Tom Wilson
December 1, 2004
Photos By: Mark Wilson

So, the phone rings, and it's the nice folks at Ford's West Coast PublicAffairs with a red GT unexpectedly in their hip pocket. We can have ourway with it for several hours the day after tomorrow. Can we make it?

Well, yeah, sure. But what to do with it besides burnouts at Blimpie?The buff magazines have run the thing to death, so there's no need toget the numbers on it in formal testing, which takes time, money, andplenty of advance planning--none of which we have anyway. There's notenough time to head to Vegas, so a road trip--however logical for aGT--is not in the making. It's during the week, so there isn't anopen-track available. That basically left the real world of stoplightsand parking lots, downtown and urban freeway. Which is just as well, asthe GT was designed as a no-excuse grand tourer, not a prima donnaposer. So we went for the real world.

The real world, it turns out, begins in the parking lot of IrwindaleRaceway, a bottle's throw from the Miller Brewing plant--itself the siteof the long-gone Irwindale dragstrip. As with the GT, some things arenew all over again.

And there, berthed askew in the parking lot, the red bolide sat openedlike a Swiss Army knife on corkscrew maneuvers, its two public-affairshandlers swatting away dust here and there. It sure looked good inperson--low, but not impossibly so; wide, sensuously rounded, yet edgedin just the right spots. It's remarkable just how classic the GT40 shapeis. For 40-something, she's still striking.

Horse Sense: Yeah, it was that good.

For all the hot rods and race cars, one-off factory prototypes, stylingexercises, historical artifacts, and other once-in-a-lifetime automotiveadventures we've had, we were still quietly amped at the imminent act ofsliding behind the GT's wheel. Clearly the genuine article from thefirst glance, you know it's going to be good.

Getting in is easy enough, which can't be said for many cars in thisclass. Yeah, it's a bit low, but the sill isn't that wide, and the doorsopen nearly 90 degrees. They have to, because the "roof" section of thedoor blocks cockpit access at normal door-opening angles. Tall orlong-waisted folks will instantly wonder about headroom; even DannyDeVito would duck when swinging the door shut as the roof section comesswinging in like a blade.

But with the door latched, there's a pocket built into the roof that'sjust enough to give our thinning hair clearance, so head room, whileclose at 35 inches, is not a deal breaker save for the last 1 percent ofthe population. Otherwise, it doesn't take long to know the cockpit isgoing to be a happy place. The important parts--seat, wheel, pedals,shifter--are exactly where they should be. The carbon-fiber seat iscomfy and supportive, and the shifter flicks lightly through its gates.

Aside from headroom, the GT offers generous shoulder, hip, and (at morethan 44 inches) a ton of legroom. Quarters are close around your head,but otherwise there's plenty of room. Passengers even seem a bit faraway thanks to the large center console. A small steering wheel providesknee room, and the pedals are neither too small nor too close together.

Exotic traveling in fancy, mid-engine, sporty cars is done with one good friend and a credit card. The front trunk is the GT's only storage, and photographer Mark ended up deciding the Ford's public-affairs' chase Expedition would make a fine place to store the camera bag.
Chiropractors won't get any extra work from GT owners busting a move in and out of their cars--access is good. But it is necessary to open the doors wide to get the roof section away from the door opening. That basically rules out tight parking spots.
Back in the day, a bump in the roof for headroom was called a "Gurney bubble" because too-tall racing driver Dan Gurney needed one to clear his helmet. Ford did the same in the GT, with a dish in the roof section of the doors. Duck when shutting them!
Looking over your shoulder to check traffic is alone worth the price of admission. For placing 500 hp and 500 lb-ft of torque in your ear, the engine is amazingly quiet. The blower and belt are silent, yet there is enough mechanical background noise to render the somewhat basic sound system nice for a change, but hardly the main attraction. While unsure of any historical significance, we ultimately decided the blue valve covers on the 5.4 lend a festive air.

Curiously, while the dashboard could be nothing but a GT40 dash with thetach right in front, the speedometer way over there by the passenger,and a row of minor instruments in between, we really didn't feel as ifwe were setting out for Le Mans, or even anything particularly retro. Itjust seems right.

Way cool is the view over your shoulder. There's a window hard againstthe seat back, and--hello--there's a supercharger snout trying to pokeinto the cockpit.

