The weather forecasters in Michigan were predicting snow, which wasn't what I wanted to hear before starting a 600-mile drive from Detroit to Northern Virginia.
But had the storm chasers been calling for a blizzard, I would have hit the road anyway. There was no way I was going to miss this -- a solo, long-distance run in Ford Motor Co.'s supercar, the 2005 Ford GT coupe.
2005 Ford GT
Nuts & Bolts|
Downside: If you value fluff and puff over hell-bent-for-leather performance, buy something else. The Ford GT isn't anybody's luxury poseur. It is a race-bred sports machine, with its mid-placed V-8 and ancillary pieces visible beneath a clear canopy. People in need of cup holders need not apply.
Ride, acceleration and handling: Exceptionally good ride, especially for a tightly sprung sports car. Exceptionally fast -- from I-75 South in Troy, Mich., to home in Arlington (615 miles total) in 10 hours, including nearly two hours of "rest" for food, photographs and impromptu GT seminars. Handling is superior.
Head-turning quotient: We have become the paparazzi nation, especially with the advent of phone cameras. I have never been the subject of so much camera-in-your-face, unsolicited photography in my life.
Body style/layout: Mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive, two-seat coupe built on an aluminum frame. Body panels include carbon fiber, carbon fiber-aluminum bonding and other composite materials.
Engine/transmission: The Ford GT is equipped with a 5.4-liter V-8 that develops 550 horsepower at 6,500 revolutions per minute and 500 foot-pounds of torque at 3,750 rpm.
Cargo and fuel capacities: Two people, or one person with one overnight bag in the passenger's seat. There is one cubic foot of storage space under the hood, good for small tools and a few notebooks. Fuel capacity is 17.5 gallons of required premium unleaded.
Mileage: I averaged 21 miles per gallon in highway driving. The total fuel cost from the Detroit area to Northern Virginia was $69.55.
Safety: There are large Brembo brakes, ventilated front and rear, backed by a four-wheel anti-lock system. There is no traction or stability control. But the GT, nonetheless, remains an amazingly stable and error-free car on the road.
Price: Theoretically, the tested 2005 Ford GT has a base price of $139,995 and a dealer's invoice price of $128,456 on the base model. Theoretically, the price as tested is $153,095, including $9,750 for the options (such as $5,000 for the white racing stripes), a $1,250 transportation charge and a $2,100 federal gas-guzzler tax. The dealer paid $140,582 for the GT with taxes, transportation and options charges. What you actually will pay largely depends on what the dealer wants. Theoretical prices are from Ford, Edmunds.com and Cars.com, the last of which is a Washington Post affiliate.
Purse-strings note: A wonderful toy! Compare with Bentley Continental GT, Ferrari 360 Modena, Lotus Esprit, Maserati coupe and Mercedes-Benz CL55 AMG.
I'd flown to Detroit the night before, buying a $69 one-way cheap seat on Spirit Airlines, just to have the opportunity to pilot the new GT -- the street-legal descendant of the Ford GT40 race car that in 1966 swept the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race with first-, second- and third-place wins.
The GT40 continued its dominance in 1967, 1968 and 1969, winning all three of the Le Mans races in those years.
I was as excited as a New Orleans child awaiting his first Mardi Gras parade when Scott Jensen of Ford's Washington public relations office called and said: "We have a Ford GT available. But we can't get it to the Washington area just yet, unless, well, you can go to the plant in Troy [Mich.] and drive it back. Do you mind?"
Ha! I made arrangements.
On the morning after my arrival, I met with O. John Coletti, director of Ford's Special Vehicle Team, and Fred Goodnow, manager of design and engineering for the Ford GT program. They are recalcitrant car nuts -- headquartered in an unmarked vehicle-development and assembly facility in Troy, roughly 20 miles north of Detroit.
It is refreshing to talk to people like Coletti and Goodnow, automotive rebels with a cause who are foolish enough to believe they can come up with a car as wonderfully outrageous as the GT coupe -- and get Ford's usually conservative top management to build and sell it.
"Look, we're not fooling ourselves," Coletti said. "There's no major market for a car like this. It costs a bit under $150,000. It seats only two people."
So, why bother? Coletti looked puzzled, as if the question had never occurred to him.
"It doesn't matter that only a few people are going to ever buy this car," Coletti said. "What matters is that many people are going to remember it, love it, the way they remember and love the GT40. That has value. That builds awareness for the whole Ford brand."
Empirical evidence says he's right. From the moment I entered Interstate 75, driving south from Troy, until I pulled into my driveway in Northern Virginia, I was followed, photographed (phone cameras, digital cameras, video cameras), waved and honked at by hundreds of motorists. At one stop in Ohio, a group of preteen children rushed from a bus. Instead of making their usual beeline to the hamburger and hot-dog stands, they swarmed all over the GT.
The drive was demanding, but nothing short of phenomenal. It is a mixed assessment stemming from the GT's myopic obsession -- to run very fast and well. There are no cup-holders or video screens, no easy access to sound-system controls. With the exceptions of a well-placed, six-speed manual shifter and exceptionally supportive Sparco leather sports seats, the GT's creature comforts are few.
But I've never enjoyed driving a car as much as I did this one. It is a work of civilized passion.
I appreciated that civility. It was enough to let the car's sleek body and its sinewy movements make an impression, which they did, especially on the numerous twists and turns of the still-tricky, truck-laden Pennsylvania Turnpike. The GT performed with the grace of a ballet dancer, with its four-wheel independent suspension system nimbly lifting and lowering its body over the road's imperfections.
I drove within the confines of the law as practiced, as opposed to the law as posted. The actual median speeds on nearly all U.S. highways are 10 to 15 miles above the posted limit. I drove within that range -- content to let others pass me with their cameras whirring, clicking and snapping.
I did not get a speeding ticket.