The stunning new 2005 Ford GT is a supercar so rare that few journalists will ever drive one. I got to as a favor granted by a friend of 15 years, my Ford contact, Sergio.
God bless Sergio!
The day was beautiful. Heading south, I passed many reminders of last summer's capricious hurricanes that ravaged Charlotte County. In the parking area of a gas station demolished by Hurricane Charley, Sergio was standing by a low-slung red car capable of a measured speed of 205 miles per hour.
The heart beats faster at the sight of a 2005 Ford GT. Red. White stripes. Low. Very low.
It looked very much like its historic ancestor, the GT40 that shook the sports car racing world in the '60s. I knew the history-any auto writer does-and appreciated the immense work that took a great racecar of that era and made it street-worthy four decades beyond its time.
It looks dead-on like a GT40. But looks are deceiving. This 2005 Ford GT is bigger, quicker, handles better and meets all of today's emission and safety requirements.
As much as a machine, a buyer of a 2005 Ford GT will be purchasing a legacy. You didn't have to be at LeMans in 1966 when GT40s finished 1-2-3 in that grueling 24-hour race to appreciate the magnitude of Ford's accomplishment.
Back then, the dominant name in sports car racing was Ferrari. And American automakers were just shedding themselves of a 1957 ban on developing racecars. Henry Ford II decided he wanted Ford to win some Big Races. Ford won the Indianapolis 500 in 1965 and then again the next two years.
But Henry had turned his vision to the most prestigious race in the world, LeMans. The quickest way to win, he decided, would be to purchase Ferrari. So, with the help of Lee Iacocca, father of the Mustang and later head of Chrysler, Henry started talks with Enzo Ferrari about buying the Italian carmaker.
Ferrari would become two companies, Henry suggested: Ford-Ferrari and Ferrari-Ford. The first company would manufacturer cars for public sale and the second would continue to develop dominant racecars.
But Enzo demanded that Ford sever relations with Carroll Shelby, the famed American auto racer who brought the Cobra to life and helped Ford with racecar development. Shelby stays, Henry said. The deal fell apart.
Negotiations hardened Henry's determination to kick Ferrari butt. Ford's brightest brains were given an open wallet.
They discovered building a racecar is no easy task. In Britain they found the new Lola GT could serve as a base for their Ford GT and brought Eric Broadley of Lola aboard. They also contracted the services of John Wyer of Aston Martin, James Bond's car of choice and an auto brand Ford would purchase several decades later.
In short time, Ford was showing a GT40 prototype.
In 1964, it didn't do well. Shelby American (yes, that Carroll Shelby) was asked to tweak the cars. He virtually redesigned everything under the skin. It worked. In 1965, at Daytona's 12-hour race, GT40s ran first and third.
At the 1966 LeMans, GT40s crossed the finish line first, second and third as Henry Ford leaped for joy. They won again in 1967 with a bigger engine, once again finishing 1-2-3.
The governing body, miffed at American victories, capped engine size in a move to make the GT40s ineligible. Ford shrugged and dropped out of sports car racing.
I thought of all that as I approached the 2005 Ford GT, opened a door with its top cut deeply into the roof, gazed inside at ventilated seats just like those in the originals and a dash full of toggle switches.
I sat down and adjusted the seat forward. Ahead of me, my view was divided in half by the dash; a tachometer was dead center behind the steering wheel. The speedometer was to the extreme right of the instruments.
A six-speed manual transmission operated by a metal shifter fell easily to my right hand. Inside the console between the two bucket seats is the gas tank. The rearview mirror provided a limited view behind me, but I could see the glass through which the 5.4-liter, 550-horsepower supercharged V8 Ford engine was located mid-car.
I inserted the key and pressed a red "Start" button on the dash. The monster V8 fired to life, emitting an appropriately throaty snarl.
I lifted my left foot from the clutch pedal and the Ford GT eased forward. No jerk. No leg-shaking requirement of my leg muscles. In fact, I'd discover this supercar is easy to drive slowly.
Then I floored it as I hit the highway. Zero to 60 mph comes in 3.3 seconds, all while in first gear. By not having to shift, a Ford GT can out-accelerate Ferarris and Porsche Turbos, not to mention America's other sports cars, the Corvette and Viper.
This car plasters a driver against the seat with such force that it feels as if an arm cannot be moved forward. Good thing second gear is a pull backwards.
I backed off, settling down to test steering, braking and acceleration in other gears. This car is quicker, handles better and stops faster than almost anything on the road.
To say the GT passed all my tests would be an understatement. Ford has created one of the world's great cars, a thoroughly modern and safe car with retro design that invokes a great history.
"Where's it go from here?" I asked as I exited the low seat.
"Car shows. These are all going to car shows now," Sergio said.
"And if I want to buy one?"
"Good luck. There have been some on eBay but nowhere near the $139,995 sticker price. They're going for a half-million up. And they're the equal of cars going for three-quarters of a million."
I nodded. I can believe that. Ford made America proud in 1966 when it wrestled the LeMans victory from Ferrari and it's done it again with this GT. When the 2005 Ford GT was unveiled, Carroll Shelby was asked to be there. He must have been proud.