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By Jan Wagner - syndicated weekly columnist/photojournalist
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FORD GT: First Ride

 

By now the event that Ford enthusiasts everywhere have waited for with eager anticipation has probably occurred. Production of the new FORD GT supercar began in late June. The first customer delivery was scheduled for Wednesday, August 4th. The very fortunate owner placed the successful bid for the car in a charity auction. I learned this at my regular monthly meeting of the Motor Press Guild in Los Angeles. That new owner must be the envy of every car nut in the neighborhood.


FORD GT

Another fortunate future owner of a FORD GT was seated next to me at our table. When I asked him when he expected to take delivery of his car he told me 2006. Ouch.


John Coletti – Director, Ford SVT

Then our packed house welcomed our very special guest speaker – Mr. John Coletti, Director of Ford’s Special Vehicle Team (SVT). We were not disappointed with either what he had to say or his entertaining way of saying it. I truly wish I could also share my special treat at the end, but instead my real world impressions of it will have to suffice. First, here’s more of what we heard at the presentation.

John began by telling us a little of how the FORD GT came to be. The name of the car was of special interest to our group. Its predecessor was legendary. The FORD GT 40 dominated at LeMans in the 60s, soundly beating Ferrari and all comers. It served as a rolling testimonial to Ford’s superior engineering. So when word of the new car started to surface, we assumed that it, too, would be called the FORD GT 40. That was not to be. As John told us, the 40 part of the name referred to its height so, to be accurate, this car should be called the GT 43 ½. That doesn’t quite sound right. On a more serious note, there was a problem with the rights to the name having been bought by someone else. Rather than paying them an exorbitant sum to use it, the more appropriate name FORD GT was chosen.

So how does the new GT stack up to today’s Ferraris? According to John, after the Ford beat Ferrari in tests conducted by the Press, “Popular Mechanics quoted Ferrari’s Press Officer as saying Ferrari will no longer participate in comparison tests.” That telling statement prompted a huge round of spontaneous laughter from the crowd.

We also learned a little about what goes into Ford SVT products. It was a very enlightening presentation.

After the meeting we adjourned outside to ogle over the red, production FORD GT parked in the entryway of the restaurant. It was breathtakingly beautiful. The engine compartment contained a hand-built, 5.4 L 4V Supercharged V8.

 
                                      FORD GT                                                         Engine

Anticipating the event, I had brought along my good camera. The last time I’d been up close to a FORD GT was at last fall’s SEMA show in Las Vegas. I still remember my excitement at the end of last day of the show. The displays were being disassembled and the cars were being driven out. That included the white FORD GT prototype. I remember asking the car’s keeper if I might be allowed to sit in the car for a moment. He couldn’t let me do that. I settled for a picture of me standing beside it.


Jan beside FORD GT prototype at SEMA 2003

So you might be able to imagine how happy I was to be able to sit in this one. Totally unconcerned with how unprofessional my overt enthusiasm for the car might appear, I gave my camera to someone to take a picture of me in it. I figured that it may be the only time I would get to sit in one of these limited production dream cars. Little did I know that as rewarding as that experience was, the best was yet to come!


Jan in production FORD GT

Eventually people started to leave but I was still busy taking pictures. The future owner of a red one, who sat beside me at lunch, was getting the only ride of the day. I chased after the car as it drove away, snapping pictures as it drove down the street. Then I returned to speak with one of the very approachable Ford representatives.

  
FORD GT detail views

I don’t know exactly how or why it came about, but at some point in our conversation the Ford person asked me if I would like a ride in the car – if he could arrange it. Huh? I couldn’t believe what he just asked me. I was instantly in a stuttering state of shock. A broad smile firmly planted itself on my face. Uh, yes thank you, I would very much like a ride in your new FORD GT. I would also like to win the state lottery, and until you asked me this I had figured that I had a better chance of doing that. Bear in mind that some of the people who were at the meeting were there representing big name car magazines. While I like to think that my work doesn’t take a back seat to theirs, the difference in circulation is dramatic, so that was an especially nice offer to make to me, whether or not he could actually make it happen.

