- From the Archives: Camaro's NASCAR 1969 Pace Cars
- This Day In Automotive History
- Getting Future Road-Trippers Behind the Wheel at LEGOLAND Florida
- Shop Local or Take a Hike? With Rail Trails, Those Touring New Hampshire by Car Can Do Both in One Day
- Sneak Peek: 2014 Alfa Romeo 4C
- Go Dogs Go!: Uncork the Love at Flag Hill Winery -- and More Dog-Friendly Fun Near the New Hampshire Coast
- Event Coverage: 2013 La Jolla Concours d'Elegance
- Tank-of-Gas Adventure: Winter Wine Tour on the Upper Peninsula
- Event Coverage: 2013 Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance
- Auto News: 2013 Desert Classic Concours d'Elegance
- Auto News: Romney's Rambler
- Tank-of-Gas Adventure: Historic Bedford Springs Hotel
With tips for Fido-friendly travel, road trips on a budget, and much more, PlanYourRoadTrip.com is our favorite new trip-planning website.
|The Ultimate Road Trip Adventure: London to Maranello and Back in a Ford GT and a Dodge Viper|
|Written by Rich Truesdell|
|Wednesday, 11 March 2009 11:15|
The fastest lap ever driven during the 24 Hours of Le Mans took less than 3 minutes and 34 seconds (3:33.483 in 2002); for one lucky enthusiast, it took 40 years.
Most of us can pinpoint the exact moment in our lives when we realized that gasoline rather than blood courses through our veins. For me, it was Saturday morning, June 20, 1964, when as a 10-year-old aspiring car buff I watched a grainy, flickering, black-and-white image coming from Le Mans. Phil Hill sprinted across the tarmac and into his Ford GT, officially starting a quest that two years later would find Ford at the pinnacle of the performance car pyramid, Total Performance personified.
Wheeling a lipstick-red Ford GT under the Dunlop Bridge at Le Mans on a glorious afternoon in July 2005, I fully recognized what a charmed life I have led. The fulfillment of one of my longest-held childhood fantasies--driving a Ford GT at Le Mans--was the emotional climax of a 2,000-mile, six-day, epic road trip in two elite, American-built sports cars that had brought me not only to Le Mans, but also to the Nürburgring and Maranello.
This week-long adventure came about due to a chance encounter with Ford's European Public Affairs Director, Paul Harrison, on a flight in March 2005, as I was en route to pick up a Chrysler Crossfire SRT6 while covering the Geneva Show. (Ironically Paul, who I had never spoken to or met previously, had unknowingly turned down my request for a new Mustang for the same trip.)
Chatting a bit on the short flight, he planted the seed for a road trip that would use his press fleet Ford GT to connect with as many as a half dozen GT40s in museums in the UK and on the continent. Three months later, joined in this hedonistic automotive adventure by my close friend Matt Malone, driving our camera car, a $81,995, 505-horsepower Dodge Viper, I found myself approaching Ford's nondescript press garage west of London where Ford's $150,000, 550-horsepower flagship awaited my arrival.
Day 1--London to Folkestone (Tuesday)
I felt a bit odd pulling into Ford's press fleet garage in a Dodge Viper. Inside we were met by Ford's cordial press fleet manager Paul Wilson, who checked out our "camera car" and gave us a complete briefing on all the do's and don'ts of driving Ford's everyday super car.
After the formalities of transferring the car to our care were completed--it dawned on me that I was now personally responsible for some quarter of a million dollars worth of American iron--I let Matt take the first turn behind the wheel of the Ford GT. There was a pragmatic reason for this; Matt had already driven the GT extensively in the US (a close friend already had taken delivery of an early unit), and I must admit to being just a bit intimidated by the thought of navigating Tuesday morning traffic in London in a car with such a huge blind spot. My time behind the wheel of the Ford GT would be delayed another hour or so.
Our first stop would be about 30 minutes away where we had arranged to visit the first of five vintage GT40s along our route. The first stop was a visit with chassis 112, the last prototype Ford GT built. All Ford GTs that followed were dubbed GT40s and were considered "production" versions. We found it stored in the owner's barn, its engine and transmission removed, sitting somewhat forlornly among his vast collection of automobilia, awaiting a time when all components would be reunited and 112 would be returned to its former glory.