The key goes in the steering column, while a suitably red starter buttonlives on the dash. Press it and the 5.4 cranks, raps up to someaggressive rpm, then whirls down to a glassy, distant idle. This is whenthe Grand Touring part of "GT" really began to come across to us. Smoothand polished, this is no raspy racer with license plates. In fact, evenwith a supercharger in your right ear, you can't hear a whisper from it,only the long distance MmmMmmMmm of the exhaust.Flooring thehint-of-effort clutch reinforced that though--the pedal is nothing OliveOyl couldn't handle in rush-hour traffic. The shifter is a realhighlight, it slides everywhere with an accurate, minimal-effort,mechanical grace, and its placement on the high center console is rightwhere we wanted it.

What passes for driving in the real world is all about grunting betweenstoplights and blending into the freeway stream, and here the GT lopedeasily along. There are six gears available, so cruising rpm can benotably subdued at any road speed that doesn't lead to the gray-barhotel. The top gearing is high enough that even with its exciting power,the GT still takes a downshift or even two for meaningful accelerationaround the usual freeway clogs, but it isn't as if it's annoying. Shouldyou want, a full-throttle depression will chug the GT around trafficthanks to its engine's amazing tractability.

Sight lines and situational awareness occupy the first-time GT driver'sattention for the first half hour. The view forward is somewhatmail-slot like, with the left A-pillar arcing in at your forehead. Butafter realizing the frontal view is simply a little more horizontallyframed than usual, and that the small-but-close side windows offer allthe necessary vantage, then seeing what's ahead ceases to take anyeffort.

The view dead-astern is also quite good. The rear-view mirror sightsthrough two panes of glass directly over the supercharger, so the viewof the freeway lanes behind, or the oil pan of the pickup waiting behindyou at a light, differs little from a normal sedan--except for theblower at the bottom of the mirror, of course.

As usual, it's the three-quarter rear view that is most compromised, yethere again Ford has made the best of it. The outside mirrors are ratherwide, which helps considerably, and the quarter-windows give small buthelpful glimpses during lane changes. As always, rolling into thethrottle when changing lanes will pull the GT forward of theever-present gawkers who insist on staring from your blind spot.

Thanks to sitting high in the saddle, we could easily see the frontfenders and could thus dispense with a harbor pilot when berthing the GTin parking lots or curbside. We didn't bother with parallel parking, norshould anyone who doesn't enjoy bodywork as a hobby.

We thought to shorten our Honey-do list, but the Ford Public Affairs'people wouldn't let us strap the plywood to the roof. Backing out ofparking slots such as this is character building, as you really have nochoice but to lead with your rump and hope no one hits it.
Unlike the aging Fox-body Mustang, the GT is 180 mph fast and classy,and thus perfectly at home in upscale surroundings. Naturally, we onlystopped here for a staged photo, as the Ford guys weren't buying, but toa one the beautiful people offered unsolicited "Nice car" remarks.Emblematic of past success, sexy, fast, expensive, and made in theU.S.A., the GT hits all the right buttons.
Somehow it seemed appropriate to count our money at the bank, but wecouldn't quite reach the pneumatic pillbox. It turns out the bank wasclosed anyway.
Feeling a bit peckish after our errands, we opted for casual dining. We found intercoms invariably at a convenient height, and we didn't have to shut off the engine to be heard. More practical than our F-350 Powerstroke!
It's a bit of a stretch, but we'll reach for food. The guys inside about burned their fries checking out the GT, a phenomena that never stops inthis car. Adults stared, kids pointed, people next door on the freeway took pictures with their cell phones--it was a hit, even in car-jaded California.

Years of stupidly-sprung lowered Mustangs have cured us of ride-qualitybellyaching, so we wouldn't have said much should the GT ride like acoal cart. But, the fact is, someone who knew what he was doing did afine job with the GT's ride. The highest praise is that 99 percent ofthe time we never thought about it, and that's a trick in such a lowmachine. Occasionally, a sharp depression would work the GT onto itsbumpstops--a not harsh but definitely compressive experience on the ol'spinal column. Sharp-edge bother from wasted tax dollars at railroadcrossings, potholes, and the like are soaked up with impressiveplushness. There are definitely no daily driver worries in the ridedepartment. Steep driveways? Drainage gutters? They'll take the usualcaution, but no more than that, thanks to low overhangs front and,especially, rear.

