Simon Rockman stumbled across a GT40 in Canada recently
Ford built the original GT40 to win Le Mans and to spite Enzo Ferrari. Ford was a long way into the process of buying Ferrari when Enzo Ferrari pulled out and the top men at Ford were none to happy about it.
Now the new $150,000 Ford GT retro supercar aims to take on the Ferrari Enzo. At least thatís what the man from Ford told me. With a 360 like price (although expect it to cost £140,000 here) the Ford value proposition is that it will be as fast as an Enzo. This means a top speed of around 200mph (although not necessarily over 200mph) and a 0-60 time of 3.8 seconds. Aerodynamics have moved on a lot in the last forty years as is evidenced by a huge diffuser, aerodynamic treatment around the wing mirrors and a tiny Gurney flap.
What the new car does brilliantly is evoke the spirit of the car which stormed Le Mans in 1966. It is however quite a bit bigger - about 18 inches - and now has rear bumpers, albeit cleverly designed.
The original GT40 was built under Fordís direction by Lola and a similar approach has been adopted for the new model. The GT is produced similarly with Saleen Ė the US supercar manufacturer.
The interior is more Audi TT than anything else with fantastic attention to detail and wonderfully tactile switches. The car is aimed at Fat Cats so the seating is more accomodating than those in a true race car. Unfortunately a detail in the seats which was not carried over the decades was the GT40ís eyelet vents in the seats. Ford found metal got too hot and plastic wouldnít hold the colour so instead they are echoed in the design.
Another major change the Fat Cat customers have influenced is the lack of sills. Racing drivers might be lithe enough to jump in and out of a tub, but itís not something you want to do pulling up outside a swish restaurant. The Ford GT has low sills, with the rigidity of the aluminium spaceframe borne Lotus-like down the centre. This is used as part of the interior design. Similarly the aluminium decoration on the door forms part of the structural rigidity. The classic doors cut into the roof and provide something for you to bang your head against when you get out. Itís not a mistake you make twice. Lugs in the roof of the car locate the top of the door and keep it true at speed.
The development budget didnít stretch to both a paddle and a standard gearshift, and so in keeping with the retro nature the traditional solution won out. Itís the aspect of the car which is undergoing the most stringent development at the moment.
Ford is looking to sell very many more Ford GTs than Ferrari does 360s, the target for the first model year is 2200 cars with a final run of 4500 cars. Even then itís not a particularly profitable operation, itís being run for halo effect rather than sheer profit.
It's something which may irk another member of the Ford family which has to sell DB9s at a profit...
The car I looked at was at the US Grand Prix for a photo shoot with Ralph Firman. Unfortunately the back of the pits was the nearest it came to a track, and in a atmosphere of Formula 1 V10s and the amazingly rorty safety cars the Ford GT sounded a little too civilized. It doesnít quite pull of the Enzo basher either, but at a third of the price thatís not surprising. Nor does the marketing manís claim that the Enzo is itís target sound particularly credible, however with so many reviewers and potential customers telling him itís so much better than a 360 you can understand why hyperbole got the better of him.