GT/112 and GT40 MK III/1103
Hidden away in a barn southwest of London lies chassis 112. Originally a roadster chassis, it ran once as a works car powered by a 289 V8 at the Nürburgring 1000 KM driven by Attwood and Whitmore. Later rebuilt with coupe bodywork, it was outfitted for the road, painted red with white leather trim, given a redesigned dash and wind-up windows. It was purchased in 1973 by its current owner, whose engineering firm fabricated race transporters that were used by the GT40 teams. The car--now orange--has resided in its current location, sans engine and transmission, since the late seventies, awaiting its turn to be restored.
GT40 MK III/1103
The car that sits in the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu, chassis 1103, is a MK III road car first sold to Sir Max Aitken in 1969. While some refer to it as the last MK III built, it is actually the last customer MK III delivered as chassis number 1107 has remained in Ford's custody since 1969. Equipped with a 302 V8, wider wheels and flared bodywork, 1103 passed through the hands of several owners up until 1980 when it was sold to its 2005 owner.
Next stop was the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu, where we met Trevor Legate, author of Ford GT40: Production & Racing History Individual Chassis Record. He had arranged with the museum staff to have our Ford GT pulled inside the museum where we could park it next to the museum's own GT40, a MK III road car, chassis number 1103. As the museum was packed with school children, Matt and I gave out several rides around the grounds. The time thus spent would put us behind schedule, but the delay was made worthwhile by the grins on the faces of our youthful passengers.
Before leaving the UK, we took an unplanned detour that night to The Ace Café, a popular stomping ground for England's petrol-head community. This night was sports car night, and our Dodge Viper and Ford GT were immediately ushered to prime spots.
We felt like rock stars, but there was a twist. It seems that England's most prominent celebrity motoring journalist had just returned his personal GT to Ford in a snit, complaining of--among other things--poor fuel mileage and a malfunctioning alarm. Before the week was out we could safely say that if we had a dollar for every time we were asked if our Ford GT once belonged to Jeremy Clarkson, we would have had almost enough to buy one ourselves. Our Ford GT, a well-worn example that over the prior year had seen extensive abuse from Europe's journalistic community, performed flawlessly—as did its security system.
Day 2--Folkestone to the Nürburgring (Wednesday)
The wide width and low ground clearance of both vehicles prompted both Ford and DaimlerChrysler to make special arrangements to have both cars shipped across the English Channel as freight. Unfortunately, we were just a bit late for our 8 AM reservation, and the support vehicle that Ford had provided was delayed an additional half hour. Thus we started out from the French side of the Channel on Wednesday almost 90 minutes late.
Our destination for the day would be Ford's Capricorn facility in Meuspath, close to the infamous Nürburgring. Here, all 101 Ford GTs destined for European customers were being converted to meet local regulations. At Capricorn, we met Jost Capito who heads up Ford's Team RS. Jost not only gave us the budget tour of the facility, but had made two important arrangements for us. First, he had one of his Fiesta STs available to drive, and second, he had secured the services of Armin Hahne. With more than 10,000 laps under his belt at the 'ring's Nordschleife--12.9 miles of challenging tarmac with its 73 turns and almost 1,000 feet of elevation changes--Capito was certain that Armin could push the Ford GT close to its limits.
First Jost took me and two passengers out in the feisty 150-horsepower Fiesta ST and proceeded to illustrate that front-wheel-drive in the hands of a pro could show its taillights to some far more powerful machinery. Prior to this day, the closest I had ever been to the Nordschleife and its famed twists and turns was Gran Tourismo 4 (GT4) on my PlayStation. Let me tell you this; it's nothing like the real thing!
Swapping seats with Jost in the Fiesta, I proceeded to attack the track as best I could. With exceptional balance, more than adequate power, and brakes to match, I never felt as if I was in over my head. I also quickly realized that Capito, who once managed the Sauber Formula One team, had a command of the course that I could only dream about.
