Yet despite the frosty gloom, a score of journalists and a handful of celebrities have gathered in pit row. They pick through a pile of helmets before lining up beside a pair of low-slung roadsters, one a ticket-me-red, the other a more sedate blue-striped white. The sense of excitement is palpable among the normally-jaded scribes. But that’s not surprising, for few recent products have generated near the level of enthusiasm that has accompanied the Ford GT.
The road-ready version of the legendary Ford GT40 – the car that enabled the automaker to dominate Le Mans, and the rest of the European race circuit in the late 1960s – made its official debut during the company’s 100th anniversary celebration in June. Though volume production is still months away, TheCarConnection.com was among the lucky group given the opportunity to drive these two late prototypes.
Unfortunately, to get that opportunity required agreeing to an October embargo on driving impressions. So we can’t talk about diving into the Laguna hairpin fast enough to make you dizzy, nor discuss doing 130 on an empty stretch of Pacific Coast highway. But we can provide a hint of what it was like in pictures, each telling more than those proverbial thousand words.
2005 Ford GT
“Ford Motor Co. has always wanted to do a road-going version” of the GT40, admits Chris Theodore, Ford’s director of advanced product development. It wasn’t just the technical challenge, but the not-so-insignificant matter of making the business equation add up. Over the years, the automaker has trotted out a procession of possibilities, such as the exotic GT90 and Indigo prototypes. But things finally started falling into place 4-1/2 years ago, according to Theodore, on a flight home on a Ford corporate plane. “Maybe we had too much wine, but the more we talked about it, the more excited we got.” Codenamed Petunia, the back-to-the-roots project debuted at the Detroit auto show in January 2002. Ford Chairman Bill Ford gave the go-ahead for production that Spring, and the first three running cars were ready in time for June’s centennial celebration in Dearborn.
“The old GT40 wasn’t worth a hoot to drive on the street,” recalls the inimitable Carroll Shelby, who worked on the original racecar and came back as a consultant on the new GT program. Though some cars eventually were driven on the street, the GT40 was designed with one purpose in mind: racing. The 40 referred to the car’s height in inches and indeed, it was so low-slung that Ford had to install the famous “Gurney bubble” on some cars, so the lanky Dan Gurney could fit inside. The new Ford GT is actually 40 inches tall, and all but the tallest drivers will fit inside. And there they’ll find a sophisticated interior that befits a luxury car as much as a racer ready to do a little track time. The goal, explains Shelby, was to come up with ”a perfectly balanced car.”
2005 Ford GT
For the moment, at least, the official answer is “more than 500.” The Jeopardy question: what’s the horsepower and toque? But don’t be surprised to see those numbers go up a bit by the time the car hits showrooms. And that could be just the start. “The strength of the engine is there. It’ll take 700 to 750 (hp),” the Shelby tells TCC. Reunited with Ford to help in the development of the GT, the one-time racer may lend his name to a special, ultra-performance version of the aluminum-bodied sports car. You should also expect a bit of an increase in the price tag by the time the GT hits the street. Though Ford’s never given an official number, it had hinted at a price tag in the “low-$100,000 range.” Considering demand, and competitors like the Bentley Continental GT, that might ultimately top $150,000. That doesn’t include the likely mark-up from dealers, who’re never shy of sharing in the spoils of a hot new product.
Jay Leno and Jackie Stewart
Jay Leno and Jackie StewartEnlarge Photo
Maybe it’s the chin that gives him away, but despite his non-descript denims, there was no mistaking Jay Leno among the crowd vying for GT seat time. But while most folks were staring at the comedian and car collector, Leno’s own gaze was glued to Jackie Stewart. “Are you kidding? Jackie Stewart is one of my heroes. And I get to drive the GT40? It doesn’t get any better.” Sporting a white helmet topped with his clan tartan, the “wee Scotsman” politely stood in line for his own turn in both the new GT, and one of the rare, surviving GT40 Mk IV models. The last time he’d piloted one of the racers, he recalled, was back in 1966, the year the Mk II version captured a historic 1-2-3 sweep at Le Mans.
2005 Ford GT
Dan GurneyEnlarge Photo
Take a close look and you’ll still have to work hard to spot the differences between the new Ford GT and this original Mk II. The latter was one of a surprising number of '60s-vintage GT40s that showed up during the grand Pebble Beach weekend, including the only six surviving Mk IVs. Despite the initial visual similarities, the new car is four inches taller, "so subtle a difference from the original, you don’t realize it’s bigger, roomier, and more comfortable,” says one-time GT40 driver Dan Gurney. And a lot of attention was paid to improving aerodynamics. Despite its sleek shape, the GT40 developed a huge amount of lift at speed, some track photos from the ’60s showing the nose literally starting to lift off the ground. The body of the 2005 street car has been engineered to deliver plenty of downforce. But the biggest differences can only be found beneath the skin. The ’05 GT makes use of the latest in powertrain, braking and manufacturing technology. The new car's mostly aluminum, hand-built body is shaped using a process known as superplastic forming. And it is wrapped around an aluminum spaceframe designed to ensure accurate fits and finishes. The 5.4-liter V-8 features an active manifold system, and is mated to a Ricardo short-throw, six-speed manual gearbox.
2005 Ford GT
The most expensive car ever built by Ford, the new GT is designed to provide a halo around a brand that has taken more than its share of abuse over the last couple years. “The GT is an image vehicle,” says development chief Chris Theodore, “to polish the Ford blue oval.: With a price tag astronomical for a mainstream brand, Ford is also taking a risk with the two-seater. The automaker intends to produce as many as 1500 GTs a year, a sizable number in a small market segment increasingly crowded with products ranging from Ferrari’s 360 Modena to the new Bentley Continental GT.
Actually, when you add in auction fees, the first production GT drove off the auction block for $557,000. The bidding capped the action at Pebble Beach, Jay Leno driving one of the first three GTs onto the ramp at the Christie’s Auction. The bidding was furious, the price rising fast initially, with cheers marking each $100,000 increase in the bids. The tension kept growing until the gavel finally came down at the half million mark, the buyer having to add in the extra $57,000 for auction costs. But why not? It was all tax deductible, with proceeds from the GT sale going to a variety of charities including The Pebble Beach Company Foundation, United Way of Monterey County, The Wheelchair Foundation, and Boys & Girls Club of Monterey County. The winner actually will have to wait for his car. The model he gets to drive home in won’t be built until the Spring of 2004. With chassis number 10, it will be certified as the first Ford GT sold to a customer.