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Deja vu at 200 mph

Ford's insanely fast GT -- 0 to 60 in 3.3 seconds -- re-creates the past. Perhaps a little too faithfully?

June 23, 2004|DAN NEIL

"History is more or less bunk. It's tradition. We don't want tradition. We want to live in the present and the only history that is worth a tinker's damn is the history we make today." -- Henry Ford


Clearly, somebody at Ford didn't get the memo.

The 2005 Ford GT is the most history-obsessed automobile in automotive history. It is, as Ford Motor Co. vice president of design J Mays put it, a "reissue" of the Le Mans-winning race car of nearly 40 years ago, the car that trounced Ferrari at the Great Race from 1966 to 1969. To say the GT is faithful to the decades-old GT40 is to damn with faint praise. The GT design has the kind of mimetic accuracy one associates with Flemish paintings of hinds and hounds.

Mays is famous in the automotive world for his "retro-futurism" styling that digitally remasters iconic designs from the company's magical past. The current Thunderbird and the 2005 Mustang are examples. But the GT is on an altogether different scale of imitation. This car is less necromancy than necrophilia.

Why has Ford gone to the trouble of reinventing this particular wheel? More on that later.

The GT -- a 3,300-pound mid-engine exotic powered by 550 supercharged horses -- is ferociously, cosmically, I-see-God fast. The car recently hit 205 miles per hour at Italy's Nardo test track. It is also, by a fair stretch, the quickest street car I've ever driven. In January, Car and Driver magazine -- whose test procedures are the best in the business -- recorded a 0-60 mph time of 3.3 seconds, more than a half-second quicker than the Italian bottle rockets Ferrari 360 Modena or a Lamborghini Gallardo. The GT turns an 11.6-second quarter-mile.

The launch sequence goes like this: Raise the revs to about 4,000 rpm, slot the shifter into first gear and slip your left foot off the clutch pedal. The foot-wide rear tires squall briefly and then hook up. The carbon-fiber seat mule kicks you in the backside. The supercharger trills like a teakettle. One second or so later, the landscape goes all spin-art and you start looking like Keir Dullea at the end of "2001: A Space Odyssey." Cue "Thus Spake Zarathustra."

Because of the way the car is geared, you will cross the 60-mph threshold well before you need to shift to second. By the time you start stretching in fourth gear (about 150 mph), the car's aerodynamic underbody is producing several hundred pounds of ground-hugging down-force that actually causes the car to settle an inch-and-a-half on its suspension. The old race cars -- which were the first to exceed 200 mph at Le Mans -- didn't have ground effects devices and were legendarily unstable on the Mulsannes straight. The new GT tracks like a Japanese bullet train.

Please keep your hands and feet inside the ride.

Under the GT's clamshell-style engine bonnet is a 5.4-liter overhead-cam V8 stroker breathing pressurized air courtesy of an Eaton twin-screw supercharger. Eighty percent of the engine's 500 pound-feet of torque (that's 400 pound-feet for those counting on fingers) is available above 2,000 rpm. The gearbox is a purpose-built Ricardo six-speed manual transaxle, with limited-slip differential and a twin-disc clutch.

For a street car with bumpers, air conditioning, wipers and stereo system, the GT serves up fuse-blowing performance that, unless you spend your weekends in a helmet and Nomex fire suit, is rather hard to imagine. Think of it this way: If the Corvette is whiskey, the GT is a turkey baster full of heroin with a rubber-hammer chaser.

The only cars that run in this class are the Ferrari Enzo ($650,000), the Saleen S7 ($400,000) and the Porsche Carrera GT ($450,000). In an intensely weird, parallel-universe sort of way, the Ford GT ($142,000 MSRP) is value priced. That part, at least, Henry Ford could relate to.

I haven't driven the Enzo or Carrera GT, but after logging more than 400 miles in the Ford GT last week, I would be very surprised if either car approaches the kind of effortless, daily drivability of the Ford GT. Drivability? I know. Hard to believe, isn't it? The car is a 200-mph, ton-and-a-half pussycat. The clutch pedal is as light as the pedal of a Focus SVT. The milled aluminum gear-shift lever slides through the six-speed gates as if it were lubricated with hot bacon fat. The front-end geometry provides excellent self-centering feel, giving the car straight-line stability at speeds exceeding civilian aviation. Perfect is not too strong a word.

This list of unlikely attributes goes on for a while. Despite the GT's mid-engine design -- with only a plate of safety glass between you and the super-charged V8 -- the cabin is unusually quiet. Ford Special Vehicle Team director John Coletti explained that most engine noise comes from the induction system as air is sucked noisily through the throttle bodies. In the GT, the throttle bodies face rearward. The voids and crevasses inside the all-alloy chassis are stuffed with precious pounds of sound-deadening material.

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