Sunday, January 22, 2006

Car Spotlight: Ford GT

Since the Ford GT--or rather, the sale of two of them--has just recently brought me some rather high times, I thought I'd spend a post talking about this extraordinary machine. Forgive me if any of this stuff is wrong (although I really, really doubt it is), I'm doing it all off the top of my head from my sales pitches about the car. And I'm half-baked. I am, however, absolutely certain that all the numbers are right.

The GT is one of those cars that has an inexcapable presence anywhere it's encountered, be it parked at the curb, cruising the street, screaming down an open highway, or shredding a track. The low, sleek, aggressive form demands both attention and immediate respect. In fact, the original GT, which was built in the 60s, was named the GT40 because its roof stood a meager 40 inches above the road surface. The most recent incarnation, although visually almost identical, is actually 44.3" high. Detractors of the GT's retro styling fault it for being such a slavish copy of the original. On the other hand, its fans counter that the original body was so far ahead of its time that it can find its place in the 21st century alongside its major rivals: the Lamborghini Gallardo and Murcielago, the Ferrari F430, Saleen S7, and Dodge Viper (both SRT-10 and the slightly older GTS). Updates to the outward appearance include modernized headlights and optional stripes and "Ford GT" detailing along the side skirts which were not available on the vintage model.

At the heart of Ford's supercar is a supercharged all-aluminum V8 displacing 5.4L and making 500-hp @ 6000RPM. Torque peaks out significantly earlier, with 500-lb-ft arriving at 4500RPM. It runs a reasonable 8.4:1 compression ratio and makes 90-hp per liter. Each cylinder is fed by two massive injectors running off of an 18-gallon tank. With such an enormous engine seated in the car, weight is a concern. However, the GT's midengine layout and relatively low engine mounting point keep it well-balanced, giving it as much stability as a 500-hp rear-drive car can have on the street and retaining its racing capabilities. Weight distribution front-to-rear is 43-57, making it far more manageable than even the rear-engine Porsches and granting it a wonderfully neutral handling balance, avoiding the classic GT40's tendency to understeer at the limit. The drivetrain is a relatively simple affair, with a 6-speed manual transaxle running a final drive ratio of 3.36:1.

The next feature of the GT is its rollcage, a relative oddity even in the high-end supercar segment. Of course, in a car this powerful and quick-handling, a rollcage isn't an so much an option for safety or chassis rigidity as it is a useful tool for prolonging one's life. Unlike many supercar 'cages, the GT's never makes the cockpit feel cramped or claustrophobic, and entry and egress through the vertical-open doors is effortless despite the low stance.

The exterior continues the race-inspired character of the car with a great innovation in body design. The body panels are finely fit and precision-made to the same standards as the panels found on high-level professional racecars. For the average owner, this means little other than a guarantee of the fit and finish expected of a $170+k automobile. However, the track enthusiast or moneyed canyon carver can appreciate the ease with which damaged body panels can be replaced with no fuss or tweaking. The replacement will, in fact, fit identically to the damaged panel, requiring only the necessary repaint to complete an undetectable repair. Compare this to the fiberglass-bodied Corvettes of the 90s and today, which tend to crack and fragment on impact, leaving enormous gaping holes which typically required a great deal of body shop time to fix and ensure proper fit of the new panels.

The suspension is, of course, composed of double-wishbones front and back. The steering ratio is relatively slow, with a lock-to-lock turn count of 2.7 (compare this to the 2.3 turns an EVO takes). Of course, in a car with a 200mph top end, slow steering has its advantages. And if you're planning on travelling at legal-in-Deutchland speeds, you'll be glad to know that the GT features enormous brakes to stop the madness: 14" in front and 13.2" in rear, run from a vacuum power assisted system.

On the city streets, the GT is purely an ornamental ride. However, unlike other pretty machines, the only jewelry this beast wears is its pornstar performance. This comes in handy the moment you get on the highway; it's very, very difficult to have the nerve not to get out o the way of a GT. Of course, given the presence this car has, it's usually wise to keep the speed reasonable. Cops follow this baby like Anna Nicole Smith after an elderly oil magnate. At idle and lazy cruising speed, the engine maintains a low, throaty growl that rapidly becomes a deafening roar once the throttle opens up and the tires begin to shriek. And that sound never gets old; most times, you'll wonder why they bothered putting in a stereo.