Next it was my turn to get in the GT's passenger seat with Armin. Quite frankly, I had no idea of what I was in for as the gate was raised and we rocketed past the opening cones. After a couple of bends, we approached the first serious turn where Armin, with just three laps on the Nordschleife in the Ford GT under his belt, found the perfect line and was set up to quickly traverse Hatzenbach and drive flat out approaching the Flugplatz. I was watching a true master of car control at work, as Armin extracted every last ounce of speed while using every available inch of asphalt, even while sharing the track with suicidal bikers who seemed to act as rolling roadblocks, shocked as they were that this car could reel in all but the most powerful bikes manned by the most experienced riders.
Somewhere before the Bergwerk corner, with the Ford GT's air conditioning off, the cabin had quickly become unbearably hot. By the time we reached the famed Karussell, I thought that I would lose my lunch all over the panoramic windshield.
Hyperventilating, I was able to gather myself as we made it through the final corners with their drastic changes in elevation without incident. Exiting the Galgenkopf with a full head of steam, I watched the speedometer touch 160 MPH before Armin started to slow down to enter the pits. On public track days such as this, it's not possible to take a timed lap of the entire circuit, but Armin was confident based on his experience at the Nürburgring that the Ford GT, in its current state of tune and chassis setup, would have no problem getting under the 8 minute benchmark and could probably approach the magic time of 7:40.
After regaining my composure, with Armin in the passenger seat, I set out on my first of two laps. Armin, aware of both my inexperience with the car and the course, was very helpful in getting me on the right line while I navigated the course. He said my progress was quick and commented that I had negotiated the difficult Kallenhard to Exmuhle section quite well, especially since bikes were sharing the road with me. I was pleased, as I knew from my GT4 experience that this was one of the most technical sections of the course with two elements that concerned me; it was both downhill and off-camber. Knowing that the car had been damaged twice previously, and with 2,000 miles to go on our six-day trip, I was content to find the best line and--with the exception of the Breidscheid corner--was quite pleased with how I negotiated the section.
By the time I reached the heavily cambered banking of the Karussell, I felt much more comfortable and confident, giving the car more power in third gear, but knowing full well that an early exit from the corner would spell trouble. Armin's advice gave me the confidence to harness much more of the Ford GT's potential than I would have otherwise. By the time I had reached the pits, I felt that I had accomplished one of my life's goals: successfully negotiating what most experts believe to be one of the world's most demanding tracks, in a very powerful car, without bending either me or the car. I was exhilarated but drenched, having lost at least five pounds worth of sweat in my three laps circulating the Nordschleife in the GT.
Day 3--Anderath to Obsteig (Thursday)
With hundreds of miles of unrestricted Autobahn on tap for Thursday, we had high hopes of opening up both the Ford GT and the Dodge Viper, but we had to contend with extensive construction along with daytime traffic congestion en route. While we were able to log in several 160 MPH sprints southbound on the A61 leading into a photo opportunity at the Hockenheimring, traffic was just too dense to safely attempt anything faster. As pressure mounts from Germany's powerful Green movement, the days of cruising unrestricted sections of the Autobahn may be numbered.
On the A8 just west of Stuttgart we did catch a clear section of Autobahn and I was able to nudge the Ford GT up over the 180 MPH threshold--within 20 MPH of its claimed top speed. In fifth gear acceleration from 150 to 170 was turbine-like, the supercharged V8 delivering power in a linear, almost effortless fashion, the lack of any drama utterly unexpected. Given enough clear road, we were confident that 200 MPH was within its reach.
In Ulm, Porsche author Adrian Streather joined our group and on the A7 running south from Memmingen to Kempton we had one final chance at a top speed run. But again, traffic and an uncharacteristic lack of left lane discipline on the part of a bloated S-Class Mercedes conspired to keep us well under our goal as we ran out of Autobahn approaching the Austrian border. After that we were confronted by rigidly enforced 130 KPH (80 MPH) speed limits for the remainder of the trip.
