EVOLUTION: Ford GT Vs GT40

 

It's hard to update a master, but time and technology can put grand demands on a machine as championed as the Ford GT40. Joaquim Oliveira reports

It's always hard to measure father against son. Can youthful good looks and stronger limbs overshadow the experience and wisdom of an older master?

And so it is with the updating of the Ford GT40. There were only 108 GTs built, one of which we were fortunate to get our hands on. We brought a 1969 streetwise model out on the open road and riding alongside it we had the new Ford GT. We took the road from London to Le Mans, the most meaningful route for any Ford GT.

GT stands for Gran Turismo, and the 40 reveals the car's height to the ground in inches. Had it followed this logic, the new version would have been named the GT43. But traditions have to be broken.

This is just the first difference between the two. The new one is also longer, wider and boasts a greater wheelbase than the origional.

The exterior retouches were to be expected. But what of the interior? Here the separation was greater, and the first change is with the steering wheel position. All the 108 GT40s built were right-hand drive, whereas the new GT (4,500 units produced, 101 of which were sold in Europe) has left-hand drive.

Materials and finish in the new GT are as far removed as the GT40 can be without totally rewriting its DNA.

The complex instrument panel carries the strongest hint of its design origions with the rev counter in the centre and the speedometer in the far right-hand corner.

Both cars can reach more than 160mph but the GT40 valiantly shows 220mph on its speedometer whereas the modern car is more modest, indicating "only" 170mph.

But rest assured, the new GT is a lot faster than its predeccesor. The engine is turbocharged and more sophisticated while the power to weight ratio is more favourable: 2.9kg/hp in the new version against 3.7kg/hp in the 1969 car.

Back in the cockpit the ventilation is another sign of the times. Comfortable and modern in the GT with air conditioning as standard, the same run in the GT40 was like a sauna since it heralds from a time when standard air conditioning was unheard of.

Enhanced safety is prominent, as well as a raft of new technology: airbags, ABS (but no traction or stability control of course) height and reach adjustable power steering, central console, power windows and rear mirrors, central locking, keyless entry, MP3 player and map lights.

The original chassis of the GT40 varied between aluminium and steel, whereas the new GT has a space frame structure, reinforced by carbon fibre to reduce weight.

The front suspension is quite similar between the two with double wishbone securing the connections between the wheels.

In its short but successful racing career, the GT40 mainly received two types of engine: a small 4.2 to 4.7 litre V8, totally made of aluminium, and the giant 7-litre V8 cast-iron that become the 1966 24 hours Le Mans hero. The street version of the GT40 we drove was powered by the far less powerful version of the V8.

The engine block of the GT is made entirely of aluminium; it integrates four valves per cylinder mastered by two overhead cams, as well as an intercooler and a turbocharger with a maximum pressure of 0.83 bar.

During our first few kilometres in the GT40 we were surprised by the savage roar of the engine so close to our ears and then again by the ease with which we shifted through the gears.The engine wakes up soon after reaching 1,500rpm glueing our bodies to the seat every time the motorway was sufficiently free. The new GT, on the other hand, was a very different driving experience. Turn the ignition key and the needles in the dials pay a first bow to the V8, ready for action immediately.

The clutch was lighter than expected, making the gear shifts an easier task (and also freeing us from the embarrassment of letting the engine die in urban driving).

The response is dazzling after 2,000rpm. 0-60 in four seconds is a figure you would expect from a powerful motorbike, but from hardly anything on four wheels. The braking power is no less impressive.

But this missile driving is not the only mode this machine is capable of. It is quite easy to quietly stroll around country villages because the suspension is so well tuned, aiming for comfort rather than suspension.

FACTFILE

GT GT40

ENGINE

V80 4 valves V80 2 valves

CAPACITY

5409 cc 4736 cc

TRACTION

Rear wheels Rear wheels

TYPE

Man 6-speed Man 5-speed

TYRES

235/45 ZR18 315/40 ZR19

WEIGHT

1593kg 1150kg

TANK

66 litres 140 litres

MAX SPEED

+300km/h 257km/h

0-100KM/H

4secs 5.5secs

PRICE

€180,000 €10,000*

*In 1966. Today this is equal to €560,000