The $400,000, 647-horsepower Ford GT made its global debut at the North American International Auto Show way back in 2015, and at virtually every major show since Ford has trotted it out again, dipped in some new color or another, usually spinning serenely on a turntable and surrounded by a healthy crowd.
I'm not ashamed to say that I've quite often been a member of those crowds, usually lost in thought, trying to make sense of the shape of the thing. In my not-so-humble opinion, the Ford GT is the single most striking production car on the road today, and every time I stood to ponder the car, I spotted something new in the design. Some new shape, a new crease or, indeed, some new section of open air.
Yet still, in the early morning light on the front straight at the Ford Performance Racing School last week, as our production team painstaking tried to capture all those details on film, I was still standing and still pondering and still picking out new shapes and features from that outrageous design.
The look of the car is complex to the extreme; smooth and sultry from some angles, harsh and coarse from others. That, as I would learn through the rest of the day, would also describe how the Ford GT is to drive.
The Ford GT's roots dig deep into one of the most notorious corporate rivalries of all time. In early the '60s, Henry Ford II was mighty, mighty keen to add Enzo Ferrari's prancing horse to his corporate stables. The two had agreed to terms and the paperwork was ready to sign. But at the last minute, Enzo backed out, and Ford was pissed.
The Blue Oval wanted blood, and the battleground would be Le Mans. It took a few tries, but in 1966, Ford got its victory, beating Ferrari with the epic GT 40, one of the most iconic and beautiful shapes to ever turn a wheel in anger.
For the 50th anniversary of that mighty feat, Ford wanted to do it again, and the car was the new Ford GT LM. Do it again was exactly what Ford did, taking a class victory in 2016. Now, a year later, the road-going version is finally ready.
Designed in secret by an international team of crack Ford designers and engineers who gathered in the basement of Ford's R&D center (a fascinating story detailed here), and ultimately manufactured by Ontario-based Multimatic, the GT was free of many of the corporate expectations and responsibilities that burden Ford's other, mass-market machines. It was free to be whatever its designers wanted it to be, a global vision for an American supercar, and the result is something special.
Peel away the shrink-wrapped fuselage that makes up the center of the Ford GT and you'll find a motor that, on paper at least, sounds a little unassuming for a supercar: a 3.5-liter V6. With less displacement and fewer cylinders than you'd find on a $33,000 Mustang GT, you might forgive a lot of Ford fans for being underwhelmed by this choice of powerplant.
But numbers don't win races, and this twin-turbo lump is an evolution of the race motor that powered Ford's Daytona Prototype racers to victory in the 2015 24 Hours of Daytona -- before evolving further and ultimately becoming the driving force behind the 2016 Le Mans-winning Ford GT LM.
In the back of the roadcar, the engine produces 647 horsepower and 550 pound-feet of torque. That is a prodigious amount for such a small engine, just a tick behind the 660-horsepower Ferrari 588 GTB and the 666-horsepower McLaren 675 LT. Thanks in part to its light weight, that engine has admirably little mass to move around. The Ford GT weighs right around 3,000 pounds, about 300 less than the Ferrari and on par with the lightweight McLaren.
But, in the world of supercar bench-racing, there's another, increasingly important aspect to consider: aerodynamics. In this respect the GT has the competition totally licked. The car has a massive, active wing at the rear that is constantly going through the motions to ensure the ideal combination of downforce and drag, flipping near-vertical under hard braking, adding stability and helping you get down to an appropriate speed before you get to that turn-in point.
That's paired with some active flaps beneath the nose and a body that doesn't so much cut through the wind as simply get out of its way. The more you stare at the Ford GT, the more you realize that it's comprised of more open spaces than enclosed ones. This is less a road car made to look racy and more a Le Mans prototype in disguise.
What Miller Motorsports Park lacks in elevation changes it more than makes up for in corner variety. It's a great place to test a car, and it was a great place to run the Ford GT in anger.
Coming out of the pits and getting up to speed, it was immediately apparent that this was not going to be a gentle experience. Any fears of the twin-turbos muffling the sound are quashed as soon as you run it up through the gears. The engine is almost painfully loud inside the cabin, and while LEDs on the steering wheel will kindly blink at you to remind you when to shift, I found the angry, mechanical roar just behind my head to be more than enough provocation to grab the next gear.
Shifts from the seven-speed, dual-clutch transmission are crisp and immediate, and the car accelerates like a rocket between corners. However, where modern traction and stability control systems in cars like the Ferrari 488 are so nuanced that you almost can't feel them, the same can't be said of that in the GT. When you've crossed the limit of traction under acceleration, power is cut back in a big way, making it a game of trying to stay just to the right side of adhesion. Alas, I wasn't able to get any track time with the TC turned off to experience the car in the raw.
Raw, though, would be a good description for the overall feel of the car. Bucking the trend and sticking with a traditional, hydraulic power-steering system, the Ford GT requires a firm grip and a bit of muscle to exploit on the track, a vast contrast from the featherweight feel of the Ferrari and McLaren. I love the telepathic feel of turning in those cars, but the feedback in the GT was remarkable. I always knew exactly how much grip I had and exactly when I'd asked too much from the front end.
The overall balance of the car is beautifully neutral, under- or oversteering depending on how well (or unwell) I put the car through the corner. Inside the Ford GT, it's always clear exactly who's in control.
Many of the things that make the Ford GT such a joy on the track conspire to make it an occasionally less than enjoyable experience on the road. The seating position, which lacks headroom and sees you sprawled out on your back Formula One-style, definitely makes you feel like the business when you're chasing tenths. On the street, when you're chasing traffic lights, it quickly becomes uncomfortable and makes menial tasks like checking blind spots a challenge.
That's magnified by the terrible rearward visibility, which is a bit surprising given how little actual car there is back there. That the GT has a rear-view camera is a bare necessity, but the lack of an overhead, 360-degree view is disappointing. And while the engine emits a purposeful roar on the track, on the road at steady speed it degrades to a resonating drone.
This, then, is not one of those everyday supercars like the new NSX, which can go from peaceful pussycat to trackday terror at the turn of a knob. The Ford GT does have a slate of drive modes to cycle through, and while they do dramatically affect the handling of the car, even the most comfortable falls far short of "comfortable."
But don't worry about any of that, because as soon as you find a good stretch of road -- an occasionally difficult task in Utah -- all those petty concerns melt away. The Ford GT is a real joy to pilot through the twisties, and those who can tolerate its ergonomic foibles to get there will be rewarded in spades.
Those few who will be spending a significant amount of time on the road will be happy to know that the Ford GT ships with Sync 3, Ford's very snappy and intuitive infotainment system. The integrated navigation is solid, but with support for Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, you're more than welcome to bring your own.
Behind the dash sits a secondary display, this one dynamically reconfiguring itself depending on which driving mode your in, getting more focused with each successive twist.
And, if that weren't enough, Ford's releasing an iOS and Android app that monitors your laptimes and performance and can even record videos of your laps, providing full telemetry overlays including everything from RPM to G-forces. For trackday junkies, this is a killer app, and I can't wait for Ford to bring it to more of their cars.
After staring at this car for so long I was incredibly eager to see how it drove, to see how it stacked up against epic cars like the Ferrari 488 GTB and McLaren 675LT. As I would quickly learn, the Ford GT is a very different machine with a very different approach. This feels very much like a race car first and a road car second.
The GT is incredibly involving to drive, a total sensory overload that gives you more than enough stimulation to make it easy to imagine you're tearing through the night along the Mulsanne straight instead of just cruising home after a long day at work. It's not a car for everyday, but this American supercar will make those special days truly remarkable.