By independent automotive journalist David Neyens
Creating a sensation at the 2002 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan, the stunning GT40 concept car celebrated Ford Motor Company’s historic centenary and recalled its 1-2-3 victory over Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1966. However, rather than simply serving as a modern throwback to past glories, the new concept car confirmed the venerable automaker’s formidable design and engineering prowess. Rooted in a small gathering of Special Vehicle Team (SVT), Ford Racing and Ford Marketing personnel in 1998, the car that would soon enter production as the Ford GT was intended as a serious, purpose-built sports car to enhance Ford’s image and demonstrate the company’s vast expertise in the performance field. To say that the discussion group and the designers, engineers and contractors who collectively brought the modern Ford GT to fruition met their objective would be a gross understatement.
Rooted in Ford Motor Company’s longstanding tradition of translating its futuristic concept cars to production reality, the modern Ford GT’s lineage traces not only to the heroic GT40 of the 1960s but also draws from the many advanced design and engineering ideas put forth by the GT90 and V12 Indigo show cars of the mid-1990s. Credit for the 2002 GT40 concept car goes to Camilo Pardo, head of Ford’s “Living Legends” studio under then Ford Design Chief J. Mays. A rolling showcase of Ford Motor Company’s design and engineering prowess, the GT40 was approved for further development to production-ready status in the spring of 2002. Legalities soon forced a name change to simply “Ford GT,” but the point was clear – the new car would electrify Ford enthusiasts everywhere and once again put the world’s best supercars on the defensive.
A major player in the project yielding the production-ready Ford GT was racer/manufacturer Steve Saleen, who hosted Ford engineering, marketing and design teams at Saleen’s Southern California facilities for a month of discussions, under the strictest secrecy. All great cloak-and-dagger operations have interesting codenames and Ford’s planned new supercar was no exception, with the Ford GT project cryptically codenamed “Petunia.” In the autumn of 2002, just 100 days after program kickoff, the first “workhorse” Ford GT prototype was completed and operational. By May 2003, the first three cars were completed in time for the Ford Motor Company’s centennial festivities.
Conceived as an ultra-high-performance sports car for the road, yet without any racing pretensions, the production-ready Ford GT’s engineering and construction principles were nonetheless consistent with those of contemporary endurance-racing cars. Powering the new GT was a mid-mounted, lightweight alloy V8 engine displacing 5.4 liters and featuring a Lysholm twin-screw supercharger, DOHC 32-valve cylinder heads and competition-type dry-sump lubrication. Producing 550 brake horsepower, the engine was paired with a 6-speed gearbox/rear transaxle produced by Ricardo, a supplier of racing transmissions for international endurance racing. All-independent coilover suspension and huge ventilated Brembo 4-wheel disc brakes rounded out the GT’s sophisticated mechanical package.
Built using space-age materials and construction techniques, each GT featured a strong yet lightweight aluminum spaceframe chassis mounting super-plastic-formed aluminum body panels and an aluminum-over-carbon engine cover. Production was completed along five distinct stages, with initial assembly by Norwalk, Ohio’s Mayflower Vehicle Systems; paint applied by Saleen Special Vehicles in Troy, Michigan; engine assembly at Ford’s Romeo, Michigan, engine plant; and, finally, engine and transmission installation and interior finishing at Ford’s Wixom, Michigan, plant. Notably, the Ford GT was the last vehicle project completed at Wixom.
While capable of truly blistering performance, including a 209.1-mph blast with one of the test cars at Italy’s Nardò circuit, the Ford GT is also renowned for its ease of operation, including a disarmingly light clutch feel. The interior pays homage to the original GT40, yet is far more comfortable, with leather-trimmed carbon-fiber seats, electric power windows and air conditioning. All these attributes came about from the now-legendary development and testing program applied to the GT by Ford’s SVT before it was deemed ready for series production and sale to the public. Of course, the GT’s raison d’être was extreme performance, with the car’s capabilities honed to perfection under the watchful eye of none other than Carroll Shelby, who, in conjunction with Ken Miles, whipped the original 1960s GT40 into a Ferrari-beater. Given the intense 1960s “Ford vs Ferrari” rivalry, it comes as no surprise that the engineers at Maranello closely eyed the Ford GT with great interest. In fact, one example was purchased new by Ferrari of North America, Inc., and subsequently exported to Italy, lending credence to the theory that Ferrari acquired a late-production Ford GT to examine and evaluate.
According to published sources, only 4,033 examples of the Ford GT were produced in all, including 2,022 and 2,011 built during 2005 and 2006 respectively. Featuring exceptionally low mileage, the two 2006 models scheduled to cross the auction block at the upcoming Scottsdale Auction provide an all-too-rare glimpse into how these modern legends were when new.
The first GT is #537 of the 2,011 examples built for 2006. In addition to being one of only 75 produced that year with Speed Yellow paint and mandatory Ebony Black leather seats, it is one of just two with the factory stripe delete. Just 16 actual miles have been traveled at the time of writing. Choice options include a McIntosh CD stereo and lightweight BBS forged alloy wheels. Documents include a Window Sticker, original purchase invoice, Ford GT certificate and damage-free CARFAX report.
Finished in Tungsten Gray, the second 2006 Ford GT is a one-owner example that remains in exceptionally original and unmodified condition with just 1,123 actual miles at the time of writing. In addition to preventative maintenance performed in accordance with Ford Motor Company standards, it also benefits from storage within a climate-controlled facility while not in use, including the luxury of carpeted floors underneath it.
Each of these collector-grade examples of the Ford GT will sell with No Reserve at the January 21-29, 2023, Scottsdale Auction, providing an electrifying opportunity to establish or enhance your collection of iconic modern classics. Register to bid today.