Steve Turner
Former Editor, 5.0 Mustang & Super Fords
April 1, 2004
Photos By: Courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Even if you had no idea the original GT40s dominated racing at Le Mans for four straight years in the late '60s-including the historic 1-2-3 victory in 1966-taking one look at the car would tell you it was something special. The timeless, high-performance lines are like Jimi Hendrix on modern radio. Jimi doesn't sound old and outdated, and the GT40 is sure to inspire awe at any age. Of course, there will never be another Jimi, but thanks to Ford's 100-year birthday party, there will be another GT40, in the form of the '05 Ford GT.

This car began as a show car simply to get the auto press excited about Ford, but Bill Ford thought it would be a great idea to have running cars at Ford's Centennial Celebration.

So, starting from a 5-percent-production-feasible show car, John Coletti's Special Vehicle Team engineering department accepted the challenge to create a modern version of the beloved racer-in less than four months. To make it work, the Ford GT team made extensive use of computer modeling to design and prove out the car. Only about 10 percent of the development used traditional prototypes. This allowed engineers to quickly make changes to turn the show car into a driver.

You see, unlike a traditional car's development, the Ford GT was built from the outside in. The design team, headed by Camillo Pardo, was so enamored of its creation, they fought to make few changes to the show car for its transformation to reality. The design team had already created one design, and then scrapped it for the one that debuted on the show car. The design seen on the final car owed more heritage to the Ford GT Mark II race car. "Freeing ourselves of the fear of creating a car that looked too much like the original was a liberating experience for the team," Camillo says. "But staying true to the original themes in a clean, modern design made it the most difficult project I've ever been involved with."

Ford's brass obviously appreciated the team's modern adaptation of the classic car, as they supported the unique development. You see, the Ford GT is similar yet radically different from the original. Mainly because the car had to be built to fit two people of any size comfortably-rather than one racer-it is 18 inches longer and 4 inches taller. So, the engineering team had to make its hardware fit inside the skin. Only the roof was raised by a scant 17 mm for passenger headroom, which caused a slight revision in the exterior styling.

Fred Goodnow-design, engineering, and launch manager-explained the challenge. "Usually, a new vehicle is designed from the inside out, meaning that the chassis and suspension points are set before the exterior body is designed around those dimensions. In the case of the Ford GT, it was exactly the opposite. We had to engineer within the given exterior parameters."

Of course, it's difficult to see the difference in the cars, as few of us have seen two of the cars next to one another. Fortunately, when we traveled to GingerMan Raceway in western Michigan to drive the Ford GT, Ford had borrowed a private-owner GT40. Going back and forth between the two, you could quickly see the Ford GT is much larger and far more modern in every way than the original. This is to be expected, but the original car always looked so ahead of its time, the job Ford designers did was all the more impressive.