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North America: 2005 Ford GT: They’re really building it!

July 2003

Even after CEO Bill Ford announced production plans for the Ford GT in February 2002, a month after the GT40 concept debuted at the Detroit auto show, we had our doubts. With Ford in its worst economic slump in 20 years, would the company, could the company, really build a limited run of 500-hp exotic sports cars?

After meeting with the development team and driving three prototypes, we can assure you that Ford is completely serious about this car. Three GTs, as they’re now called, correct in appearance and hardware but not in every development detail, debuted at Ford’s centennial celebration in Dearborn in June. Production-car deliveries will follow in the spring of 2004.

John Coletti, Ford’s well-known performance guru and the head of Special Vehicle Team Engineering, leads the 140-person Ford group that will make this powerful sports car a reality. Neil Ressler, Ford’s retired chief technology officer and one of the smartest auto execs we’ve ever met, serves as the GT’s behind-the-scenes godfather. The development chief is Neil Hannemann, a former Chrysler engineer whose résumé lists development work on the Viper and the Saleen S7, as well as several SCCA championships.

Hannemann and his crew spent last winter at Ford’s Florida Evaluation Center, where they have been flogging three GT development mules. All three cars are, at best, only approximations of the production GT. Their exterior shapes are about right, but their interiors are crude mockups, with an SVT Mustang instrument cluster grafted onto a plain, industrial-looking dash.

The production GT will use a structure that is conceptually similar to that of the Ferrari 360 Modena, with large castings at all four suspension attachment points, linked together with a network of extruded aluminum tubes—each optimized in size and shape to achieve the required stiffness and strength at minimal weight.

The suspension will consist of unequal-length aluminum control arms in conjunction with front and rear anti-roll bars and coil-over pressurized monotube shocks from Dynamic Suspensions. One-piece brake calipers acting on giant vented and cross-drilled rotors—14.0 inches up front and 13.2 inches at the rear—will stop the car.

Clearly, there will not be any platform sharing going on in the GT. But to save a buck here and there, the GT employs some corporate parts. The upper ball joints, the rear brake rotors and calipers, and the ZF steering gear are all from Aston Martin. Its rear suspension uses toe-control links from the Jaguar S-type. The lower ball joints in front are from the Lincoln Town Car, and the steering column is a Focus part.

Perhaps the most recognizable component in the GT will be the engine, essentially a 5.4-liter version of the supercharged 32-valve DOHC V-8 from the SVT Mustang Cobra fitted with dry-sump lubrication. Expect about 500 horsepower and 500 pound-feet of torque. This engine will be coupled to a six-speed transaxle purpose-built by Ricardo for the GT.

The mules we drove were a bit short of these lofty specifications, however. Their structures were conceptually correct but were less rigid and about 100 pounds heavier than the production version. The suspension geometry and the major brake hardware were close, but the gearbox used a jury-rigged, none-too-precise linkage, and the engine was the standard 4.6-liter Cobra V-8, down about 100 horses from the production version.

Finally, the bodywork, while being fairly faithful to the GT40 Mark I–inspired lines of the mid-’60s Le Mans racers, was made from fiberglass rather than aluminum and missing most key aerodynamic details. Hannemann promises that the production car, with its front lip spoiler, flat bottom, and rear tunnels, will generate more downforce than the Ferrari Modena.

The purpose of the red mule, which was painted over a weekend on the sly, is ride and handling development. Although its calibration is immature, owing to the production variations detailed above, it feels rigid and responsive. The suspension has 6.3 inches of travel and is supple over the calibrated jolts on the track’s ride-evaluation road, although it’s hard to come to any definitive ride conclusions because the cockpit is filled with a cacophony of supercharger whine, wind noise, and general mechanical thrashing.

On the handling track, with its long, constant-radius bends, the red mule is easy to drive. There’s huge grip from the massive Goodyear Eagle F1 tires, and the car feels well-planted. This track brings out the understeer in a car, and that’s exactly what the GT delivers at the limit. But we could get it to drift a bit when we applied full power while tightening the line. With the production engine’s additional 100 horsepower, it should be a lot easier to balance the car.

The black mule is the steering and braking development car. Its power-assisted rack-and-pinion mechanism feels direct and linear, if a little lazy on-center, which is not inappropriate for a car that will be capable of about 200 mph. The red car’s steering was much more immediate, and the final calibration is clearly still evolving.

With 57 percent of its weight on the rear wheels, huge brakes, and wide tires, the GT sheds speed with astonishing quickness. Although adjustments are still being made, we are satisfied these components are capable of combining a firm and linear pedal feel with the tiny initial cushiness needed to allow imperceptibly smooth brake applications.

The seating position in all three mules was so low that we felt somewhat buried, but the relationship of the steering wheel, pedals, shifter, and seat is superb. We particularly like the position of the shift lever. It’s in the same plane as the steering wheel and is offset on the left side of the tunnel, placing the shift knob only a hand’s width from the steering-wheel rim.

When the GT goes on sale next spring, it will be a remarkable bargain at less than $150,000. That undercuts the Ferrari 360 Modena, a wonderful car that the GT should be able to leave in its dust. With terrific traction, 500 horsepower, and a weight anticipated at less than 3400 pounds, we expect 0-to-60 times of about 3.5 seconds and quarter-miles in the high-11s.

A total of 4500 cars will be hand-built by selected UAW employees at Ford’s plant in Wixom, Michigan. The production will end—due to the start of new crash regulations—by September 2006. We would advise prospective owners to start establishing a strong relationship with a Ford dealer today.

2005 FORD GT

Vehicle type: mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive, 2-passenger, 2-door coupe
Estimated base price: $149,000
Engine type: supercharged and intercooled DOHC 32-valve V-8, aluminum block and heads, Ford EEC-V engine-control system with port fuel injection

Displacement: 330 cu in, 5410cc
Power (SAE net): 500 bhp @ 6500 rpm
Torque (SAE net): 500 lb-ft @ 3250 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Wheelbase: 106.7 in
Length: 182.8 in
Width: 76.9 in
Height: 44.3 in
Curb weight: 3350 lb

C/D-estimated performance:
Zero to 60 mph: 3.5 sec
Zero to 100 mph: 8.6 sec
Standing 1/4-mile: 11.8 sec @ 120 mph

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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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