Day 4--Obsteig to Monaco (Friday)
Friday, a run of almost 600 miles from Obsteig to Monaco with a stopover in Maranello, 260 miles south, promised to be the trip's big day, but before starting we discussed an alternate route over breakfast. The original plan was to head east on the Autobahn to Innsbruck, then head south to Ferrari's hometown for lunch. Looking over the map, we noticed a route that promised a much more scenic alternative.
There was no regret in making the deviation from the original itinerary. While the scenery in Southern Germany was impressive, nothing prepared us for the absolute splendor of Austria's Tyrol region. Lush pastures contrasted with majestic peaks, some, even in late June, capped with snow. Route 186 through the Otz valley rivaled anything any of us had previously encountered in our travels. Those who live here call it the "realm of the superlative" and we would be hard pressed to argue with this assessment of the natural beauty of the region.
When not impeded by traffic, the smooth tarmac gave both cars the ability to attack the road as we climbed to the Austrian/Italian border near the Timmelssjoch Pass. Several tunnels afforded us the opportunity to grab the obligatory shots and also provided an amphitheater to amplify the unique symphonies produced by both cars, the Ford's supercharged V8 more melodic, contrasting with the Wagnerian impact of the Viper's normally-aspirated V10.
At the Timmelssjoch Pass we were greeted by two surprises, a toll booth at 8,500 feet above sea level and a herd of wild horses that felt no fear coming right up to our cars. While there was the concern that a hoof might crack the Viper's thermoplastic bodywork or dent the Ford GT's aluminum skin, all of our equine admirers behaved themselves, seeming to pay more attention to the Viper; maybe they were attracted in some way to all the heat which it generated on the climb up the valley.
As soon as we crossed the border into Italy, the condition of the road deteriorated dramatically. It seemed that the road, which traces its roots back to Roman times, hasn't seen much in the way of maintenance since then. The downhill section leading into Merano gave us ample opportunity to evaluate the brakes in both vehicles which can be summed up in the same word the valley's inhabitants use to describe this paradise: superlative. Each switchback required either a downshift or application of the binders yet fade was never remotely an issue.
After a drive down from the Italian Alps, we arrived in Maranello after 4 PM rather than at lunch time, negating the chance to sit at Enzo's table at Il Cavallino, right across the street from the main gate of the Ferrari factory. It was always part of the agenda to invade Maranello and park both cars directly across the street from the main gate, observing the reactions of those passing by. Initially it seemed that the Viper drew more attention. Maybe it was its classic front mid-engined configuration that had a sort of kinship to classic Ferrari GT roadsters of the mid-sixties.
Just after 5 PM, a horde of Ferrari technicians and mechanics began to emerge from the main gate, all outfitted in their distinctive red and orange uniforms. At first they appeared to be dismissive of both American interlopers but after about 10 minutes something unexpected happened; everyone wanted their pictures taken with the Ford GT. Camera phones popped out everywhere. This, the distant relative of the car that almost four decades earlier had ended the Prancing Horse's run of six consecutive victories at Le Mans, was finally afforded the respect it was due from the Ferrari faithful. It was a memorable scene.
Departing Maranello just after 6 PM, the next stop would be Monaco, 300 miles away. In a car capable of speeds well in excess of 150 MPH, one would think that the casinos of Monte Carlo were just a two- or three-hour drive away. Unfortunately, this was not the case. Thanks to a monumental traffic jam and a wrong turn in Piacenza, where we lost more than an hour, we would not arrive in Monaco until 1 AM Saturday morning.
The delay enabled me to fully appreciate the Ford GT's outstanding abilities as a long distance tourer. Despite the day's aggressive itinerary, I never felt fatigued, and after a few miles, really felt as if the car was an extension of each of my senses. The seating position was perfect for my 5 foot 8 inch frame. Speeding through the Italian night, I was finally able to take advantage of its excellent McIntosh audio system, its sub woofer bellowing out crisp, clear bass from its home between the seats.
