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Ford first showed a GT40 concept in Detroit at the 2002 North American International Auto Show and planned to build the mid-engine supercar to celebrate the Blue Oval's Centennial. Public response to the resurrection of the record-setting winner of four consecutive Le Mans 24-Hour races in the 1960s was so overwhelming the company decided to build a limited run in production form.
The 2005 Ford GT is that car. Ford plans to make approximately 1500 annually for two or three years, depending on demand. Powered by a 550-horsepower V8, fitted with a six-speed manual transmission and capable of speeds in excess of three times the legal maximum in most states, the two-seat GT is an exotic car in everything but price, although its manufacturer's suggested retail price of $150,000 puts it in exclusive company.
It's worth every penny. Although bordering on what some might consider Spartan in amenities, it's surprisingly comfortable and accommodating for a high-performance sports car. And it earns that high performance label, delivering an exciting driving experience, exhilarating speed and superior handling. It will stretch most drivers' personal limits on winding mountain roads while feeling not entirely out of sorts in commuter mode.
Still, it's not intended for weekend getaways, as there's really no trunk to speak of. Think of it as an occasional escape from the everyday, as rapid transport to the mountain cabin, not as an alternative way of life.
Put another way, it can't be the only car in the garage, but it'll be the car you'll want to drive.
Ford has made it easy to choose a GT: there's only one model, one engine and one transmission. It's a two-door, two-seat, much-massaged and softened rendition of the purpose-built racecar that won Le Mans. The engine is a high-tech, supercharged, midship-mounted, 5.4-liter V8 making a truly scintillating 550 horsepower and 500 pound-feet of torque. It comes with a six-speed manual transaxle.
The MSRP ($139,995) buys everything and more that anybody really needs to enjoy this car the way it should be enjoyed. This includes air conditioning, AM/FM/CD/MP3 two-speaker stereo, tilt-and-telescope steering wheel, power windows, seats and mirrors, abundant leather trim, keyless remote, and textured rubber floormats.
An optional McIntosh stereo ($4000) adds an eight-inch subwoofer and one-inch A-pillar speakers but still accommodating only a single CD and minus the MP3 capability. Other options: forged aluminum wheels ($3500), painted brake calipers ($750) in choice of red or gun metal gray (stock is black), and painted racing/bodyside logo stripes ($5000). Buyers looking for understatement can opt to delete the standard "Ford GT" bodyside tape stripes.
Standard safety equipment includes frontal airbags, antilock brakes, a child seat tether bracket and latch assembly on the passenger seat and a tire inflation kit in lieu of a spare tire.
Viewed by itself, the Ford GT can easily be mistaken for the original Le Mans-winning GT40 race car and its successors. Parked door by door, though, the '05 reveals the compromises necessary to deliver an honest, modern street car deserving of the gran tourismo moniker. It's larger in every dimension, fully 18 inches longer. The body ducting, while still functional, is more subtle, better integrated into the surface planes and curves. Still, there's no mistaking the GT's raison d'etre. It's meant to be driven quickly and fast, and lesser types assuming to share the same road beware.
Perhaps most refreshing, the '05's stylists did a masterful job of replicating the front end of the racing GTs while incorporating a bumper structure meeting federal crash standards. Projector-type, high intensity discharge headlamps are faired into the upper leading edges of the fenders, behind clear, aero-flush lenses. Foglamps peer out of mirror-image insets directly beneath at each end of a large intake feeding air to the front brakes and radiators, from which it then exits over the top of the bonnet, helping to minimize front end lift.
Although dimensionally distinct (the '05's roof is four inches higher, for instance), the side view is proportionally faithful to the racing GTs. It's less of a wedge shape than an organic form sculpted in a wind tunnel by air flowing past it at 200+ miles per hour. (Ford certified the GT's top speed at 205 mph during engineering testing in Italy.) Air flowing over the hood presses the front tires onto the pavement. The laid-back windshield and mildly arched roof ease the air over the top of the car to the radically raked backlight between fulsome, rounded rear fenders, which channel it to the wickerbill-tipped rear spoiler minimizing rear-end lift.
The GT leaves in its wake the visual memory of a business-like, function-oriented back end. Large, round taillights are reminders of a trademark of Fords of the Fifties and Sixties. An obvious concession to federal crash standards is the semi-floating rear bumper, although molding the housing for the dual exhausts into its lower edge masks somewhat its tacked-on look. As the original racing GTs reportedly suffered some rather exciting lightness of being at high speeds, Ford's designers stroked and straked the GT's underbody in a quest for downforce, evidence of which can be seen in the venturi-shaped extractor tunnels hugging the ground beneath the rear lower body panel. (They've learned a lot about aerodynamics since the 1960s.)
What look like levers in the front fenders clamping the bonnet to the body in reality aren't, but they are more than decoration. The one on the right-hand side releases the exposed, race car-like fuel filler cap recessed in the top of the fender. The one in the left-hand fender releases the trunk lid, exposing the brake and steering mechanicals and the only-slightly-larger-than-a-glove box cargo space. Both require the ignition key to operate. For the mechanically entranced, the engine resides in full view under the almost-horizontal rear window, along the sides of which can also be seen parts of the all-aluminum space frame.
The interior makes it clear the focus is on the driver, rather than the passenger. Not that the passenger suffers, by any means, but the occupant of the right-hand seat is along for the ride, nothing more. Nor should the interior be mistaken for that in a luxury car. Painted metal is visible around the door edges, for instance, and automatic climate control isn't available.
