a pitch sounding like it is going into orbit, it’s completely mesmerising. It is also ‘scary’, like wrapping your arms around a Looney Toons rocket, lighting the fuse and trying to hang the hell on.

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A glance to the rear view mirror allows you a view of the supercharger belt spinning away and the throttle cable flicking open and closed. It all brings you closer to the theatre of the engine workings behind you.

The six-speed manual developed by Ricardo coupled to a twin-disc clutch plate has been designed to handle the hefty 500 lb-ft torque. The gears feel a little clunky and long in the throw to start with, but it soon starts to gel and you are flicking up and down easily enough.

After some time you learn to respect and trust the chassis and the fat 315/40 ZR 19 Goodyear Eagle F1 rear tyres, but there are still some surprises up its sleeves. For the final 1000 rpm of delivery, the rears often just cannot take the torque anymore and you feel them lose traction before you engage the next gear. The Ford GT’s torque feels like a sledgehammer and the road an over ripe tomato.


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So we have the straight line acceleration, but will it follow the US tradition and be unable to corner? Well, surprisingly, at a rather portly 1,500 kilograms, it turns in nicely - whatever is thrown its way.

The steering is power assisted but still has a firm solid feel with no 'dead-loose' feeling in the straight ahead. It gives you the confidence to press into corners smoothly and sure-footedly as your feel for the Ford GT's road handling ability increases. But don’t think about pointing this supercar down your local tight back alley, as, in true race car fashion, it has a turning circle akin to an oil super tanker.

The brakes feel solid and well-balanced, stopping power is strong with 14” cross-drilled Brembos at the front and 13” on the rears and the safety net of ABS is there should you need it.

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After the twisty back roads, flowing from corner to corner, marvelling at its handling and tyre shredding power, it was time to take it to the motorway to see if it was a true GT. A quick squirt, it's breathtaking, then settling into legal highway speeds, junction after junction easily passed without severe jarring and with very little noise intruding into the cabin.

On the motorway, you can slip into sixth gear, release your foot from the accelerator and let the supercharged wave of torque just push you along as if a covert cruise control had been switched on.

One thing’s for certain with the Ford GT, and everyone seems to agree: it is a real looker. This is a car loved by everyone wherever it went. Giving it back after a few glorious days in the saddle was an enormous wrench.

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The Ford GT was developed to celebrate the anniversary of one of the world’s largest automotive giants and a commemorative nod towards its venerable racing past.

With the state the Ford motor company is in, we may never see such a car again. But it shows what can be achieved when the creative taps are opened.

Many thanks to Shane Seczkowski for assisting with the photo shoot and enduring the day's conditions.

MARK’S BIG STATEMENT

“Ferrari’s 360 and Porsches 991 Turbo were the benchmarks the design team set their sights on surpassing when developing the Ford GT. They succeeded in building a car that may not offer the finesse nor build quality, nor the luxury of the others, yet delivers a raw driver's experience and sheer theatre that is possibly without rival. If you've got the coin, it's a viable choice if you need to feed your wild side... and boy is it fun.”

Mark Likes:

  • GT 40 race car looks
  • Smooth astounding torquey V8
  • Unmistakable supercharged V8 engine note

Mark Dislikes:

  • Notable Ford build quality in places
  • Regular petrol pump visits

Gallery

Specifications

Engine 5.4-litre Mid-engine aluminum-block V8, aluminum 4-valve cylinder heads, H-beam connecting rods and forged-aluminum pistons
Supercharger Eaton® Model 2300 screw-type
Bore/Stroke (mm): 90.2x105.8
Valvetrain Dual-overhead camshafts with 4 valves per cylinder
Power 410 kW @ 6500 rpm
Torque 677Nm @ 3750 rpm
Fuel System SEFI with dual injectors per cylinder
Throttle Body Twin 70-mm
Compression Ratio 8.4:1
Transmission Ricardo 6-speed manual

Gear Ratios:

1 - 2.61, 2 - 1.71, 3 - 1.23, 4 - 0.94, 5 - 0.77, 6 - 0.63

Differential Helical limited-slip
Clutch Twin-disc, 240-mm
Suspension Unequal-l329.91 km/hength upper and lower aluminum control arms, coil springs,monotube aluminum dampers and tubular stabilizer bar
Top Speed 329.91 km/h
0-100 km/h 3.3 seconds
0-400m 11.6 seconds @ 206km/h

Spec as tested: McIntosh Audiophile upgrade, BBS painted 10-spoke forged-aluminium wheels, Racing-style stripes

Price as tested: $500,000

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