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Stacy540i 10-06-2003 03:05 AM

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GT may be Detroit's best-ever production sports car

By John McCormick / Autos Insider

Pulling back into the pits after a couple of laps of California's Laguna Seca race track in Ford's new $150,000 GT sports car, it appears that I'm in trouble. Concerned looks on the faces of the GT's minders suggest something is wrong, although the car seems to be fine.

Turns out that when I passed a noise meter halfway around the track, the car had exceeded the decibel limit allowed by the local authority. Though I'm easy on the throttle past the meter on subsequent laps, the noise limit is comprehensively broken every time the raucous, original GT40 racecar present for the event takes to the track.

"It's busting the limit at idle, never mind at speed," observes a Ford engineer. As I climb out of the GT, legendary American race driver Dan Gurney is giving advice to comedian Jay Leno, who's eager to be among the first to drive the Ford.

"Just leave it in third," suggests Gurney, referring to the fact that the GT's prodigious torque output makes gear shifting almost optional.

I take a turn in a Ferrari 360 Modena Ford has brought along for comparison with the GT, the automaker's first ever production supercar. Riding shotgun is a racing instructor who cautions that the Ferrari can be twitchy, especially on the damp, greasy track surface.

The intimidating prospect of throwing the $200,000 Ferrari into a crash barrier, let alone losing control of a prototype Ford GT (only three exist at this point), is enough to curb my speed, if not my interest in what is a remarkable occasion.

For the sight of Ford's new sports car at a race track, alongside its famous progenitor, the GT40, and such prestigious competition as the 360, is a thrilling vision for any enthusiast.

And while circumstances prevented full exploration of the GT's track capabilities, impressions still come thick and fast.

Ford's dedicated GT engineering team still faces several months of refinement work before next summer's showroom deadline, but even in its unfinished state, the car is very impressive. The most striking observation is just how easy this Ford is to drive fast. The steering is precise and light (almost too light), the pedal efforts smooth and progressive and the six-speed shift lever well positioned.

The supercharged, 5.4-liter V-8 engine delivers its horsepower and torque (500 of each) in one, long seamless thrust, sufficient to propel the car to 60 mph in a claimed 3.8 seconds (faster than a Corvette or Viper) and on to a predicted top speed of more than 190 mph.

Under full acceleration, the sound of Ford's power plant is not as exhilarating as the exotic, high-revving Ferrari, but its hard-edged Motown roar tells you this is not a car to be fooled with.

Away from the track and out on California's snaking coast highway, the GT really comes into its own. The handling is determinedly neutral, which is to say you have to try really hard to upset the car, whether braking fiercely or powering out of tight corner. The same cannot be said for the Ferrari, which is thrilling to drive but more likely to bite an unpracticed hand at the limit.

As a hardcore sports car, the GT could not be expected to provide anything other than a very firm ride. But to the engineers' credit, the car's structure is so sturdy that it responds to bumps and potholes with a solid thump rather than a quivering crash.

Creature comforts are not the GT's strong point; there's virtually no storage space anywhere on the car, although that might change by production time. And compared to the lavishly trimmed Ferrari interior, the cockpit of the Ford is sparse and workman-like. But what it lacks in finesse, the GT makes up for in sheer sense of purpose.

This is unquestionably the most exciting production sports car ever to emerge from Ford and, until we see how Chevrolet's next generation Corvette shapes up next year, it may rank as Detroit's finest.

daniel318is 10-06-2003 10:11 AM

looks good man, not sure about the gt stripes....even though they a ford thing


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