Digging our around our archives, looking for past Ford GT stories to resurrect after the all-new Ford GT’s debut at the 2015 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, we came across a January 2005 issue, dusted it off, and saw not only a Ford GT but also a Lamborghini Murciélago, Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren, and Porsche Carrera GT. When this story was published, these were the only production cars available in America that could hit 200 mph. A lot can change in a decade. Enjoy. -Ed.
We bring the Ford GT, the Lamborghini Murciélago, the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren, and the Porsche Carrera GT together in one place. You're about to learn exactly what it's like to live with the four fastest cars on sale in America.
You've devoured every word the automotive press has written about them. You've memorized their almost unbelievable technical specifications, marveled over their futuristic constructions, pored over cutaways and power curves, and tried to get your pointy little heads around performance numbers that seem nearly incomprehensible for road-going production cars.
Some of you actually have plunked down the suitcase full of stacked and banded C-notes for your place on the short list for your favorite, and we suspect that more than one of you have ordered all four.
Still, we have found the one test that could be most useful to supercar fans still on the fence, a test that (most cleverly) gets Automobile Magazine back behind the wheels of all four of the fastest cars on sale in America one more glorious time.
We drove them for a couple of days without their professional handlers, for the sole purpose of telling you the truth about what it's like to spend a regular day with the four-member 200-mph club. Our own pace (fast), our own roads (fast), our own nickel (Courtyard by Marriott, sorry). For those of you keeping score, that would be 2339 horsepower and $1.3 million worth of test car. And for the worrywarts among you, yes, we stashed them at Virginia International Raceway in a guarded, gated, locked, heated facility.
It would be the first time for a U.S. road trip with both the Porsche Carrera GT and the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren. Although both the Lamborghini Murciélago and the Ford GT have been driven on American roads, this would be the first extensive drive of all four hero cars by anyone, anywhere. After more than 300 miles on the sometimes not so smooth but always twisty two-lanes surrounding the gorgeous VIR facility, roads that wind back and forth through rural Virginia and North Carolina, we have a story to tell.
But first, you want to know if we pegged the needles, right? Well, we didn't drive 200 mph. We're not that stupid. But with the least powerful of our four-car dream team churning out 550 horsepower (the Ford) and the slowest 0-to-60-mph sprint an eye-blinking 4.1 seconds (the Murciélago), it was pretty easy to find oneself north of the triple-digit line on the speedo. Virginia (along with the inconsequential-to-speeders District of Columbia) still bans the use of radar detectors, which didn't deter us in the least from enlisting the support of Paul Allen and his company's most famous product, the Passport 8500 radar detector, one per car. We left Virginia with driver's licenses intact.
Let's jump into a car. OK, let's not. The damn door is in the way. At least, it's in the way of the Lambo's cockpit, the SLR's cockpit, the Ford's cockpit...
"You want the short story?" barks technical editor Don Sherman. He's a barker, that one. "Porsche. No weird doors." Thank you, Don. But let's jump in and drive around all day anyway, shall we?
Ouch! And a few swear words for the Ford, with its sneaky head-banging door, which, like the original, includes a goodly amount of roof attached to its upper edge when opened. If you don't wriggle carefully into and out of the down-on-the-ground cockpit, that lurking upper door extension will surely "nut you," in the words of our foreign-born executive editor, Mark Gillies, who is blissfully unaware of our more southerly anatomical use of the word. As Sherman so astutely points out, no one would have minded if Ford designers had made a slight deviation here from the original GT40. One wonders if Ford racing greats Bruce McLaren or Denny Hulme ever "nutted" themselves on the original's diabolical door. The other problem is trying to slither out of the GT in a tight parking situation. "Paint a patch of black on the outer roof as a tip of the hat to the original," Sherman suggests, "and make the door glass frameless like Porsche did with its GT. Then this car becomes a daily driver instead of a Sunday special."
Flash is a serious component of a supercar's livability. You either want flash or you don't. If you do, skip the Murciélago. As much as we laughed uproariously and pointed at the Countach's scoops and wing flaps and ailerons and spoilerons, we kind of miss the supercar outrageousness so shamelessly exhibited by the Countach and so noticeably missing from the Murciélago. At least in comparison with its three compadres here. Since when is the Italian car the most understated of the wild bunch? Humph. Maybe since the Germans took hold. Why, then, is the Murciélago's haphazard cockpit, with buttons and switches sort of slapped onto the wide, black center console, not a gorgeous Audi-inspired triumph of art? At least, the optional drilled aluminum paddle shifters are a flash of exotica. And it still has those wild-in-the-streets scissor doors that flick up with an upward boink of an elbow against the leather door bolster. (Senior editor Joe Lorio admits that these are the doors that "nutted" him most often.)
