Ford GT – A Comparison of Three Generations
I’m sweating profusely because I am holding three keys in my hand. While that may sound absolutely preposterous, these are anything but standard keys – these are the keys to a trio of Ford GT supercars. One from each generation, with a collective value exceeding $1 million.
And, as if the stress level wasn’t already stratospheric, one of the 6-figure exotics is owned my boss’s boss’s boss!
My assignment is to maneuver each of these lofty Fords at legal speeds (wink, wink) along a winding 2-lane road delicately carved into unyielding rock, adjacent a precipitous drop-off, within inches of a videographer hanging from the sliding door of a Honda Odyssey minivan. I have been asked to create exhilarating driving footage, but please do so quickly. The highway patrolmen who’ve stopped traffic for your vehicular tryst have day jobs that beckon. Tick. Tock.
This was my introduction to the Ford GT.
More accurately, it was my introduction to the all-new 2018 Ford GT, a 2005 Ford GT, and a Superformance GT40 MKI replica. No one wants to hear the privileged car reviewer complain about his job. And I won’t. But I will say there are less stressful ways to sample dream cars. Far from a casual get-together, my GT initiation felt like speed dating during a knife fight. Extreme risk, relentless pace. Then again, unrelenting timelines and the specter of costly mishaps created a proper high-stress, historic framework with which to experience these cars. How so? Let’s start at the beginning.
For those who don’t know, the current Ford GT traces its history to the mid-1960s. As the legend goes, Henry Ford II aspired to buy Ferrari, Ferrari nixed the deal, and, in a vindictive rage, Ford vowed to beat Ferrari’s racing efforts at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. And they did, four times over, from 1966 to 1969 with a mid-engine car called the GT40, thus named because it stood a mere 40 inches high. Back then, racers began with a literal standing start (aka a Le Mans start). When the flag dropped, drivers ran to their cars, buckled in, then blasted away...ideally not running over their competitors in the process. Stressful, no?
In those early days, a road-going Ford GT40 could be purchased for $20,000 or so. Now that same car is worth millions. Given the GT40’s rarity and cost, nabbing one for our little comparison wasn’t workable. Thankfully, a company called Superformance makes a replica. Actually, it’s not so much a replica as a “continuation car”. Superformance GT40s are built using the same tooling as the original, and feature serial numbers that pick up where the originals left off. Consequently, 90% of the continuation car’s parts will fit an original GT40. Want to feel what famed racers Dan Gurney and Bruce McLaren felt racing in the mid-1960s? This “replica” is your best bet.
Fully grasping the Superformance GT40 MKI’s authenticity requires all your senses...alright, maybe not taste. Despite unparalleled vertical access from doors that extend well into the roof (great for those Le Mans starts!), climbing aboard feels like an amateur-gymnastics routine. With practice, it’s possible to hoist oneself aboard without shame, smartly clearing wide door sills that double as fuel tanks. Speaking of fuel, our car’s four Weber 2-barrel carburetors not only mixed fuel and air, but also misted the cabin with a vibrant bouquet of gasoline. Leading to the first of many “is this normal?” inquiries directed at the car’s knowledgeable minder and Superformance representative.
Yes, the fuel smell is normal. So is the cacophonous steering feel. If good steering “speaks,” the GT40’s steering screams...like writhing Electric Daisy Carnival attendees waiting for the bass drop. Unassisted efforts, constant vibration, and a uniquely unvarnished feel make the steering a standout trait...among countless attention-grabbing traits.
Another highlight is sound. Our test car’s all-aluminum 427 Windsor V8 bellowed a louder roar than any car I’ve ever driven. No exaggeration. The absolute loudest. “Is this normal?” And that’s when cruising. Gas it and, as 560 horses begin their charge, the bass...drops. Did I mention a curb weight under 2,400 pounds? That’s a power-to-weight ratio few street-legal rides can match. It might not be the fastest car I’ve ever driven, but the Superformance GT40 MKI feels like the fastest car I’ve ever driven. It viscerally blends noise, vibration and acceleration in a way that’s thrilling, intimidating and a little scary. Mercy.
