Ford took the opposite tack. Instead of striving for geniality, it drew the raciest genes from its corporate pool and reengineered them just enough to spawn a semicivilized road car. The GT would look right at home on the grid of any endurance race. Its 500 horsepower in a 3500-pound package yields more than enough acceleration and top speed to run with the Ferrari and Lamborghini bluebloods.
The GT's racing heritage is both a blessing and a curse. Stripped of a direct tie to the Anglo-American sports cars that spanked Ferrari so painfully in the '60s, it loses its reason to exist. But preserving that essence while factoring in modern crashworthiness and creature comforts constituted one of the grandest engineering challenges of all time.
Computer-aided design and analysis was in its infancy when Ford used such tools to accelerate the original GT40s from blueprint to racetrack. This time around, every detail of the car was born, nurtured, and massaged on-screen until the parts fit and performed perfectly in the digital sense. Only then did they make the leap to the physical world. More than a few inventions were required to pack modern necessities inside an eleven-tenths-size tribute to the Le Mans champs. The skeleton consists of fifty or so extrusions, castings, and panels joined by computerized welders. Floor panels are made of two sheets of aluminum roll bonded together and then inflated to resemble bubble wrap. Fuel pumps, baffles, and the level sensor are encapsulated by a molded plastic tank, like a ship in a bottle. Under a Monza-style fuel cap, the filler pipe is sealed by miniature trap doors that swing obligingly out of the way when prodded by a pump nozzle.
A massive Eaton-Lysholm supercharger pressurizes induction air to twelve psi and sends it through a water-to-air intercooler en route to the 5.4-liter engine below. Press a red start button, and the 32-valve, four-cam V-8 that's roused sounds nothing like the truck motor from which it sprang. There's a hearty rumble but no hint of blower whine, in spite of the fact that rotors spin and the drive belt whizzes only inches from the driver's ears.
Coaxing first gear into engagement with a polished-metal ball and lever that operate long shift cables requires a firm hand. The clutch pedal plays dead until the very end of its travel. When it finally engages, the roll-off is smooth and confident. Minimal throttle pressure shakes inertia's grip in spite of a first gear long enough to carry you past 60 mph.
In contrast to the Italian road-party animals, the mood in this cockpit is serious business. Every nudge of the throttle yields a huge lunge forward. Mild turning desires become decisive changes of direction with no roll or hesitation muddying the response. Cornering g's rise with no apparent end. The holding tank for horsepower behind your shoulders pours forth like a fractured water tower.
Underpinnings feel as solid as an aluminum ingot. The same bumps that spike the Ferrari's and the Lamborghini's suspension stops glide under the GT without commotion. Generous wheel travel, supple damping, and fat tires roll plush carpet over imperfect pavement. Massive Brembo brakes sop up speed with the effect of a platoon of radar cops.
At Laguna Seca, the GT charged the tight turns and mastered the sweepers like a seasoned track veteran. You can dive into a decreasing-radius bend on the brakes, hurl in aggressive steering demands, and jump on the power without shaking the tail loose. Pushed over the highest peak of the mountain of grip, the front tires take a half step to the side as a gentle reminder that momentum is always quicker than mayhem.
Translating that virtuoso circuit performance to the road is frustrated by baggage that tags along for the ride. The squished roof, thick windshield pillars, and tail full of horsepower severely restrict your view of a world fraught with road hazards. The Ford GT's cast aluminum pedals are slippery underfoot, the racy-looking seat provides no detectable thigh support, and critical dials and accessory controls are obscured by the go-kart-sized steering wheel. Such shortcomings are inevitable when a complex car is designed and engineered on a go-fast schedule. Several of them are on chief engineer Neil Hannemann's honey-do list. Others will continue, when production commences next spring, as the automotive equivalent of beauty marks: character blemishes beyond the reach of any engineering fix.
Two examples: A shaving kit and a good-size purse consume the luggage capacity. The integrated door and roof design, deemed an essential part of any legitimate GT40 heir, can be a royal pain. Hinges provide a full 90 degrees of swing, but if you're stuck in tight confines-such as adjacent to a BMW in your two-car garage-the entry/exit procedure borders on a Houdini act. (Bend smartly at the knees and hips. Duck-walk backward under the roof portion of the door. Before the onset of dizziness, rotate buttocks over the sill and into the seat. Complete entry by swinging torso and legs into place. Reverse the process for tight-quarters exit.)
Ultimately, insufficient luggage space and doors that recall Ford's Le Mans victories with each and every drive are a small price to pay for a car with this much character and vitality. The Ford GT is more than a Ferrari-thumping power-to-weight ratio. It goes beyond the performance-per-dollar deal you can enjoy with the Lamborghini Gallardo.
Look at the Ford GT as rolling history, your small part of a monumental achievement. Grab one if you can.