Ford's GT a great car that presents a challenge to rivals
By John McCormick / Autos Insider
LAGUNA SECA, Calif. -- Even though Ford Motor Co. will only sell a few thousand of its forthcoming GT sports coupes, the car could not come at a better time for the automaker.
Mired in financial problems and lacking competitive models in several key product segments, Ford needs a so-called "halo car" both to boost consumer interest in the brand and to raise employee morale.
And to judge by reaction to the 500-horsepower GT at its race track press debut here, Ford's first-ever production supercar will do that and more.
Talk show host and acknowledged car buff Jay Leno was at Laguna Seca determined to be among the first to drive the GT. Leno also made it clear that he wants to buy one of the first of the $150,000 two-seat coupes when production starts next summer.
Chris Theodore, Ford's vice president for advanced product creation, knows that most consumers drawn to Ford showrooms next year to see the GT will not be able to afford the coupe. But he hopes they will end up buying new models such as Ford's forthcoming 500 sedan.
"It's no secret we have had a hole in our line-up," Theodore said. "But 2004 is the year of the car for Ford and the GT will be a great image vehicle for the brand."
Beyond its halo effect for Ford products as a whole, the GT, with its extremely compressed, two-year development target, is bolstering the automaker's engineering prowess.
"Doing programs like this in impossible time frames builds great engineers," Theodore said. "You have 10 years experience crammed into two. That sort of learning really pays off in meeting real world programs."
Fred Goodnow, the GT's design, engineering and launch manager, reinforced Theodore's point about the GT's fast-to-market development. He said a typical product program will use about 200 prototypes. The GT has 15.
"These cars never have time to cool down," Goodnow said.
Goodnow said most of the major engineering hurdles have been met with the GT. The main challenge left to conquer before the car goes on sale is refinement.
"This car is three times more expensive than the most costly vehicle we make today, which is the Navigator," Goodnow said. "We have to make sure all the little things work properly, that the craftsmanship is there."
For sports car enthusiasts, the impending arrival of the GT is genuine cause for celebration, not just for the GT itself but because it throws down the gauntlet to Ford's crosstown rivals -- Chevrolet and Dodge -- not to mention Porsche and Ferrari.
It's widely known that Chevrolet is preparing to launch its sixth generation Corvette next year, with a super high performance version to follow that will compete with Ford's GT. And Dodge will not want its Viper to be left behind as the rivalry heats up among Detroit's sports car elite.
By next summer we should be looking at the hottest line-up of performance cars Detroit has ever offered.
(Left Photo)Ford GT (left) in blue -- company designer chief J. Mays' favorite color -- goes head to head with original GT40 race car.
(Middle Left)Camilo Pardo, GT designer, with original GT40.
(Middle Right)Race car greats, Carroll Shelby and Jackie Stewart, at the GT's launch.
(Jay Leno listens in as GT launch manager Fred Goodnow (right) discusses the car's development.
My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.
My next Ford.....