Ford let us take their $450,000 monster on track in Utah
Back in the 1960s, Ford was doing decent business
Their top model, a V-8 Shelby Cobra, was an admired and coveted halo car. However Henry Ford II knew sales could really spike, and racing could be the impetus. Win on Sunday on a track, watch the showroom explode on a Monday. But why build a racing program from scratch when you can just buy a successful outfit from someone else? Thus, Henry the Second approached Enzo Ferrari and made him a sizable offer: $10 million to purchase half of Ferrari.
After nine months of negotiations, Ford II thought the deal was solid, but Enzo had second thoughts and walked away, leaving Ford fuming. An angry titan of industry is not someone to trifle with and the enraged Ford wanted to hit Ferrari where it would hurt the most: on the track. Specifically at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, where Ferrari was dominating the podium. Ford commissioned the development of the Ford GT40, solely to demolish Ferrari’s winning streak.
Ford succeeded—four years in a row starting in 1966. Ferrari was utterly humiliated.
The supercar successor to that storybook Ford GT40 has some big shoes to fill, though Ford Motor Company didn’t set out to build the second coming of the track goliath of yesteryear. No, a program called Project Silver, centered around a Mustang-based sports car had to flop before a new Ford GT was even considered. Work did eventually commence, a top-secret skunkworks skeleton crew toiling in the middle of the nights in the basement, behind blacked out windows, coming in on Sunday mornings when the factory was empty.
Two years later, the sum of their furtive efforts was unveiled to a floored Detroit Auto Show in January of 2015. Later that year, the GT returned to Le Mans with Chip Ganassi Racing and—50 years later—again beat Ferrari for a class win.
Now the GT is starting to roll off the line, into the very anxious hands of very select buyers. What are those lucky bastards getting? One hell of an unorthodox supercar. (America’s only supercar, mind you.) For starters, it’s mid-engined, but that engine is a twin-turbo 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6. A V-6 powerplant from Detroit. Can a supercar even be a V-6? It can when it makes 647-horsepower and 550 lb-ft of torque. Ford claims the top speed is 215 mph. You have to be approved by Ford to purchase one and only then can you fork over a whopping $450,000. This sucker is phenomenally expensive.
What makes it so pricey? In part, its DNA and that it was designed and developed alongside that aforementioned racing GT that is lightning on the track. Ford Performance, an amalgamation of Ford SVT and Ford Racing, spearheaded the project and was responsible for taking that 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 powerplant—the same one utilized in everything from a Taurus to a Flex making it goddamn bonkers. (Interestingly, the GT’s engine shares 60 percent of parts as the Ford Raptor.) But what’s unique about the engine here is the anti-lag system that those twin turbos employ. By keeping the turbos constantly spinning, the whoosh of boost and that accompanying torque is available from the minute you touch the accelerator.
Another factor in that enormous sticker price is the rarity. Ford says only 250 GTs will be produced and sold each year for the next four years, and after the 1,000th car rumbles off the line, that’s all she wrote. That production cap does increase price and perceived value, but still, the 2017 GT comes in head and shoulders above much of its supercar ilk. The McLaren 720S? $288,745. Ferrari’s 488 sounds like a damn bargain at $250,000. (It is cheaper than a Lamborghini Aventador SV, which will set you back $493,095.)
Ford designers wanted the GT to perform exceptionally well whether on the road or track. Ganassi Racing has proved the latter time and again—at Daytona, Sebring and Le Mans. What helps secure all those podiums? Drivers like Joey Hand, Tony Kanaan, Dirk Muller and Scott Dixon knowing how to control this missile, sure, but also having a car that is glued to the asphalt. Engineers worked like hell to make sure the GT’s aerodynamics were beyond on point. The striking design of the vehicle isn’t just for aesthetics; it’s to help the Blue Oval slice through the air. Function and form are both at their apex in the design here.
The airflow on top and below the car has been optimized to make sure there’s as much downforce as possible. When in track or V-MAX mode, the whole car drops in a second, thanks to a hydraulically-actuated pushrod suspension, leaving the GT sitting an impressive 2.5 inches from the ground. (Normal ride height is 4.7 inches.) When the GT gets low, it’s rear wing goes high, popping up to help stabilize the car at high speeds. If you’re hitting 150 mph, the air flowing over and under the car and that wing seamlessly work to add up to 400 pounds of downforce.
The flying buttresses in the rear have a sizable gap between the outer pieces and the engine. That’s purposeful, to further aid in airflow over and through the car. To be able to add those necessary elements, the cockpit and cabin had to be as small and narrow as possible. And this is another reason a V-6 was selected over, say, the “Voodoo” Ford V-8 powerplant; the V-6 is smaller and will allow for more negative space around it to be used for aero.
What does that mean for those inside the vehicle? You better like your passenger. You will be millimeters from him or her. Since the cabin has been shrink-wrapped around the occupants, there’s not a ton of room in there, and you will be brushing shoulders the entire time. The center console is only about 1.5 inches wide, between the fixed seats. Fixed as in molded to the carbon fiber tub. There’s no adjusting them forward or back, just a few degrees of rake in the seat back to help wedge in taller occupants, including my 6’2” frame.
Stomp the dead pedal while yanking a cable next to your right thigh and the pedals come loose, allowing you to push or pull them to your desired amount of leg bend. The steering column has two adjustments as well; coarse and fine, which allows you to move the wheel around enough to where you’re able to get full lock without slamming your knees. Rudimentary? A bit, but it’s all done to save weight. Comfortable? Also only a bit, but any lingering displeasure will evaporate with the start of the engine.