When the FORD GT returned the Ford guy walked over to the car and spoke with its driver. He was the same person who’d given me a ride several months ago when he brought the Escape Hybrid for a preview to San Diego. Then he motioned me to come over and get in. I was euphoric, even though my dream ride hadn’t even begun. Somehow I managed to put one foot in front of the other and walk over to the car without stumbling. I carefully put my camera bag on the floor, got in and fastened my seat belt.


FORD GT interior

This car is very comfortable. When I got into the inviting cabin there was plenty of room around me. In many ways it is just like a very well fitted luxury car. It is even quiet with the engine at idle. In terms of the interior accommodations, this is a car that one could easily live with every day. Oh how I would love to have the opportunity to prove that!

Then, after leaving the restaurant’s parking lot, we took off. And do I mean took off! The acceleration of the FORD GT is phenomenal. Aah! I don’t remember how many gears we went through but that was probably the quickest acceleration run through the gears on a city street that I’ve ever experienced in my life. By that point I was almost ready to sell my house for one of these cars. I want mine to be in the Gulf racing color scheme, thank you.

The brief acceleration run reminded me of when I had a ride in the passenger space of the Wynn’s Pontiac Spice GTP car at an IMSA race weekend in Del Mar. We took a couple laps around the track on Press Day. I think that was over ten years ago but hopefully I will never forget it. Some events, like that one and today’s, stay with you.

You expect a supercar to accelerate quickly, but next the driver told me he was going to show me something I probably wasn’t expecting. We turned down a side street and found it covered with potholes, ruts and nasty bumps. Bear in mind that this wasn’t a carefully staged course designed to highlight the car to its best advantage. This was a badly run-down LA side-street. If I had driven down this road in my Miata Club Sport with its adjustable Koni shocks set to full stiff (as they always are) it would have made bad noises. It would have crashed down hard on the bumps. It would have been a bone-jarring experience. Yet when he drove the FORD GT over those bumps we could barely feel them. I am not kidding. It absorbed anything and everything that this rotten, poorly maintained LA road had to throw at us.

How could this be? Surely sports cars, and certainly supercars such as this, could not have compliant, bump-absorbing rides? In response to my question the driver explained that part of the smooth ride has to do with the car’s incredibly stiff chassis. As best as I could understand him, I think what he was trying to tell me is that by making the chassis super stiff the suspension could be made more compliant over the bumps, yet still be stiff enough to work very well in the corners (as I would find out next).

I asked the driver what the car was like to drive. I’ve owned a couple of very heavily modified sports cars in my day, including a Porsche, and they were a royal pain to drive on the street. One would bog on acceleration at anything below 3,500 rpm, so I asked the driver what would happen if he accelerated hard from low rpms. He dropped into a gear so that the car was turning about 1,500 rpms and then he punched it. It accelerated smoothly. No muss, no fuss. Incredible! He went on to tell me that the clutch is light and the gears shift with ease. It even has a high-end MacIntosh audio system. This is a supercar that you could enjoy driving to a shopping mall – if you had the confidence to leave it parked while you were inside. It should be no more difficult to drive around town that any normal, albeit extremely powerful and agile, street car. For it to have the high level of performance that it does, and also the ability to be easily driven on the street is an incredible automotive achievement. I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t experienced it for myself. To say that Ford has gotten it really right with this car is an understatement. It is a wonderful, wonderful car. Ford should win awards for it.


FORD GT leaving our meeting

All too soon our ride was over. I was smitten by the FORD GT and especially by my very special ride. In gratitude I will probably be gushing in praise of anything Ford for months to come. Please forgive me … until next month, when our very special guest speaker from Chevrolet will be bringing the new Corvette!

As always, please share your stories and send your comments to AutoMatters@gmail.com. Enjoy the archives and more at www.AutoMatters.net. Drive safely and do join me again next time.

 

Copyright © 2004, 2006 Jan R. Wagner – #112r1 AutoMatters

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