Day 5--Monaco to Romorantin-lanthenay (Saturday)
Our stopover in Monaco was all business as Florent Moulin, webmaster of gt40-1012.com had arranged with the Casino Monte Carlo to block off traffic out front so our Ford GT could be posed with chassis number 1012, a 7-liter GT40 MK II. Now owned by Yves Saguato, the car, when posed next to the contemporary Ford GT, clearly illustrated how designer Camillo Pardo had captured the true essence of the GT40's classic lines while growing the car 10 percent in every dimension. Maybe Ford should have called it the GT44?
After our photos were in the can, 1012 was pushed into Yves well-equipped trailer. The 1012 was in full vintage race trim, and starting it up in front of the casino--as much as the throng of admirers would have liked it--was never considered as it would have woken up those still sleeping in their $1,000-a-night beds. We headed off to the corniche above the city to get what we really came for, tracking shots of both cars together. This afforded us the unique opportunity to capture both cars while getting a limited amount of seat time in 1012, enough to realize that the new Ford GT, while inspired by the GT40, was an entirely different animal. Sitting in 1012's tight yet surprisingly comfortable cockpit, it was impossible to imagine driving the 427 cubic-inch Holman Moody-equipped monster more than just a few minutes, much less at racing speeds for 24 hours.
To say that 1012 has a checkered history would be an understatement. This 7-liter MK II, with Gurney, Grant and Payne at the wheel, finished second at Daytona in 1966. Later, it was essentially destroyed in a horrific crash with Peter Revson at the wheel, after which it was rebuilt using a spare chassis. What remained of the wreck was given away by then-owner Don Davis only to resurface later. For all the details, visit gt40-1012.com.
Stopping for dinner in St. Etienne, just west of Lyon, France, I was able to catch up on two day's worth of E-mails while the rest of the group enjoyed the meal at a reasonable hour for the first time in five days.
Logging in I noted this E-mail from an unfamiliar address:
I quickly replied with my phone number and just moments later my mobile rang. We arranged to meet the following morning at a hotel with strong links to both LeMans and the GT40 program.
Day 6--Romorantin-lanthenay to Le Mans (Sunday)
On Sunday morning we were able to enjoy a leisurely breakfast at a café in Romorantin-lanthenay just down the street from our hotel. The café's owner thoughtfully cleared away some barriers so we could park both cars right in front. Driving two American sports cars and speaking English as we did there could be no doubt that we were Yankees, yet everywhere in France we stopped, the locals were friendly beyond our wildest expectations.
Arriving at the Hotel de France in La Chartre sur Loir, we were met not only by Christophe, but by Patrick Dallas, president of the Ford Mustang Shelby Club de France. Christophe invited us to sit down for a meal, availing ourselves of the dining room's outstanding cuisine surrounded by decades of motorsports memorabilia. The Hotel de France had served as a base of operations for John Wyer with both Aston Martin--including 1959 when his cars won the 24-hour race with Carroll Shelby at the wheel--and with Ford starting with their first attempt to win Le Mans in 1964.
Patrick produced a scrapbook compiled by the hotel's owner, full of photos of the people and cars who called Hotel de France home on previous sojourns to Le Mans. One photo, dated June 1964, immediately caught my eye. It showed the number 10 Phil Hill/Bruce McLaren Ford GT parked in front of the hotel. Excusing myself from the table, I went outside and tried as best I could to maneuver our Ford GT into the same position. The resulting photo served as time travel of sorts, transporting me back to 1964 and documenting the start of Ford's multi-million-dollar three-year quest to vanquish Ferrari at Le Mans.
The original plan was to simply drive and photograph the Ford GT on the larger Le Mans Circuit de la Sarthe, which includes some of the public roads that comprise the Le Mans circuit, then photograph 1020, the GT40 on permanent display at the Musee de l'automobile du Mans. One final time, fate would deal us an exceptional hand. Emerging from the museum, Christophe informed me that he had gained 45 minutes access to the shorter Bugatti Circuit, and that the Ford GT and Dodge Viper were already waiting for me in the pits. I simply could not believe my luck.
It's entirely logical that 1020 should end up at the Musee de l'automobile du Mans, as after it served as a Shelby American show car, in 1967 it was upgraded to full race specifications and campaigned by Ford France. A 289 car, before ending up in the museum, it was owned by a succession of owners, including Pierre Bardinon, and finally Herve Guyomard, the current track director at Le Mans before its current home at the museum.
