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First GT40 to stay all in family at Ford

December 10, 2002

CHICAGO -- You can send blank check, title to home or boat, what's left of your 401(k) or simply a wheelbarrow full of cash. But if you hope to use financial influence to get your hands on Vehicle Identification No. 1 of the Ford GT40 sports car, you are out of luck.

It goes to Bill Ford, chairman and chief executive.

In TV ads Ford says he'd love to tool around in a Mustang with a great audio system. But when the Mustang is being refueled, it appears he'd like to slip behind the wheel of a super-high-performance GT40 powered by a V-8 that develops 500 horsepower and 500 foot-pounds of torque -- forget about the tunes.

"The wheels will spin on this one," said Neil Ressler, GT40 senior technical adviser. Ressler brought the GT40 concept here as a visual aid to tell the Midwest Automotive Media Association that Ford has brought its SVT, racing and Living Legends operations into a Performance Group to develop limited-edition performance cars to entice folks into Ford, Mercury, and Lincoln showrooms.

The GT40 will be the Performance Group's crown jewel.

Ressler said while VIN 1 is accounted for, several Ford insiders also have expressed interest in purchasing a GT40. He wouldn't say how long the list is, but admitted the name Ressler is on it.

The GT40 is what Ressler calls the "resurrection of the mid-'60s go-fast car."

The GT40 bowed as a concept on the auto-show circuit this year. Within weeks the machine, a modernized and street-legal version of the car that beat Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the 1960s, was given a production go-ahead.

Henry Ford II wanted to buy Ferrari. When rebuffed, he gave the orders to build a GT40 to put Ferrari in its place.

Ressler wouldn't pinpoint the date the GT40 will appear but said a handful will be ready for Ford's 100th anniversary next fall before full-scale production gets under way in 2004.

No firm price, other than $100,000 plus change; no firm count on numbers to be produced, other than "the low thousands."

And no firm word on how long the GT40 will be produced.

"Some even tougher safety regulations are coming in 2006. We haven't decided if we can make it (GT40) past that. We don't know the answer yet. We'll wait until the first GT40 is built, see if it is a success, and then see if we can work on it to meet those regulations," Ressler said.

Mike Zevalkink, executive director of the Performance Group, said its mission is to produce niche vehicles.

Insiders said it's probable that such vehicles will include a niche version of the redesigned '05 Mustang, which will be built off the same platform as the Lincoln LS.

What the group won't do is come up with variants for Ford's alliance partners such as Volvo, Aston Martin, Jaguar and Mazda, Zevalkink said.

Nor will it develop gas/electric hybrid cars with a performance bent.

Honda officials said gas/electric hybrids can be developed to deliver high mileage or high performance. While Honda offers the high-mileage Civic hybrid, its Acura luxury division may soon bring out one or two high-performance sports hybrids.

"At Ford, hybrids are for getting better fuel economy," Ressler said.

Zevalkink said the group will focus on performance variants of existing cars, such as the 2003 Marauder edition of the Mercury Grand Marquis, within 12 to 18 months "if not faster" after deciding a variant is needed to attract or renew interest in a car line.

However, it won't wait until after a car is in showrooms for decades, like the Grand Marquis, before injecting performance life into it. Rather, such editions will be considered when future products are being developed, as Chrysler has done with limited-edition versions of the PT Cruiser.

Ressler said the group's mission is simple, to come up with cars that arouse passion in consumers.

How do you measure mission accomplished?

"By creating cars that when you drive by one in the dealership showroom, you stop, make a U-turn and come back to see it again, which is what people did with the Thunderbird," he said.

Some will argue that a Performance Group is ill-timed because no high-mileage, safety or emissions group was formed.

"The Performance Group will bring in the money to fund the research and development into fuel economy, safety, and zero emission fuel cells down the road," Zevalkink said.

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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.....
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