The Murciélago has the narrowest seat, with the oddest seating position: knees splayed out with steering wheel down low between them. Come to think of it, with the power on and the engine roaring, the whole effect was like Slim Pickens riding the bomb in Dr. Strangelove. It wasn't bad, but you wouldn't want to have the hot-fudge brownie sundae special for dessert too often.
The McMerc, as the SLR McLaren is so distastefully referred to by our younger staff, has the flashiest, most baroque exterior, with its pointy F1-inspired snout; mid-'50s-era racing SLR sidepipes, engine vents, and scissor doors; deeply dished sills; nineteen-inch wheels; and what Lorio refers to as "all of the current Mercedes styling cues turned up to eleven" done up in gorgeous luminescent silver metallic paint. "Mean and expensive-looking; very Gotham City," Gillies notes.
Its interior is an extreme version of the same. The whole effect is irresistible to the masses, who recognize that it is not simply your average $100,000-plus Mercedes. Love it or not, the cabin is the most civilized of our four. You can see out the windows, carbon fiber and padded leather abound, there are places to stow the sorts of things you shouldn't be toting in a supercar (cell phone, BlackBerry), the trunk can take a golf bag, and state-of-the-art safety systems are a given. The engine start button, hidden under a vented aluminum flap atop the shift lever, enhances the sideshow experience, especially at night when it glows red.
The Porsche definitely sizzles at street level, looking every inch the Le Mans prototype it pretty much was before Porsche pulled the plug on that plan. Its odd proportions are universally described as sculpture, pure art, and looking as Italian as the Lambo looks German, despite its lack of goofy doors. Removing the carbon-fiber roof panels (and completely filling every inch of the front trunk with them) not only makes the Carrera GT look extra cool but also makes it easier to hear maximum shriekage from the mid-mounted, 605-hp V-10 racing engine. Gauges are in Porsche's usual overlapping-circle configuration, and a lovely stack of wood forms the ball atop the six-speed manual shifter lever. You actually can see out back, though it's just a sliver framed by the inside bars of the roll hoops.
The real Night of the Living Dead machine, the car that brings everyone from passersby at a local mall to half the paddock at a VIR race meet directly to its side, the car that brings workers from a dealership running across a busy highway to the gas station where it is being refueled, the one that nearly knocks over the guy with a "GT I WISH" vanity plate on his Mustang, is the Ford GT. "Can I sit in it?" "Will you take my picture next to it?" "Will you open the hood?" "Do you need a special tool for the wheel nuts?" "Will you take a picture of it with me and my truck?"
Good Lord. When we try to hide behind a barn at VIR for a peaceful photo session, racing drivers, security people, corner workers, and just plain bystanders make a pilgrimage up the drive like a line of ants to a picnic, mindlessly walking into our photo shoot, just to look in the GT's window.
Could you live with that kind of attention?
Maybe you couldn't live with its massive, world-obscuring A-pillars or the fact that you're the last to know what's over the hood's horizon because you can't see far enough out of the teensy windshield or over its bulky parked windshield wipers. And since you can't see anything out the rear, either, you might wish to readjust the rearview mirror as Sherman did to catch your throttle action, blipping smartly amid the wall-to-wall view of the bulging, rear-mounted, supercharged 5.4-liter V-8. Most entertaining.
So is the tidy lineup of raceresque gauges and the row of switches below them that operate various functions such as fog- and headlights. The seats don't look like much, but they deliver exceptional comfort and support, according to Sherman, who drove the 700-plus miles from Ann Arbor, and creative director Richard Eccleston, who delivered it home. Biggest bitch: nowhere to stow stuff, including luggage. Cargo nets on the seatbacks just don't seem enough. Eccleston also suggests Ford lose the cheesy Focus key fob. "It's not a nice thing to sling down on the bar," he says.
In sum: The Italian car looks German, the German cars look Italian, and the Ford makes the dead rise up and walk the earth.
Keep reading to find out more about how the cars perform.