I had been handed the opportunity to realize one of my fondest childhood fantasies. Herve Guyomard, soon to retire as track director, had granted us access to this hallowed place. While the circuit has been modernized many times since my first 25-inch cathode ray encounter 40 years earlier, in reality, nothing had really changed. Walking through the pits I could feel the weight of history on my shoulders.
I was at Le Mans, site of many of motorsport's most historic, memorable, and sometimes tragic events. Approaching the Ford GT one image dominated my thoughts, the sight of three Ford GT40 MK IIs crossing the finish line together in 1966, ending Ferrari's six-year domination of Le Mans and the start of an uninterrupted four-year run of success for Ford at the famed track.
Driving around the Bugatti Circuit--even at 6/10ths--in both cars was a great experience, and even though the Viper has enjoyed its share of recent success at Le Mans, this experience, for me at least, was best enjoyed behind the wheel of the Ford GT. From the cockpit, everything was in the right place with the exception of the steering wheel; GT40 race cars had their steering wheels on the right-hand side, British-style. That small issue aside, navigating the course for several laps went a long way toward giving me a full appreciation of the enormity and significance of the experience as just a few weeks before, this same circuit was host to the 2005 running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. This was a life-long dream of a 10 year old boy totally fulfilled. How often does that happen?
Pulling into the pits, I thought my day was finished but I was greeted by Mr. Guyomard who simply said to me, "Go out and do a hot lap...you deserve it." With tears in my eyes and Christophe sitting in the passenger seat videotaping the lap for posterity, I tried to collect my thoughts. At 50, I felt as if I was again 10, watching Le Mans for the very first time. If ever one could say life imitated art or had come full circle--two overused clichés--this was such a time. Afterward I felt a certain sense of melancholy as I unbuckled my harness. Over the previous 2,000 miles I felt as if I had adopted the Ford GT as my very own.
Having spent much time in a variety of Vipers over the past five years, including a similar road trip in an ACR Coupe, I had often said that if I won the lottery, a Viper would be my first purchase. I felt as if I could live with the beast on a daily basis, and nothing had changed this view over the previous six days. As raw as it is, the Viper remains a singular driving experience all its own. It's a shame that in the reviews I have read in their motoring press our English cousins just don't seem to get it...this is performance, American-style, built for our roads, our unique conditions. It is muscular in the same way as classic front-engined super cars from another era, with just enough modern convenience—like a powerful air-conditioning system--thrown in to make life bearable as we have grown accustomed to such comfort levels provided by even the most basic $10,000 econobox. My hat is tipped to Dan Knott and his dedicated team at Chrysler's SRT group. All this trip did for me was to whet my appetite for more time behind the wheel of SRT's Viper Coupe.
The Ford GT, quite frankly, is in another class altogether, as befits its almost $70,000 price premium over Dodge's road rocket. While all the refinement it possesses has given it a somewhat subdued personality, initially at least, it is a tiger clothed in one of the most seductive shapes ever to grace a contemporary car. It does so many things outstandingly well that with the exception of a complete lack of storage space--even the original MK III road cars provided space for luggage for two for a weekend in Monaco--it's really hard to find any fault with it. Ford has built a car that feels every dollar worth its $150,000 price tag. From its exceptional poise on the road, competent performance on the track, clever interior details--like the dash-mounted switchgear not borrowed from other proletarian Ford products, unlike the Viper's cockpit which raided the Chrysler Group corporate parts bin--to all of the creature comforts expected of a modern super car, it is, in this crazy world of ours, an exceptional bargain, a car with no real competitor in the marketplace. While few of us will have the opportunity to drive--much less own--such a car, should the opportunity to drive one present itself to you, mortgage your soul to do it; you won't be disappointed one bit by the experience.
GT40 MK III/1107
Chassis number 1107 has remained in the hands of the Ford Motor Company ever since it was delivered on 27 June, 1969, and is the last of the seven MK III road cars built. It has been painted several times over the years, and during a recent restoration, was painted white matching the second contemporary Ford GT added to the European press fleet, the so-called heritage car.
