Click the tiny machined aluminum dial on the steering wheel to Track mode, and something startling happens. The carbon-bodied Ford GT drops to the pavement with a thud, hoisting its rear spoiler to full mast. Where most modern supercars prepare for the track by stiffening up their suspension settings, the GT goes all out, transforming into a hunkered-down cruise missile, ready for launch. Welcome to the machine.
A Brief History of Speed
Before you can appreciate the all-new GT, the $445,000 supercar Ford makes you apply to buy, you need a quick history lesson. In the early 1960s, Ford tried to buy Ferrari, a move to give the American giant some European flair and help the racing-focused Italians bulk up production. When Enzo Ferrari flaked on the deal, Henry Ford II sought revenge on the track.
The result was the GT40, three of which stormed to a stunning 1-2-3 victory at the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans—a race Ferrari had dominated for years. After follow-up wins in 1967, 1968, and 1969, Ford, having made its point, left endurance racing.
2017 Ford GT
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With the 50th anniversary of the triple win looming a few years back, Ford brass planned a return to Le Mans. They hoped to send a race-prepped version of the Mustang to France, but after a year of work concluded the pony car lacked the horsepower and aerodynamics to win. And so a small team of engineers and designers gathered in a Dearborn basement and started on a secret mission to reclaim the brand’s former racing glory.
Three months later, the skunkworks team presented a scale clay model to then CEO Alan Mulally, executive chairman Bill Ford, Edsel Ford II, and Mark Fields (who took the CEO job in 2014). The avant-garde shape paid homage to the original GT40, tipped a hat to the road-going GT model from 2005, and convinced the bigwigs to OK the parallel development of race and street-legal versions of the GT.
In June 2016, four GTs clad in red, white, and blue challenged the world at Le Mans, taking first, third, and fourth place in their class. And now, the consumer-ready version of the race car is ready for the street.
Race-Bred Sense of Occasion
The new GT pays homage to the GT40, but with half a century of technological advances built in. Extensive use of carbon fiber and aluminum keep it to just more than 3,000 pounds, including an integrated roll cage that just might save your spine if you hit that corner too hard. Active aerodynamics divert airflow across the body to aid high speed control. A rear wing automatically not only adjusts height and position but changes shape to fine-tune how it produces downforce. Under hard braking, it acts as an airbrake. The front end is balanced by active flaps.
The GT’s doors swing up and out to reveal a cockpit whose sleek design lives up to the exterior’s angular silhouette. This is high tech, simplified: The GT’s seats are anchored to the floor while the dial- and button-covered steering wheel tilts and telescopes to meet the driver. A spring-loaded pedal box adjusts via a nylon release strap.
The view from behind the Alcantara-lined wheel is dramatic: Up ahead is a configurable digital instrument cluster, flanked by wheel-mounted paddle shifters finished with weirdly satisfying drilled ribs. The dashboard-mounted infotainment screen sits within a slick structural carbon fiber member. Aircraft-style aluminum buttons and dials lend the GT’s cockpit a 1960s-era NASA feel, though a few details, like the window switches and rotary shifter dial, betray the contribution of the dreaded Ford parts bin.
Six Is Enough
The most controversial part of the GT lies at its heart: a twin-turbocharged EcoBoost V6. Enthusiasts may clamor for more cylinders, but compact packaging, minimal weight, and energy density shout them down. This 3.5-liter engine produces 647 horsepower—a potent 184 horsepower per liter—plus a thumping 550 pound-feet of torque. Ford says that’s good for a 216-mph top speed.
The red start button brings the V6 to life, filling the cabin with a mechanical orchestra. The valvetrain thrums, pulleys whir, turbochargers wheeze and snort. I drove the GT at Utah Motorsports Campus, a circuit just west of Salt Lake City and 4,413 feet above sea level. The oxygen deficit saps a consequential amount of power from the V6, but the engine still pulls enough to make your stomach sink.
Carbon fiber wheels keep the overall weight down, but are especially helpful for the suspension, which articulates deftly over bumps in the road. The hydraulic steering system channels the surface texture of the asphalt below into my hands. When I dip into the throttle, the thrust presses me into the snug seats with forceful, reassuring pressure.
Switched to Race mode, the GT’s demeanor intensifies, with sharper throttle response, less intrusive traction and stability control, a 2-inch lower ride height, and noticeably stiffer suspension. The 7-speed dual clutch, which shifts swiftly and smoothly, takes on a more urgent, backslapping tack.
Spirit of Le Mans
Lapping the 2.2-mile circuit reveals a responsive but decidedly old school handling dynamic. Unlike some supercars equipped with brake vectoring, which helps the car turn by automatically applying brake pressure to the inside wheels, the GT relies on the driver. Lose patience and get on the gas too early, and the front wheels lose their grip with the tarmac, forcing the car to understeer. It takes discipline and skill to nail this driving technique, but navigating a corner just right delivers a sense of accomplishment harder to find in more helpful cars.
Even on the corners I miss, the GT makes me feel like I’m channeling the spirit of Dan Gurney or A. J. Foyt—the duo that won the 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans in the GT40. Strap on the optional four-point racing harness, bury the throttle, and the illusion is all but sealed, even on the street, where the GT makes virtually every other vehicle feel stodgy and pedestrian. From the steering-wheel-mounted shift lights to the no-nonsense instrumentation, the GT makes me feel like every stoplight is a starting grid, every parking spot a pit stop.
For all its slick design and innovative packaging, the GT is not without its dynamic imperfections, among them a gearbox whine at around 2,500 rpm. But the net sum is overwhelmingly charismatic.
Good news, then, for those who bought the initial allotment of 500 GTs without a single test drive. Ford will build 250 more cars, all of which will certainly be sold out. Thanks to killer race cred and a gorgeous body, the GT inspires out and out lust, regardless of cylinder count. Welcome back to the supercar game, Ford. You’ve been missed.
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