Rounding out the sensory explosion are unassisted brakes that admirably slow the GT40, but require forceful pedal effort. One more reason to not skip leg-day at the gym. Another fascinating throwback is the 5-speed dogleg gearbox. 1st is down and to the left, 2nd straight forward, 3rd down and...oh boy...I hope that’s not first. You get the picture. It took two days, but my GT40 fear morphed to respect. Both for the car’s capabilities and the fearless racers who risked everything to win behind its wheel.
I, however, am no racing hero. Consequently, the 2005 Ford GT is more my speed. Reborn to celebrate Ford’s 100th anniversary, the 2005-era GT is relatively sophisticated -- it has anti-lock brakes, the interior does not smell like fuel, the air conditioning genuinely chills the cabin, and it drives like a very fast street car, rather than a brutish, barely-tamed racecar.
Along the aforementioned narrow winding road, the '05 GT functioned as a precision instrument. Tight and direct steering, colossal power, effortlessly gratifying gearchanges from the 6-speed manual; there’s no weak spot in the GT’s performance armor. Squeeze the throttle and blissful thrust is accompanied by meaty exhaust and a charming whine from the 5.4-liter V8’s supercharger. Like a choir, the '05 GT sings sweetly in the bass, baritone, and soprano registers...but at a respectful volume.
While we’re on the subject of respect, I took special efforts to drive this particular 2005 Ford GT respectfully. You see, it was on loan from a gentleman named Karl Brauer, who occupies a high rung on Kelley Blue Book’s corporate ladder. If self-preservation won’t keep me from overstepping the handling limits of a 550-horsepower supercar, of which only 4038 were built, preserving my career trajectory certainly will.
Piloted at a respectful, yet spirited pace, the 2005 GT is eminently enjoyable. World-class speeds are attainable with no need for 1960s heroism or driving endurance. Plush would be overstating it but the middle-generation GT is comparatively livable. OK, cargo space sucks, a massive blind spot over the right shoulder makes lane changes an exercise in faith, and the retro-perforated large-hole seat design is not the most comfortable for my marginally-athletic frame.
Nitpicking aside, the 2005 Ford GT is among the planet’s most direct paths to automotive nirvana. It offers stratospheric yet accessible performance, with zero electronic aides to intervene if you overstep your abilities. The freedom to fail makes skillfully driving the '05 GT all the sweeter. It might’ve been birthed to promote Ford’s rich history and inspire its future but, as a car, the 2005 Ford GT is simply fantastic. Dare I say the sweet spot in the GT’s lineage.
Before declaring a favorite though, let’s examine the all-new 2018 Ford GT. Compared to Karl’s 2005 model, the 2018 looks like it was designed and engineered in Wakanda. Constructed around a carbon-fiber tub and powered by a 647-horsepower 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 engine, the newest GT has been optimized from nose to tail to win races. Like 1966 all over again, the new GT secured a 1st-place win in the 2016 24 Hours of Le Mans GTE-Pro class. How does this victorious race car fare as a street car?
It depends on what you’re testing. If the goal is to attract admirers, mission accomplished. A quick stop for coffee launched a string of pleasant but time-sucking conversations. It’s hard to be the fastest car on the street when trapped in the Starbuck’s parking lot. Happily, parking lots are a wonderful place to demonstrate one of the GT’s coolest tricks. Its hydraulic suspension raises and lowers the car with frightening immediacy. Seriously, press the front-lift button and the GT’s nose leaps like a Siberian Husky snatching a Milk-Bone. Conversely, flip the drive mode selector from normal to track mode and the 2018 Ford GT instantly drops nearly 2 inches. Mind your toes.
The Ford GT’s technological chops are best expressed in motion. Brake hard and the rear wing flicks nearly vertical to aid deceleration. Stomp the accelerator and the 7-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox zips to a lower gear before rocketing you forward. For traditionalists, the 2005’s manual gearbox is more engaging, but for laying down speedy lap times the 2018’s dual-clutch is clearly superior. The GT also incorporates anti-lag technology to keep the turbos spinning when the driver lifts the throttle. As a result, throttle response is nearly instantaneous. In fact, everything in the latest GT happens quickly -- steering inputs, throttle response, gear changes, engagement of the outstanding carbon-ceramic brakes. There’s no wiggle room. No slack. The GT’s immediacy demands recalibration from its driver.