The wheel comes straight from the GT race car, and the likes of Joey Hand played an integral role in helping develop it to a point where everything you’d need and want is front and center. No fumbling around behind for a windshield washer stalk; the only thing behind the wheel are those stiff paddle shifters. That same sense of rigidity continues throughout the cabin, because it’s all mostly one giant piece of carbon fiber. The dash, the foot wells, even the A-pillars are all carbon.
Of course, that’s done for lightness and highly effective as the GT weighs a hair over 3,000 pounds. But it’s also done because the tub is an FIA-approved roll cage that’s just seamlessly integrated into the body of the car. That’s a comforting feeling knowing that you won’t end up in a mangled pile of aluminum if you’re cracking on past 160 mph when a tire blows or something.
Right. So it’s an absurdly well-designed car. But how’s it drive?
It’s. Fucking. Brilliant.
Nosing out into the picturesque long stretches of tarmac somewhere in the suburbs of Salt Lake City, Utah, the GT eats up the road. Hammer it, and start putting the seven-speed dual clutch transmission through its paces and you’ll quickly note that the digital speedometer cannot keep up with your actual speed. It just starts skipping numbers until you’re steady enough on the throttle for it to get you a consistent measure. That is an incredible thing.
Behind you, the V-6 sings a worthy song. For those fearing they’d miss the note of 8-cylinders, fret not. The GT sounds sublime. There’s just a hint of turbo whoosh, a trace of boost underpinning an engine that sounds more like an small-bore V-8. It’s got a low, throaty growl that will alert your ears long before it comes into sight. Running it up and down through the seven gears, all the way to the redline, produces an eargasm the likes of which you’ll want on repeat.
As the lights flicker on the top of the steering wheel—green, red, blue, shift now!—you’ll wonder what will end first: the road or your willpower to keep the accelerator mashed to the footwell. (Spoiler: it’s your willpower. After cresting 140 mph on a particularly long straight, and not even feeling like the car was even trying, I backed off the throttle.) The power is absolutely incredible. That anti-lag turbos system, active in Sport or Track mode, zaps the time the torque hits at 3,000 rpm from 1.2 seconds to 0.7 seconds. Punch it and get ready to be sledgehammered back into your seat.
Up in the snow-kissed Utah mountains, the GT comes alive. It’s supremely light and nimble, and excels at changing directions in an instant. The agileness means it’s balanced and composed no matter what you’re throwing at it. A sharp decreasing right-hander with marked at 30 mph? Let’s fly through there at 75, nary a hint of wheel squeal or distress. The steering input required to keep it screaming through any bout of tricky switchbacks is minimal and you can really get into a fun rhythm of banging through the esses at unreal speeds, those 20-inch Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires getting sticky enough to send some loose rocks pinging off the undercarriage.
On the road, the GT feels like a race car. That’s what Ford wanted and that’s what they’ve done. To really put it on the limit, we head to the track at Utah Motorsports Campus, home to Ford’s Performance Race Schools. There are two tracks and on the East one, a Porsche club is running 911s. We’re directed to the West track, past a throng of incredulous GT3 owners, most of whom appear crestfallen their German steeds aren’t the pinnacle at the track.
Popping the car into Track mode is something that can only occur when the car is parked. The rear wing springs up while the car slams down 2 inches in under a second. It’s a functional but neat trick that makes you feel like you’re dropping off the jacks in pit lane. Other track bits are happening underneath you, too. The coil springs compress hydraulically and the spring rate stiffens all around, thanks to shorter torsion bars. You’re ready to attack any track.
Firing through right-handers named Knock Out and a triple-turn right-hander called Demon, Devil and Diablo, the GT unleashes. Throw your worst at it. The GT doesn’t care. Clip some curbing, add a little steering in a corner after you’ve come in too hot, run wide over a mid-corner bump; the GT deftly responds with aplomb. It’s a confidence-inspiring car, though I’m not a good enough driver to push it to the brink.
Thankfully Joey Hand is. The 38-year-old Ganassi driver has pushed a liveried GT to victory in Sebring, Daytona and Le Mans. And Hand was integral in testing the very car which we’re now strapped in, he behind the wheel he helped design, me nestled up against him in the passenger seat. Hand gives a little chuckle as we set off. “Y’know, it’s okay if you wanna throw up,” he cracks, as we tear down the front straight.
After seven whacks around the track, the best time I was able to muster was a 1:55. Hand shredded us through at 1:34. By setting the car on the line and modulating the throttle and six-piston Brembos up front, he was able to keep the car precisely where he wanted it, with only a nominal degree of (purposeful) slip. Hand notes how easy it is to keep everything tidy when you want and how you can really step if out, too, if the slideways thing is your cup of tea.
Kissing the brakes on a tight corner entry for more grip on the turn-in, Hand rolls back on the power just before the apex before mating the accelerator and pinning me against my seat. You can feel everything Hand’s doing and precisely how the car is instantly responding. The level of connectedness between GT and driver is unreal and the finesse with which Hand is able to wheel this rocket is incredible.
The 2005 Ford GT was an homage to the original GT40. The 2017 Ford GT is the real deal. It may be outrageously expensive, lack a cabin comfortable enough for the average corn-fed American, or a big honking V-8, or even a trunk that has more than 0.4 cubic feet of space, nor may it be your first choice for a comfortable grand tourer. But literally none of that matters. The GT is absurdly powerful, exceptionally agile, has scalpel precision and offers one of the best driving experiences you’ll ever have.
America’s only supercar is proof that America is already great.