The refreshingly comprehensive instrument set is laid out centered on the driver, with the gauges monitoring the more critical functions positioned closest to the driver's line of sight. The lesser gauges stretch across the dash to the right in descending order of importance. All sit in a hooded pod sufficiently shaded for a quick scan in almost any light. Directly in front of the driver is the tachometer, reading to 8000 revolutions per minute and redlined at 6500 rpm (the rev limiter cuts in at 7000 rpm). To the left of the tach is the engine water temperature, which in the test car varied by more than 20 degrees depending on speed and ambient air temperature. To the right, and still visible within the arc of the steering wheel, is the oil pressure gauge. From there over to the most distant instrument, appropriately the speedometer (indicating a maximum 220 mph), are the voltmeter, boost monitor and fuel gauge. On a mini-shelf beneath the gauges are five toggle switches controlling the lights, rear defrost and hazard flashers.
A bright red button labeled Start is the highlight of the center stack. Next to this is the accessory power outlet, properly positioned for plugging in a radar detector. Recessed to the right of the outlet is the ignition key-operated off switch for the passenger airbag. Tucked in underneath these fixtures at the base of the C-stack are the stereo controls, hardly a convenient location for a panel that'll no doubt see frequent use. Foremost in the center console proper is the shift lever, ergonomically inclined toward the driver. Farther back, about where a driver's forearm might occasionally land, are the knobs and buttons for the air conditioning system. And to the rear of those is the padded armrest, sans any attempt at cupholders or storage bin.
Seats are ventilated with deep bottom cushions, sublimely comfortable over five-plus hours on high-speed rural interstates, but equally accommodating while creeping through rush hour traffic. Not to be remiss, they're also properly bolstered for rambunctious motoring along twisting two-lane roads. The fully adjustable steering wheel sports a rim that's tactilely ideal. Steering column-mounted stalks manage headlight high beams and windshield wipers and washers. Footwells are deep and wide, legroom more than adequate. Pedals are properly spaced, including the dead pedal. Fittingly, there is no cruise control.
Forward visibility is adequate, confined as it is by the relatively low roofline, long hood and high fenders. The huge C-pillars effectively eliminate rear quarter visibility, but the view out the rear window is better than expected, given the steep slope of the rear glass and ducktail-like rear spoiler. Side mirrors are good only for monitoring the lanes to each side of the car, as the bulbous rear fenders blind them to anything behind the GT.
Storage is almost an afterthought. The trunk's capacity is rated at a single cubic foot. There are a couple flat pockets behind the seats and a smallish bin tacked onto the side of the transmission tunnel in the passenger's footwell. Door handles, pulls and controls are convenient, but the door openings present some unique hazards; first, it's easy to bang a forehead on the overhang when clambering up out of the car, and tall drivers need to take care not to catch their hair in the top seal when closing the door. Also, the knob for adjusting the seatback angle is close enough to the base of the seatback for the inattentive to rip a thumbnail when rotating the knob. To get in, reach under the t
At some point in their lives, every car lover should get to drive a car like the 2005 Ford GT. This car is a dream come true, it's that simple. Turn the key, press the big red button, and the symphony begins. Needles swing this way and that around their dials on the dash, then settle in to their basic idle position. Adjust the seat, buckle up and ready, set, go.
Power is immediate and stunning, the engine pulling smoothly all the way to the rev limiter. Clutch action is light, take up is deceptively smooth. Freeway speeds are surpassed in mere blinks of the eye. At legal speeds, the massive torque renders superfluous half the transaxle's six gears. Only when engaging in speed exhibitions outlawed in every jurisdiction in the U.S. or while playing at the edge on a closed, purpose-built course, do you need to bother lodging the shift lever in each and every notch while winding the engine out to redline. Vented discs at all four corners haul the car down to socially responsible speeds repeatedly (and rapidly enough to foil all but instant-on radar guns) with zero fade. Steering is delightfully precise and responsive, especially for a car this heavy.
Opened up on a lonely rural interstate, the GT brings a giddy grin to the face of all but the most jaded. Getting around left-lane hogs is a snap, managed with the slightest pressure on the gas and without bothering to drop down even to fifth gear. Pay attention to the speedometer, though, as the needle reaches the low three digits with almost scary ease, and there's hardly anything stealthy about this car. Which isn't all bad, on the other hand, as all but the most recalcitrant do-gooders seem to feel the GT coming up behind them and move over often before you feel compelled to lift off the gas. Wind noise is nicely muted at legal speeds, although the combination of that and the ever-present resonance from the tires' oversized footprints requires cranking up the volume on the stereo (and on the radar detector) at speeds somewhat in excess of the posted maximum. Despite this and the constant inputs from the car's mechanicals and external sources, long drives are not especially tiring.
Those same tires add an harmonious note to the symphony of the engine, though, when you steer the GT off the interstate and introduce it to your own, secret back road. First, there's the off ramp, which you sweep through at a rate of travel that'd be at 12/10s in any mass-produced sports car you've driven 'til now. Then come the whoop-de-do's and tight, left-right-lefts separated by longish straight stretches you've come to know so well, only in the GT you'll see them as you never have. We never managed to unsettle the GT, even when we briefly pushed it beyond where we've gone in any other car. This credits its super-stiff, space-age space frame, its race-age suspension, its superb overall balance and, of course, those grippy tires.
Urban rush hour is another story and clearly not the GT's forte, not the least when the outside temperature approaches 100 degrees. The air conditioning is hard put to keep you cool, and calm is not a state of mind consistent with having to fuss with a manual transmission in stop-and-go traffic. The quick acceleration and sharp steering do allow you to slip the car into momentary gaps in traffic, provided you can spot them in time to take advantage of them and that there's enough room.
The Ford GT feels, looks and drives like a car costing much more than it does.
On top of which, it's easily competitive in every tangible measure with all but the most exotic of the cars wearing the Italian Prancing Horse.
And it's a Ford.
What a statement to make.