Originally Posted by Andrew English
Forty years since the birth of the car that inspired it, Andrew English went for a spin in the new 212mph Ford GT
Pink hair, pink lipstick, pink eyeshadow, pink earrings, pink dress, pink gloves, pink socks, pink shoes and probably pink pants, too. That's electric fuchsia pink, pulling in your gaze like a Vulcan tractor beam. Pop concerts provide the last word in people-watching, but the woman at last weekend's festival in Guildford really wanted you to look at her.
Drive the new Ford GT and you'll feel the same: there's nowhere to hide. Children crane over gates, cars almost drive into you, headlamps flash in greeting, dogs look over their shoulders, postmen stop to stare and pretty girls smile. With just 28 of these £120,000-plus, 212mph supercars scheduled to arrive in the UK from Detroit, they'll have exclusivity in numbers, and in looks. From the snouty nose, follow those Shelby-esque stripes to the Kamm tail and you're looking at one of the most successful, bad-ass pieces of American chutzpah ever to have crossed the Atlantic.
Or are you? This is not a GT40, the epochal sports-racing prototype, first revealed 40 years ago, that won the Le Mans 24 Hours four years in succession between 1966 and 1969. Stand the two cars together and the new GT is taller, wider and longer than the original, which was just 40in high (hence its name). Like the new Beetle, the MINI, the S-type and the Mustang, the GT has all the styling cues of the original, but a lot less of the style.
Besides, the GT40 was a racing car, built by Lola craftsmen just a chocolatey whiff away from the Mars factory on the Slough Trading Estate. The entire project was ordered by Henry Ford II in a fit of pique after he was thwarted in his plans to buy Ferrari for $10 million. Modelled on the Lola GT racer, the first three GT40s were built by men such as Laurie Bray, now Lola's archivist. "We were working 80-hour weeks back then," he recalls, "so there wasn't much time to think about what a historic thing it was. But I do remember being very wary of the Americans. They came on the scene with all this money and started to throw their weight around; they claimed they were going to win."
That took a while, and the participation of proven winners such as John "Death-ray" Wyer, Roy Lunn, John Cowley, Alan Mann, John Holman and Carroll Shelby, plus the formation of two specialist racing operations, Ford Advanced Vehicles (also on the Slough Trading Estate) and Kar Kraft in Detroit, along with a stable of top-flight drivers including Telegraph Motoring regular Sir John Whitmore. In 1966, Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon took America's first Le Mans laurels in a formation finish with two other GT40s, and the rest - including the first champagne-spraying (by the 1967 victor Don Gurney), the French classic's closest ever finish and the first win by the same car in two consecutive years - is history.
Or bunk. The genesis of the new GT was altogether different, coming at a time when Ford had suffered the loss of charismatic boss Jac Nasser and was facing severe financial woes, most of which still reverberate today. Incoming chairman and Ford family scion Bill Ford promised that the GT would be Ford's "Hero Car", a machine of which the workers could feel proud and on which the company could pin its centenary hopes of reborn greatness. New Beetle designer and Ford design head J Mays penned the lookalike shape and what Ford calls its "dream team" engineered the chassis.
I was thinking about all this as the big, 1·6-ton GT lurched into a sickening spin across the Surrey test track. I was making a fool of myself in the only European GT test car, a car that Ford is making a lot of claims for - the programme, the technologies and the performance.
It's not often you find yourself dragging back a bush and half a gravel pit to the pits and the inscrutably grey faces of official minders from Ford and race team Roush, so I drove slowly. I had time to think about how much more accommodating the driving position is than the original, and how big the pedals are; you could drive this car in wellies, although even in racing pixie boots you'd be hard pressed to heel and toe the brake and throttle.
I also thought about how some Sixties designs were fantastic, and how others weren't. In a genuine GT40, you sit in a figure-hugging hammock, your head jammed against the roof, your knees against an alloy dash, facing a row of incomprehensible instruments. In the GT, you sit in a conventional seat, which fits where it touches and fails to support your thighs or very much else, the roof misses your head and grabs your hair instead, the dash is miles away and still looks incomprehensible. As Motoring editor Peter Hall said: "It's uncomfortable, but in a different way."
There is nowhere to store anything in the cabin, and as for passengers it's perhaps best to quote Willie Green, who owned and raced several of the original cars: "Girls didn't like the GT40 because it was so horrifying to be driven in." Too bloody right, and not just for the gals.
The GT's clunky, alloy-skinned door-trims bite into your upper arms if you brace yourself against the arm rests while passengers get less room because of the short footwell and ludicrous child-seat mounting system behind the seat - mothers would surely rather give up their children to the witches than let their husbands loose with their child in a GT. It's left-hand drive only, so they also get a grandstand view down the long bonnet of oncoming cars closing at ludicrous speeds. They then adopt a rictus grin when you tell them about the top speed and marvellous steering, and gibber about believing in God if only he'll let them live.
The luggage space under the bonnet is given up to a first-aid kit and a car cover (which says all you want to know about future GT owners), so basically this is a car in which you will need to get back home before your tea - and that means track days, of which more later.
Meanwhile, we should talk about the performance. I've been studying the torque curve, which says that there's more than 350lb ft at 2,000rpm, although on the road you'll feel diddly squat of that at lower revs. Frankly, the Lysholm supercharger doesn't really wake up until 2,000rpm and then, rather than exploding into life, it simply powers the GT remorselessly faster in the manner of massive Amtrak locomotive suddenly freed from the rest of its coaches.
Ford's US press department doesn't mention acceleration figures, but Autocar magazine managed a 0-60mph sprint in 3·5sec, and on the track it feels all of that. But where the original GT40 challenged Ferrari's descant scream with a menacing bass boom from its town-drain exhausts, the GT's 5·5-litre pick-up truck V8 is muffled so hard it sounds like a fart in a space suit.
Even so, it's real-world fast, barely needing a gearchange to lift its skirts and charge to the next speed camera.