For all its talk about mobility, and electrification, and autonomous cars, the Ford Motor Company hasn’t forgotten about performance, and the 2017 GT is the latest proof. Performance with a capital P. And an exclamation point.
Created to commemorate the company’s glory days at the Le Mans 24-hour, when Ford GT40s scored four straight victories—1966, ’67, ’68, ’69—the latter day GT was designed as a race car, with an ambitious mission charter: return to Le Mans and win again.
Which is exactly what it achieved, albeit in a supporting class—first in LMGT-Pro, 18th overall. Making it even sweeter, Ford beat a Ferrari for the class victory, duplicating on a somewhat lesser scale the GT40’s feat a half-century earlier.
You may ask why Ford didn’t go after overall victory again, and the answer is simple: cost. Competing in the top class at Le Mans today—LMP1—requires ultra-sophisticated hybrid technology, with development costs rivaling the national budget of a small country.
Not that developing the GT from scratch was pocket change, and there’s a caveat in a production-based racing class, such as LMGT-Pro. The rules require the manufacturer to produce street legal versions for public consumption. Homologation, in short. In the GT’s case, this will add up to one thousand cars, 250 cars per year for four years.
Ford obtained a waiver on the production timing; when the racing version crossed the finish line last summer there were no street GTs other than the prototype that stole the show at Detroit in 2015, upstaging the Acura NS-X in the process.
Right now there are seven production GTs in the hands of owners, one of them belonging to Ford Chairman William Clay Ford, Jr.
This is the hottest production car ever to wear Ford’s blue oval badge. But is it, in fact, an undiluted race car?
Pure racing machines—Indy Cars, for example, or the so-called stock cars of NASCAR—are designed for optimum track performance. Cars designed for public roads are diluted, in varying degrees, by civilizing compromises.
Diluted performance doesn’t have much relevance with the GT. There are compromises, yes, but without driving the actual race car, they’ll be pretty hard for an owner to discern. From my point of view, as someone who’s been racing for almost four decades, I can say this is one of the most formidable sports cars I’ve ever driven.
Zero to 216 mph
Let’s parse that F word (formidable). What does it mean here? Power? Oh yeah. An uptempo version of the EcoBoost 3.5-liter V6 that propels Ford’s hot-rod F-150 Raptor pickup, the twin turbo GT engine is rated at 647 horsepower at 6250 rpm and 550 pound-feet of torque at 5900 rpm.
In a slick mid-engine sports car with a limited slip differential, sticky, low-profile Michelin Pilot Sport Cup tires, and a curb weight of about 3200 pounds, this adds up to 0-to-60 mph in three seconds flat, according to Ford. No argument from me.
Driven In full automatic, mode the seven-speed Getrag dual-clutch automatic transaxle keeps the engine in the sweet part of its powerband when the driver is hurrying and goes to higher gears for fuel economy when he (or she) is not. However, as you might expect, economy—11 mpg city, 18 highway, per the EPA—is not a word that’s relevant here. Nor is it likely to be an owner concern, as you might also expect.
In manual mode, operating the paddles, the automatic snaps its shifts up and down far quicker than any driver could manage with a manual transmission, damping the engagements just enough to avoid harshness.
Saddle the Wind
Okay, plenty of get-up-and-get-outta here thrust, and a 216-mph top speed, according to Ford.
But power is only one factor in the Le Mans equation. Aerodynamic efficiency is at least as critical, if not more so.
Working in code word secrecy, the GT development team started in 2013, with a mandate to make a Le Mans racer out of the Mustang. They persisted for an entire year before concluding there was just no way—too much frontal area.
At that point, the group turned, once again, to the profile of the original GT40, just as the development team did with the 2005-’06 GT. Wind tunnel time had top priority, and the finished product is a showcase of aerodynamic innovation. Every surface—top, sides, underbody—has been honed to minimize drag and optimize downforce, increasing cornering grip.
The most visible example is the big rear wing that pops up when the speedo hits 70 mph (it’s automatically up in Track mode). And when the wing is up, active shutters go to work at the front splitter to balance downforce at the rear.
Every vent on the car has some aerodynamic function, giving the GT a level of aero sophistication far beyond that of the old GT40, which tended to get perilously light at 200 mph.
