Welcome to the Utah Motosports Campus near Salt Lake City. It’s here, in the heartland of Trump’s America, that Ford is launching the new GT. Sitting neatly arranged in the pitlane are four examples of the fastest Ford ever: yellow with black stripes; white; a sort of cherry red; and black with orange stripes. Together they amount to £1.8M worth of automobile but for one day only they’re ours, on road and track.
More than two years have passed since the original concept car was unveiled at the Detroit Motor Show in January, 2015. Developed in top secret, literally in an underground bunker, it proved a sensation. Eighteen months later the GT won its class at the Le Mans, fifty years after the original Ford GT40 beat the might of Ferrari. Now we’re about to sample the road car, the first GT since 2005 and only the third in Ford’s history.
That 2005 car was a pastiche of the original GT40 and never raced under the Ford banner. It was charming but retro. The new car pays its dues – the shark-like nose and headlights are instantly familiar – but it looks forward too. The body, crafted entirely from carbon fibre, is a slave to the God of aerodynamics. Nothing on this car is superfluous, everything is designed to cheat or manipulate the air.
It’s shrink-wrapped around a tiny cockpit to reduce drag, a prerequisite of success at Le Mans, where the GT hit 190mph on the Mulsanne Straight, day and night. Freed of the regulations throttling the racer, the road car is even faster, hitting 216mph in a special V-Max mode. That a car built for such a pure purpose should be so beautiful is a testament to the brilliance of the design team led by Moray Callum. This could be the greatest automotive design of the 21st century – can you name a better?
Throw up a door and step into the cosy, carbon fibre cocoon. There’s no carpet or peripheral nonsense – the only luxury’s a cup holder, an inevitable sop to the American market. The seats are fixed so you pull an industrial cord and kick the pedals until they slide away. Grab another lever and pull the steering wheel closer. The driving position’s good, but the passenger seat’s so close you’ll be intimate, whether you like it or not.
There’s a digital dashboard, designed for simplicity, two flappy paddles and a baffling array of buttons on the GT steering wheel. Press the big red button on what passes for a centre console and arouse a cacophony of noise from behind your shoulders. It’s race car urgent and far from subtle. There’s no pretension here, no fancy tricks, just a focussed sense of purpose. Good.
Anyone expecting this GT to be a civilised supercar in the manner of the 2005 model is in for a shock. It isn’t really a rival to the Ferrari 488 or the new McLaren 720S; it’s a thinly disguised race car, licensed for the road. The boot is laughable. It has barely enough space for a pair of pants and a stick of deodorant, which will be slow roasted by heat soak from the engine. This is not a car for a jaunt to the French Riviera, it’s a plaything for the fortunate few. It’s a piece of escapism that will heighten the senses. So let us judge it as such.
We start on the road. Salt Lake City is surrounded by mountains that are home to some surprisingly good driving roads. It’s takes us about an hour to find them, by which time we’ve wound our way across a chunk of one of the US’s most religious and conservative States. The contrast with neighbouring Nevada (home to the sin city of Las Vegas) could not be greater.
It’s good to sample the GT in an environment that’s a bit more real world than the mountains or the track. For all it’s race car posturing, it’s not intimidating to drive. There are five different drive modes and if you leave it in ‘Wet’ or ‘Normal’, it will potter along at 70mph in 7th gear without drama. The ride quality is also far from brutal even if the ‘Comfort’ setting is stretching a bit. It rides better than a Focus RS, for example.
But it’s noisy. Maybe they ran out of budget or maybe they wanted to maximise the race car vibe, but the Ford Performance engineers didn’t bother with NVH. The noise from the road, mixed with the suspension and engine makes the GT a tiring companion. The stereo’s all but pointless and the air-con only just about manages to cool the cockpit.
You sit low, inboard and peer out through a visor of a windscreen – it’s not for the claustrophobic. The car’s Chief Engineer, Jameel Hameedi, says he wanted everyone who sits in the car to feel like, “They’re on the start line at Le Mans,” and he’s succeeded.