Realizing our time was running short, we began searching in earnest fora spot to sample the real reasons to own a GT--thrust and handling.Leaving town, we managed a brief run into the nearby Angeles Crest, asinuous mountain playground for the internally combusted faithful. Thisproved frustrating in the extreme due to sightseeing traffic, buttrundling along we fully appreciated how for the last two plus hours ofin-town and freeway driving, the GT had behaved impeccably. Hours in thesaddle and we were still comfortably supported, well air conditioned,and ready for days more.

In our brief, traffic-free moments in the hills, the GT transported usto automotive Valhalla, where the steering is perfect, the 14-inch,four-piston brakes are linear and powerful, the grip is amazing, and thethrust is intoxicatingly smooth, powerful, and revvable. It's great, andwe wouldn't know where to begin criticizing the GT's dynamics. We ranout of nerve before the GT ran out of grip.

Heading back to the ranch, we pulled into the Irwindale Speedway only tofind Ford Public Affairs had wangled us 20 minutes of solo time on theheavily banked half-mile oval. Privately questioning Ford's judgment andour occasionally adolescent driving, we eyed Irwindale's concrete wallsand set forth. Again, the GT made cowards of us, but we did betterobserve the wonderful fore-and-aft balance of this midengine car. Thereis generous body roll to well-telegraph what's happening at the tires,and our sense that the limit was approaching somewhere well over 1 g onthe banking was enough to assure us that, given time to acclimate to theGT's tremendous potential, the limit would appear with enoughgradualness to allow our rusty racing reflexes time to act. A quick palmcheck showed the right tires were baking, but evenly across the treadand--more importantly--evenly between front and rear tires. The lefttires, of course, felt like they had just driven to Bed, Bath & Beyond.

As a sports car, the GT is blessed with that rarest of virtues--balance.From there, everything follows, from the wonderfully weighted steeringto the near neutral arc it carves through turns. Other systems are justas good, from the rheostat power delivery to the huge, 14-inch front and13-inch rear brakes that will renew your faith in vacuum-assist withtheir low-travel, proper effort, and correct height pedal. The GT is adream to drive, and the idea of touring in this fast, comfortable car isa capital-F fantasy.

Low points are notably few, with only three worth mentioning. First, theexhaust is blessedly well muted, but what comes through is a soft dronethat would be nice to lose. Second, there is no cockpit storage of anykind. And, third, we don't own one. OK, there's a just perceptible,solitary hiccup in the power delivery when pulling at full throttle atquite low rpm. That's it, unless you really want to nitpick, and afterour drive, we're hardly in the mood.

As youth Mark put it, "This is a car worth aspiring to." Amen.

Anyone lucky enough to pedal a GT in the mountains will never forget this sight. The GT is so smooth and effortless, it's all too easy to put serious speed on the clock. We drove it hard and couldn't come up with a reason to stop.
Ford knows how to build a car, down to the real details such as putting the fuel filler on the passenger side so the driver's door doesn't hit the pumps. There's no gas cap on the GT; the big plastic cover pops up to reveal a trick, spring-loaded slide-away filler cover. Who knows what the fuel mileage is, but in our limited experience, the 17.5-gallon tank offers acceptable range for long-distance touring.
You can always torture the young with vague promises of driving glory,then just take pictures. The GT's driving position is superb, and the rubber surround at the base of the shifter provides a welcome, grippy cushion that stays cool. There is no center console storage because it's all gas tank underneath. There's no glove box either, and we never did find a place for the wallet, change, sunglasses, or a map, save a small,narrow cub by low on the passenger side of the console that cannot be reached by the driver. Those are A/C knobs on the rear of the console.The large, flat windshield makes an effective solar heater, but the A/C seemed to just keep up.
Congrats to Ford for using this fun, retro switch gear on the GT. They may not be the most ergonomic design, but an owner who lives with the car will have them sorted out in a hurry. We would appreciate a more precise action from these switches, but no doubt crash regulations ensure they're flimsy breakaway parts.
Maurice Dur and of Ford Public Affairs had the unenviable job of getting us out of his GT. It wasn't easy.