5.0 Mustang & Super FordsCar Reviews
California Gleaming in the New Ford GT
Sure, the Ford GT looks wicked at car shows and runs great numbers atthe track--but it really shines on the street
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.
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.
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.