As the photos illustrate, parked next to the new Ford GT it looks almost as if someone has constructed a 9/10th scale model of the new car. With a height of just 40 inches--thus its original GT40 designation--it looks almost delicate when side-by-side with its reincarnation.
After returning from Le Mans at the conclusion of the trip on Monday, Ford's Public Affairs Department had 1107 waiting for us when we arrived at the Roush Europe facility in Brentwood, northeast of London. There we were met by David Jones, manager of the vehicle engineering group, and were given the opportunity to drive 1107 while going out for a fish and chips lunch at Cricketers, a local pub.
After the absolute ease of driving the Ford GT 2,600 miles to Maranello and back, the MK III felt every day of its 36 years. Getting our ever-widening posteriors situated in the narrow buckets with their iconic ventilation grommets was to be transported back in time. The wheel on the right side of the cockpit and the shifter, now to my left, lacked the precision of the newer car; it appeared to share some of the Dodge Viper's reluctance to smoothly engage in the selected gear.
Once out on the road, the lack of visibility made each merge and lane change an act of faith; the mirrors mounted on the fenders were of scant assistance. What the MK III shared with its modern day counterpart was its ability to accelerate with authority, the turbine-like power delivery of the high-tech supercharged V8 replaced by a massive, macho delivery of classic sixties muscle car thrust.
A year later Ford's Paul Harrison asked me back to the UK to drive the GT40 MK III to France, along with a new Ford GT, and vintage and new Mustang GT500s to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Ford's historic win. Just when I thought it couldn't get any better, Paul arranged for me to drive the new Ford GT as the pace car for the final heat at the 2006 Le Mans Classic. At over 170 MPH on the Mulsanne Straight, with millions of dollars of vintage race cars from the sixties and seventies in my rear view mirror, the greatest satisfaction came from knowing that my good friend Christophe was behind the wheel of his recreation of the Olympia Beer-sponsored 1976 Dodge Charger that had competed at Le Mans thirty years previously.
Making Dreams Come True
Fantasy fulfillment comes with a price. In the UK there are a number of companies that can put you in the seat of a wide variety of vintage and exotic cars. Some, like Classic Touring and Bespokes--to name just two--are equipped for short-term rentals starting at as little as £100/$180 per day plus mileage. Just pick your poison, pay up (a credit card with an ultra-high credit limit is a huge plus where deposits are concerned) and off you go.
For the well-heeled among you, there's an alternative, something that I like to call "automobile timeshares," companies with small fleets of well-maintained exotics that for an initiation fee and annual dues, offer a unique driving experience. Parc Ferme offers a subscription membership program starting with an initiation fee of £750/$1,350 and annual dues of £1,950/$3,510 entitling members to access their fleet using points. This means that the most exclusive cars require more points during peak periods, such as summer weekends. This provides you all the fun of owning an exotic car with none of the pain, like maintenance and insurance. When you add up all the costs and factor in the unlimited miles, Parc Ferme costs average out just a bit higher than renting top-tier premium cars from traditional car hire services like Hertz.
Never in a thousand years did I think that the ultra rare (in the UK and Europe) Ford GT would be available, but I was wrong, dead wrong. Damon Hill's P1 organization already has a GT in their fleet that also includes such exotica as the Ferrari 575M, Lamborghini Gallardo, Aston Martin Vanquish and the Bentley Arnage T, a wish list that is sure to get any auto enthusiast drooling. The price of these forbidden fruits isn't cheap. The initiation fee is £2,500/$4,500 with the annual dues that run £11,750/$21,140. This gets you 750 points and 5,000 miles. Using this system, members should find themselves behind the wheel about 40 days a year.
(Using P1's Ford GT on an adventure such as mine would cost you 80 points but would eat up all 5,000 miles allowed in the base subscription. Now $25,000 might seem like a lot just to rent a Ford GT for a week, but in reality, it compares favorably to exotic vacations in the glossy travel magazines like a week-long private cruise down and up the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia, to cite one example. It's all about where your priorities lie. For car buffs, it should be an easy choice to make.)