Ford GT – Forty Year Follow Up

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Enzo Ferrari was partly responsible for a lot more sports cars than he’s given credit for. The Old Man apparently had a way of, shall we say, inspiring others to go off in a huff to build their own cars in order to spite him. He reportedly insulted a customer who complained of clutch problems. That customer turned out to be Ferruccio Lamborghini who then started the firm that bears his name.

The Ford GT40 is another car that came to be in part because of Ferrari. Its development was commissioned by Henry Ford II after he was rebuffed in his attempt to purchase the fabled Italian company. The GT40’s mission was to race and beat Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. It didso four consecutive times from 1966 to 1969 – including a 1-2-3 sweep in 1966.

The GT40 ended Ferrari’s streak of six straight Le Mans victories from 1960 to 1965. (Ferrari hasn’t won Le Mans since, concentrating on Formula One instead.) After that things quieted down as Ford became preoccupied with other things as the malaise of the 1970s set in.

It wasn’t until 2005 that the spiritual successor to the GT40, the Ford GT, was introduced to once again battle Ferrari. But this time the battle was not on the track so much as in the sports car marketplace.

While it certainly bears a strong resemblance to its predecessor the GT is a much larger car, its 106.7 inch wheelbase about a foot longer, and its 44.3 inch height about four more than that of the GT40.

Engine

The all-aluminum supercharged V8 was developed by Roush Performance. The supercharged 5.4 liter unit sits low amidship, thanks in part to its dry sump lubrication system, breathes through 32 valve and sports 550 hp and 500 lb-ft of torque, running 12 psi of boost. That power is channeled to the rear wheels via a six-speed manual transmission and a limited slip differential.

Chassis and Suspension

Like several of its competitors of the early 2000s, the GT’s chassis was formed from aluminum extrusions, castings and stampings. Ford was the first automaker to use friction-stir welding, which provides strong welds without the need for heat treatment. The company claimed the chassis was 40 percent stiffer than the Ferrari 360 Modena [presumably in torsion], its target at the time.

Weight distribution is typical for mid-engine cars, with 43/57 percent split front to rear, riding on a suspension which consists of upper A arms and lower L-shaped arms. While hydraulic power steering and anti-lock brakes came standard, the purist GT did not come with any form of stability control (aside from the driver).

Four piston Brembo calipers are paired with drilled and vented brake discs at each corner (14 inch front and 13.2 inch rear). Standard cast aluminum wheels originally came with Goodyear Eagle F1 235/45ZR-18 (front) and 315/40ZR-19 (rear).

Body

As with the GT40 and a number of prototype race cars, one of the GT’s more distinctive features is the radiator exit in the hood which channels airflow upward over the windshield.

But with about four decades between itself and the GT40, the GT has far more advanced aerodynamics, something not well understood with ground vehicles in the 1960s. The GT has a front splitter, a fully enclosed underbody and a rear diffuser to generate downforce.

The body’s aluminum panels were made using a Super Plastic Forming (SPF) process. This method required less tooling than conventional stamping methods and was more cost effective for low volume production.

The gigantic rear clamshell hood is equipped with an inside lining made of carbon fiber to provide adequate rigidity.

Another notable feature is the shape of the doors, which encompass a substantial portion of the roof and open up to 90 degrees. For a road car this can present a number of challenges during ingress and egress that can easily result in heads whacking the door. Parking near other objects can also make it tricky if not impossible, for occupants to get in and out.

Interior

Inside, the seat covers and toggle switches continue the retro theme of the exterior. Like most mid-engine cars, outward visibility isn’t great and cargo capacity approaches zilch. Perhaps this coziness precluded the installation of side air bags, which might not have any place to inflate should the car be involved in an accident (I say that tongue in cheek). An extraneous starter button complements the ignition key.

Performance

Its EPA rating of 14/21 city/highway mpg is about par for the course for a car capable of hauling its 3,400 pounds from zero to 60 mph in 3.8 seconds, brake from 60 mph to a stop in about 117 feet and pull almost 1g on the skidpad. Top speed, which is reached in fifth gear since sixth gear is overdrive, is 205 mph.

Unlike most other high end sports cars, the GT’s list price of about $140,000 was a relative bargain. However, options and price gouging by dealers bumped up transaction prices substantially. The GT was generally well received by fans and media, and won the 2005 Road & Track Reader’s Choice Dream Car Award.

A little more than 4,000 units were produced by Saleen, which was contracted to handle paint and final assembly. The final Ford GT rolled off its Michigan assembly line in 2006.

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