In the right environment, with car and driver properly aligned, the newest Ford GT becomes a wickedly fast co-conspirator. Unlike previous iterations, this GT actively works on the driver’s behalf. Its aerodynamics, active suspension, stability protocol, and powertrain trickery inject their brilliance on your behalf. It’s like having a skilled lawyer constantly plead your case to the tarmac. The payoff is staggering, effortless speed, but arguably less driver engagement than the GTs of yore.
There’s an adage among car enthusiasts that it’s more satisfying to drive a slow car fast than a fast car slow. If that’s true, then the 2018 Ford GT has no business on the streets. Yes, fun can be found sans racetrack, but, like modern superbikes, the GT’s transcendent performance swiftly violates the boundaries of safety and the law. Just imagine the stress you’d feel as a taciturn patrolman grimly requests your license and the registration for your 2018 Ford GT.
In total, the new Ford GT is a marvel to behold, both for its dynamic abilities and its design. Cool details abound. The seat bottoms are rigidly mounted to the chassis, with the driving position altered via moveable pedals and a highly-adjustable steering wheel. The doors open dramatically upward, like the wings of a harrier (the bird, not the jet), earning major style points while making it impossible to exit when parked near another vehicle. And behold the “flying buttress,” a design element that gracefully bridges the cabin and the rear fenders while functionally directing cold air from the GT’s giant side scoops to the engine’s intake manifold. It’s a glorious shape that begs passers-by to gawk.
Truthfully, there are no bad options in GT-land. Each generation delivers clinical-strength amusement. But at Kelley Blue Book we’ve always got one foot in the world of resale values. From that perspective a remarkable story emerges. When Karl bought his 2005 GT it cost around $150,000. Now it’s worth twice that. As mentioned earlier, an original $20,000 Ford GT40 is now worth millions. And, even with its lofty half-million-dollar asking price, new 2018 Ford GTs have sold at auction for more than 1 million dollars. Though doing so requires side-stepping a 2-year resale restriction from Ford Motor Company. Pad your legal fund accordingly.
Nearly all cars lose value, but like Benjamin Button, Ford GT resale values work in reverse, increasing over time. Insanely fast and delightfully profitable, there are few better automotive investments than a Ford GT. As a bonus, name another appreciating asset you can flaunt at your high-school reunion. Given their scarcity and expense, analyzing Ford GT values is like wagering on the 2018 jai alai championships. Rarified air indeed. Nonetheless, GT prices can be instructive for all of us who will never buy one. The lesson? Resale values matter.
Consider this. You love car A but car B has a cheaper purchase price. Is car B the smarter buy? Not necessarily. Examine the resale values using Kelley Blue Book’s 5-year cost to own data and, despite a high purchase price, car A might be cheaper over the long haul. Like magic, a little resale value knowledge can mitigate long-term financial stress when buying a car AND provide unassailable financial justification to buy the car you want. Neat trick, huh?
That sterling buying advice shuttles us neatly back to the ultimate question, which generation Ford GT is the best. Clearly the GT40 (original or otherwise) is the choice for vital, skillful drivers who relish history and sensory titillation. On the other hand, do you want maximum velocity? Then choose the 2018 Ford GT. It’ll do 216 mph. Do you value maximum technology? Choose the 2018 Ford GT. It’s got active aero, LED lighting throughout, carbon fiber...everything, and Sync 3 infotainment to keep the drive interesting (insert uproarious laughter here). Do you want to win races? Choose the 2018 Ford GT. I hear Le Mans is lovely in June. But if you seek ultimate driver involvement in a livable package, the 2005 Ford GT stands at the pinnacle of GT Mountain. I can personally verify -- its pleasures are a more than equitable trade-off for enduring a little stress.