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AUTOSAVANT: Cars and Car Business

America's Best: Ford GT
By Bruce McCulloch

What is the best American sports car ever made? Is it the Dodge Viper? No, I don’t think so. Is it the Chevrolet Corvette? Arguably it is, but I’m going to have to give ‘Vette fanatics an answer they will most certainly be unsatisfied with - NO! Is it Carol Shelby’s monster, aka the ‘AC Cobra’? Nope, not quite, but you’re getting warmer.

Hint: it’s made by the oldest American motor company in the world. Does that make it obvious enough? The Mustang? I’m afraid not. I’ll give it to you in the brief; it’s the 2005 Ford GT.

In the humble opinion of this automotive enthusiast, the Ford GT stands above all other American sports car attempts as it not only encompasses everything an American sports car should have, but does it in such a manner where many others have failed. Since the beginning of this decade we’ve seen a whole new crop of American sports cars emerge and try to steal the gauntlet, but frankly, very few have succeeded at making any impression whatsoever. What makes that last comment even more ironic is that even Ford themselves have suffered a few mistakes – like the creation of the awful ‘GT90’ concept in the mid ‘90’s.

A brief history: In 2000, with Ford’s centennial year quickly approaching, the design department was asked to create a few concept vehicles which would be presentable at the 2002 North American International Autoshow. That being said, the idea for a recreation of the 1960’s Ferrari-eating “GT40” was not one of those concepts originally expected - in fact, company executives only expected a mocked-up Mustang and a recreation of the Thunderbird for NAIAS. The idea for a “GT40’ concept car came to life on a plane over Sweden, when Wales- born Richard Parry Jones (a long time project director in the Ford Motor company who had worked on such projects as the ’97 Focus, the Escape Hybrid, etc) teamed up with the concept-stylist J. Mays and the Vice President of Advanced Product Creation (APC), Chris Theodore. After a short discussion, the three agreed a ‘GT40’ concept would make the most fitting design for Ford’s upcoming centennial year. Shortly thereafter and with the help of Ford’s Chief of European Operations (Nick Scheele), the wheels were set in motion to make the concept a real car with an aim of slating production for early 2004.

By the time the 2002 North American International Autoshow arrived, stylist J. Mays already had completed a full-sized concept. With introduction, the concept sparked great interest among sports car enthusiasts world wide and whilst the GT40 was only intended as a concept car, Ford soon realized that there was a potential market to produce such a vehicle.

But, uppermost in their mind was the fact that they knew if they were going to create this vehicle, it was going to have to be good. No half-assed operations, no cheapening out – it had to be something which would honestly carry the tradition of the LeMans winning GT40 into the 21st century.

Unfortunately, this was all easier said than done. One of the first and foremost problems which they encountered was retaining the ‘GT40’ name for the production vehicle. While the original rights to this name had long been given up to an English replica manufacturer by the name of ‘Safir Engineering’ and then to a small American firm by the name of ‘Safir GT40 Spares’- the latter allowed Ford to use the GT40 name for concept, but not for the production vehicle. That being said, negotiations between Ford and Safir did in fact take place, but to Safir claims that Ford refused to pay a sum totalling $8 million to purchase the trademark. Nevertheless, such was not going to stop this project and as a result Ford decided to name their new supercar, the ‘GT’.

Further problems ensued, such as making sure the vehicle’s body design was in fact legal for the road, and this further slowed the project. I think most would agree with me in saying that J. Mays GT40 concept offered exactly what an American sports car enthusiast wanted. Unfortunately, while his design was absolutely flawless in terms of paying proper homage to the original vehicle, it featured a few design cues which made it illegal for road use. As a result, the concept vehicle was sent to yet another department where it underwent numerous changes – thankfully none of which undermined the meaning and beauty of the concept.

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