Does GT Live Up To The Legend?
Wednesday 4th June 2003
AutoExpress/ photos from Automobile Magazine
How's this for the best birthday present ever? On the eve of Ford's 100th anniversary, Auto Express climbed behind the wheel of the company's most eagerly awaited sports car, the sensational new GT, which was first revealed at the 2002 Detroit Motor Show.
Inspired by the legendary GT40 racers that competed at the Le Mans 24 Hours in the late Sixties, this vehicle is a no-holds-barred rival to the world's finest supercars - and we were about to test its abilities to the full.
There's drizzle in the air in Naples, Florida, where Ford has borrowed the Harley-Davidson proving ground to let us drive the newcomer. Even so, it takes only a couple of laps before the GT touches 75mph through a tricky right-hand sweeper of the twisting track.
The aim of the new model - which is scheduled to go on sale in late 2004, priced about £100,000 - is not to compete with other American muscle cars such as the Chevrolet Corvette and Chrysler Viper, but to take on the best Europe's elite can offer. And it seems as though the GT may well succeed because, unlike its predecessor, this is not an intimidating race car but a thoroughly usable vehicle with awesome performance and a brilliant chassis.
In the wet, we can coax the tail of the mid-engined machine to get loose, but a slight movement of the steering wheel brings it back into line. The car's attitude is corrected so quickly that you have forgotten about the incident by the time you reach the next corner. This forgiving character will be necessary, since the production model is not likely to be fitted with traction control.
Chassis manager Hubert Mees says the GT is much more forgiving than a Ferrari 360 Modena, and is easier to collect after you exceed its limits. We will have to take his word for this, though, because we didn't go overboard during our drives in the three test cars Ford had brought for us to sample.
The engine is impressive, the 4.6-litre V8 sporting the telltale whine of a supercharger, but not as mighty as the V8 pencilled in for production. That will be an aluminum 5.4-litre unit offering at least 500bhp - the 400bhp version we tried is for testing purposes only.
We wonder if the extra power of the production powerplant will frighten or thrill us. Even with the smaller engine on board, the car is fantastically quick. The power delivery is so incredibly smooth that you think you're going 10-20mph slower than you really are.
These early GTs have an air splitter under their noses, to avoid the vicious lift of the original Sixties' design. The splitter directs air under the car into channels that exit ahead of the rear wheels on production cars, although on our prototype the air exits behind the rear wheels. As we climb out, we have to be careful not to touch the sills with the back of our leg, as the exhaust is routed through here.
We jump into a second car for a comparison drive, and the first thing we notice is that the clutch on both GTs works exactly the same, and is Honda-smooth and light. It's certainly more civilised than the knee-busters in Porsche 911 Turbos or Lamborghinis.
This second test model is painted in red and white. Ride and handling engineer Jeff Walsh (who helped develop the Lotus Elise's suspension) is proud of the tuning he's done, and shows telemetry readings that say we pulled 1.015G through one corner - which is more than it felt like when we were behind the wheel. We suspect the advantage of the mid-engined layout is what makes the GT feel so balanced.
While we were driving, another prototype sat on display, painted in the famous blue and orange Gulf Oil livery. This is the refinement mule, used for tracking down vibrations and noise by the engineers, as well as being used for our exclusive pictures.
Following our drives, we wondered how different the final production cars would be. Customer models will have an air intake behind the driver's ear on the B-pillar, as well as double glass separating the cabin from the engine compartment to keep noise down. But Ford says the Sparco carbon-fibre racing seats will be virtually identical.
What we hope most is that the GT keeps it character. Deep down this is a Ford - a car which is as easy for a racing driver to master as it is for the man in the street to drive. We can't wait to try the finished edition.
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.....