And, remarkably, GT design director Craig Metros managed to make the car gorgeous, as well as slick. His summary: “Performance efficiency and modern seduction.”
The car is also carbon intensive—carbon fiber body panels, carbon fiber central tub (with integrated rollover protection), carbon fiber wheels (optional), and standard carbon ceramic brake rotors, a distinction from the race car, which is rules-limited to cast iron brakes. These are brakes that do everything but stand the car on its nose.
The Inner GT
Getting behind the wheel entails contorting oneself under the scissor-style door, gluteus maximus first. The grippy wheel, flat top and bottom, with a number of auxiliary control switches on the spokes (though not nearly as many as the race car), is adjustable for reach and rake.
The seats—thinly padded carbon fiber—are race car purposeful, well bolstered, very supportive, probably not very comfortable for lengthy trips. There’s a little adjustability to the seatback, but the bottom is fixed. However, the foot pedals are height-adjustable.
Contemporary amenities are limited—climate control, audio, and Ford’s Sync 3 infotainment system, including navigation, on a smallish center dash screen. But the screen in the digital instrument binnacle allows the driver to call up a wealth of performance dates.
Staged in Utah, the GT press intro program entailed public roads, including some sinuous mountain stretches that gave me high respect for the car’s adhesion in corners that ranged from slow to hold-your-breath fast. I found the GT quite cooperative for touring on unknown roads, thanks to steering that’s surgically precise and cat-quick—just 1.7 turns from full left to full right—and tenacious grip.
Assessed in terms of pure performance, the consumer GT operates at a very high level, providing a strong sense of what the guys experienced at Le Mans.
But as a touring car, the GT leaves something to be desired. It’s pretty tight within—not much elbow room, not much head room, especially wearing a helmet. And stowage consists of a tiny cubby under the hood (.4 cubic foot). That’s it.
Operating just a few inches behind the cockpit, the twin turbo V6 isn’t particularly noisy at low speeds but is hard to ignore when the driver cracks the throttle. It makes the audio system essentially superfluous.
The track portion of the program was held at the Utah Motorsports Campus. Winding and flat, the layout isn’t something a driver conquers in a few laps. But a race track eliminates the random variables of public roads, allowing the GT to show me a more of its capabilities.
For one, the cornering limits are much higher than I suspected on the backroad barn storming. In track mode, the static ride height drops from 4.7 to 2.8 inches, which enhances the GT’s feline reflexes, as well as aero performance.
For another, I found the car to be quite forgiving. After a couple of laps, I began feeling a little overconfident, which resulted in twitches. But by easing off the throttle and/or trailing the brakes the GT snapped right back online.
The Price Of Play
The base price for the “standard” GT is $452,500.
There are two other trim levels—the ’66 Heritage Edition, and the Competition Series, the latter devoid of non-essentials such as audio, HVAC, and infotainment, and further lightened by titanium exhaust and carbon fiber wheels. Also, there are a number of stand-alone options, mostly cosmetic in nature. Ford hasn’t released pricing on any of the foregoing.
However, the base price is pretty serious, almost twice as much as the base price for a Ferrari 488 GTB, the car the GT beat at Le Mans. It’s also far more than any Ford Motor Company car ever. The 2005-2006 GT supercar (though not as super as this one) started at $140,000, a price that raised eyebrows at the time.
But even if you have the disposable moolah, you have a problem. According to Henry Ford III, who manages Ford motorsports marketing, there were some 6500 applicants for the first 750 cars. Worldwide—ten countries besides the U.S.
Among other criteria, the applicants were vetted on the basis of their loyalty to Ford (ownership of at least one Ford car and a history of Ford ownership), plus a promise to drive the car (rather than stow it away as a collectible). Ownership of an ’05-’06 GT rates a big check in the positive column. And those approved for ownership must sign a pledge to refrain from selling the car for at least two years.
Considered in hard-nosed value terms, this adds up to a lot for a track toy. A very serious track toy, but track toy nonetheless.
On the other hand, the combination of head-turning good looks, high performance, racing heritage, and high price enhance exclusivity, making the GT all the more desirable. And the fact that it’s a rolling showcase for Ford technology doesn’t hurt.
For more information, options, and pricing, please visit our 2017 Ford GT page on AutoWeb’s search and configure site.
Photo Credit: © 2017 Ford | 2017 Autoweb/Tony Swan