Muscle memory: an exclusive audience with the new Ford GT

A half-century after the original, the new Ford GT is still an all-American supercar... except this one’s designed by Brits

Next year will be the 50th anniversary of the first of Ford’s four consecutive wins at Le Mans with the legendary GT40, and its historic 1-2-3 finish at the 1966 event. Until recently, it looked like Ford wouldn’t have a car capable of fighting the good fight on that particular birthday. But that changed at the recent Detroit motor show, when it unveiled the new Ford GT. And stole the entire show.

Now, keeping secrets in the motor industry is difficult, especially when bringing a car to life requires the equivalent of a small army necessary to design, construct and engineer the thing. Humans with an impossible need to gossip. But somehow Ford managed to keep the GT under wraps for 14 months by making it a skunkworks project in the basement of the Product Development Centre at its facility in Dearborn, Michigan, working weekends and nights with a very small team all sworn to secrecy on pain of death. Or at least a very stern talking to. Assembled journalists were expecting a fast Ford, but they were prepared for a Focus RS rather than the replacement for the GT supercar of a decade ago. When the Liquid Blue show car rolled out, jaws dropped.

It’s not hard to see why. With obvious GT40 and previous-GT references, this is less retro-pastiche than the car that sold just over 4,000 units between 2005 and ’06. Created by a design team led by Ford’s vice president of design Scotsman Moray Callum, and realised by Sunderland-born design director Christopher Svensson, the new GT drips with purpose. It may be roughly the same size as the previous GT (120mm longer, 25mm lower, wider by 50mm and with the same wheelbase), the front might have a familiar ducted bonnet and flat headlights, but there’s a new angular aggression to the whole form that makes you think of serious aerodynamic efficiency.

In fact, the waisted design aft of the “aircraft-inspired” cockpit cabin and curved windscreen is actually more hole than whole, incorporating huge gaps under those immense flying buttresses. With the airflow managed across the whole area of the car, there’s also an active rear spoiler that changes height and pitch depending on driver input or conditions, and a huge rear diffuser. Even the rear lights are hollowed out for use as cooling vents, echoing the high-mounted pair of gunbarrel exhausts in the centre. Not as committed to referencing the old race GT40s, but something new and ultra-modern. Design boss Callum commented: “It was important to us to design a car that was all about how you’d design a car with the ethos of the GT40 today, as opposed to redesigning the GT40. We wanted to pay homage to what had gone before – details all over the car do that – but the majority of the car was created to achieve today’s goals. Above all, it couldn’t be a cartoon of what went before. If the GT40 emerged for the first time today, this is how it would look.” 

It was important to us to design a car that was all about how you’d design a car with the ethos of the GT40 today, as opposed to redesigning the GT40.

And it looks… spectacular. Made mostly of lightweight structural carbon fibre, the GT features a carbon tub in the centre sprouting aluminium subframe assemblies from which to hang the engine and suspension. Suspension that features a race-style torsion bar and pushrod arrangement, plus damping with adjustable ride height over 20-inch lightweight wheels and carbon-ceramic brakes as standard. The bones then, are racing car. So far, so good. But the mid-mounted engine has caused some concern among the faithful, being, as it is, not a thumping naturally aspirated V8, but a 3.5-litre twin-turbo EcoBoost V6.

You can sense the Good Ol’ Boys wincing from here. Ford’s group vice president and chief technical officer (essentially the boss engineer for all Ford cars) Raj Nair responded by saying: “There are loads of new innovations here, and the high-tech EcoBoost engine is a perfect fit for the car. The 3.5 V6 has more power than the 6.2 V8, and better economy. That blend of performance with efficiency is important.”

A new way of thinking for the modern age? Possibly, but there’s still the worry that a V6 EcoBoost isn’t true to the GT heritage. Yes it’s a power-dense, easily packaged and efficient twin-turbo, but no one really buys a supercar based on the combined mpg figure. And it’s unlikely the new GT will appear on many company-car lists. The stats still bear some thinking about, despite the reticence about the format. It’s not exactly anaemic. Producing around 600bhp and driven exclusively through the rear wheels via a seven-speed double-clutch gearbox, the V6 should have more than enough grunt to power what is likely to be a car with serious power-to-weight. In fact, Ford is promising that the GT will “exhibit one of the best power-to-weight ratios of any production car” – leading us to speculate that the GT may well manage somewhere around a slimline 1,200kg kerbweight.

And we’re not talking about a repurposed truck engine, either: the V6 is based on the motor doing duty in Ford’s IMSA Daytona Prototype endurance racing efforts. The one that managed three wins in its first season of the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship in 2014, and equipped with an all-new direct dual fuel-injection set-up to improve engine response, and remove some of the inevitable turbo lag. Incidentally, the intercoolers for the turbos are mounted in what Ford refers to as pontoons (the rear wheelarch pods), cooled by the generous slashes in the front of the rear wheelarch. 

There’s also no attempt to jump on the hybrid bandwagon: unlike the new Acura/Honda NSX (see page 28), or the current crop of hypercar hybrids such as the McLaren P1, Porsche 918 and LaFerrari, the GT does without weighty electric motors or AWD – the motor and aero may be new-school, but the GT remains traditional in terms of how it gets power to the ground without electrical supplementation. Inside, accessed through beetle-wing doors, the GT gets seats bolted directly to the carbon tub, with the wheel and pedals moving to accommodate different drivers, exactly as in the LaFerrari. The steering wheel houses most of the relevant controls (meaning a plethora of buttons to push), leaving a stalk-free steering column for the change paddles. On top of that, there’s a fully digital and configurable instrument cluster with different driving modes equipped with Ford’s SYNC3 multimedia. If you ignore the complicated wheel, it looks clean and purposeful – stylish and modern, but without the frippery that might cause it to date too quickly.

Callum reckons that roughly 95 per cent of the GT will remain as it is for production – due to start next year – with only a few things like final headlight shape and rear-view mirrors taking on significant change. There are no official performance figures from Ford as yet, but bet on the 0–62mph dash taking under 3.3 seconds and a top speed of over 200mph. A set of stats that puts the new GT into serious supercar territory – and Ford reckons that the price will reflect the performance, with fewer cars being built at a price somewhere comparable to a Lamborghini Aventador or Ferrari 458 Speciale. That means hundreds of new GTs rather than thousands, with a pricetag of somewhere between £200,000 and £250k. With Ford promising 12 new Ford Performance vehicles by 2020 – a list already populated in the US by the Focus RS, ‘2017’ F-150 Raptor truck, Shelby GT350 and GT350R Mustangs – the GT provides a happy halo for the rest of the brand. Especially as now it sports an engine that bears the same name as the one you buy in your common-or-garden Focus, F-150 pickup or base Stang. “This is the ultimate Ford,” said Nair.“The ultimate embodiment of all our innovation – everything from the wheels, aerodynamics, engine. All this new technology is important for future Fords.

The GT is the flagship for this innovation, and that’s why we’re building it.” We’ll be seeing the final production version sometime next year. Which means that, at the start of 2015, we’re already wishing the year away.

What do you think?

This service is provided by Disqus and is subject to their privacy policy and terms of use. Please read Top Gear’s code of conduct (link below) before posting.