Salt Lake City resides at an altitude of 1600m. Apparently, the lack of oxygen robs the engine of seventy horses, but that even if that’s true, it still leaves another 577 to play with, plus 550 pound-feet of torque. The engine, a 3.5-litre V6, is normally found in a Ford Expedition and an F150 truck, but a couple of turbochargers give it a twist. Cynics will ask how you can charge £450,000 for a car with an engine from a truck, but as with all things GT, it does the job. “If this engine had existed in the 1960s, they’d have used it then too,” says Hameedi. His argument is simple – we beat Ferrari at Le Mans so get over it.
You don’t get the epic soundtrack of a V8 and nor does it rev to the stratosphere, but somehow its angry, brutal cry seems to suit this car’s character. It adds to the racer vibe – this is not supposed to be a piece of couture.
For reasons they won’t fully explain, Ford has decided not to release performance figures for the GT, save for the top speed. Hameedi simply says 0-60mph takes, “around three seconds.” Suffice to say that even at altitude, you’re unlikely to complain about a lack of power. Third and fourth gear are just mighty. Keep the turbos spinning – helped by an anti-lag system in Sport and Track mode – and the GT just goes on pulling, way past what’s sensible.
It’s ridiculous to suggest that you’ll explore the limits of this car on the public road. If you do, you’ll be risking time at Her Majesty’s pleasure or a trip to the local A&E. But that’s not to suggest you can’t have fun on mountain roads like these.
Everything is so visceral and so immediate that you can’t help but feel like you’re in a race, even at 30mph. The gearbox snaps from cog to cog, the merest twitch of a big toe is enough to unleash a fresh cacophony of noise and the steering (hydraulically assisted) is nicely judged. Any concerns that the GT would feel like an overblown Mustang can be allayed. This is a Ford like no other.
Back to the circuit and new opportunity to explore the GT. Select Track mode and you lower the car by 50mm in one hydraulically-powered hit that’s pure Le Mans. Now you can feel the benefit of all that downforce – the traction and stability out of medium speed corners is extraordinary. You can brake deep into the apex, balance the car on the throttle and let the engine’s torque haul you onto the straight, or as they say in Utah, the ‘straightaway’. A quick dart between corners and we’re topping 130mph.
Thankfully the carbon ceramic brakes are stupendous. Helped by the rear wing that doubles as an airbrake, they haul the car down from speed with a minimum of fuss and with remarkable stability. Subjectively at least, they’re as good as any road car brakes we’ve ever tested.
You drive it like a racer, not a road car, and it’ll take more time than we had to understand all its nuances, which is exactly as things should be. There’s no point building a supercar that can be mastered in a handful of laps. Owning this car should be a lifelong voyage of discovery of which you’ll never tire. You can even record your progress and on a specifically developed mobile phone app, complete with F1-style telemetry. The app, which debuts on the GT, should filter down to other Ford Performance products in the months ahead.
It’s another way for GT owners to show off with their new toy. With only a thousand being built over the next four years, this car will be the poser’s choice from London to Los Angeles. Or, worse still, GTs will find themselves sitting in a dehumidified car park accumulating value and dust. This, as always, will be a tragedy.
The GT, exists, of course, because Ford wanted to return to Le Mans fifty years after the original GT40 won the race. The road car was a prerequisite of meeting the GTE class regulations – if Ford hadn’t built its first, homologated road car by the end of last year, it would have needed to hand the trophy back (the fact that it was delivered to Bill Ford is apparently still within the regs!).
This enforced conception is the key to this GT’s character. It’s a quite unlike anything else on sale today: noisy, brutal, visceral, impractical, beautiful, outrageously expensive and thoroughly intoxicating. If you’re one of the lucky thousand, we envy you.
ENGINE: 3,497 litre, V6 twin-turbo
POWER: 647bhp @ 6,250rpm
TORQUE: 550 lb ft @ 5,900rpm
TRANSMISSION: 7-speed semi-automatic, rear-wheel drive
ACCELERATION: 0-62mph: around 3sec
TOP SPEED: 216mph
FUEL: n/a mpg
CO2: n/a g/km
ROAD TAX BAND: n/a
DIMENSIONS: 4,779mm x 2,238mm (inc. mirrors) x 1,109 mm
RELEASE DATE: On sale now