Given the far-reaching performance envelope of the Ford GT, the only safe place to find its limit is at the track. But if you're feeling adventurous, it performs well on mountain passes and winding blacktop. A good rule of thumb is to take the posted speed limit for the turn, double that number, and add 5mph, assuming you're a pretty good driver.

The GT is what it is: a racecar made for the street. It lacks the amentities of the more luxurious cars in its price category, but it more than makes up for that in sheer performance. And in terms of performance-related comfort, it certainly fits the bill. The racing seats are comfortable, supportive, and fit most drivers, while the racing harnesses hold the driver and one passenger in place without leving bruises. When masses of traffic prevent the car from stretching its legs, the six-speaker sound system steps up to keep you entertained. Dollar for dollar, it isn't the biggest bang for your buck. That title is held by the C6 Corvette. Instead, the Ford GT is simply the biggest bang.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Hubris

I went to work the day after the thing. No big deal, really. It's like having your car come close to spinning out, but not actually losing it altogether and hitting a wall: Sure, it was a bit of a fright, but it's over and everything's fine, so it's best if I just get back to business.

In other news, my boss has elevated me to Golden God status. Not for refusing to miss any work, but for selling not one, but two Ford GTs to the same customer. I took him on a test drive at the track, which is pretty much the only place the GT is really going to make its full presence known with any kind of safety whatsoever. Since the car is really a street-legal racecar, it makes sense to let a racecar driver handle it for a little bit. It also gave me a chance to get the tires warmed up to prevent annoying little handling quirks that come with cold tires. Then he got a chance to play with it, and said he'd take it after three laps. Yes, the GT is really that good. Of course, at $175k a pop, they'd better be that good.

We were going over the paperwork in my office when he spied a little model I'd made of the current GT in the now-optional Gulf Le Mans racecar livery, baby-blue and orange (a very attractive combo, actually). He asked about it, and I said that you can get them like that, but we'd have to order it. Then he asked if the GT was legal for track races, which it is; it competes in the Sports Car Club of America Touring Class (SCCA, the governing body for most track and rally races here in the States), on the same level as Dodge Vipers and Saleen S7s, and that it's competitive with those cars. Although, to say it's competitive with the current Viper SRT-10 is a disservice to the Ford, which will simply blow the Snake out of the water every time.

And just like that, he said he'd like one in the Le Mans trim. Boom. Another $180k down the tubes. The extra five grand covers the fancy paint and the order charges and the nice rims. At this point, it's already a grand slam, $355k in sales, maybe fifty grand in profits for us, and a certain four-digit cut for me.

But we talked for a little bit while I did even more paperwork and I ended up hooking him up with a friend of mine who does truly superb graphics work, who's going to perfectly recreate the sponsor decals from the old Le Mans car and apply it to this one. That's maybe $2500 for my buddy, who's going to owe me one for the business. And anothe buddy will owe me when he gets the in-car electronics work on the street GT.

To even things out, I talked to the boss and dropped five grand off the deal for friendship's sake (and repeat business is a wonderful thing). Then I placed a call to a nice woman at Ford that I met in Japan and had a quick fling with to see if she could get me the Le Mans GT in a hurry, which she could.

Now my New Best Friend in the Whole Wide World has a GT for the street and a GT for the track, I have two favors in my pocket, and another contribution to the Engagement Ring Fund. Yeah, I'm still thinking about that.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

People Are Stupid

Very interesting day. I got my ass carjacked. Not the Skyline, but a tuned Mercedes-Benz CLK we had got on a trade-in. No, he didn't get away with the car. Because he was stupid.

He came in for a test drive at the track, and I didn't like the looks of him. So I tossed a GPS in the trunk and took a panic button. We get out to the highway, with my driving, and he turns to me and threatens to "cut me".

Now, I was scared shitless. But 90% of the time I was driving GT, I was scared shitless, too.

First, I told him I was HIV+ (I'm not; condoms rule!). He was trying to figure out whether I was telling the truth or not when I noticed he was not wearing his seatbelt. I elbowed myself in the side a couple of times to get the panic button working (hoping my boss would actually call the cops), and decided that I didn't really want to crash the Mercedes.

I did decide, however, that since this particular Mercedes was capable of 1.0g lateral grip and had a top speed hovering around 210 mph, that I was perfectly cool with tossing that son of a bitch around the inside of the car like salt in a salt shaker.

So I kicked it up to 170 and weaved through traffic. Then we had a conversation.

Carjacker: "Slow down, dammit, I'll fucking cut you."
Me: "Who's gonna drive the car?"
Carjacker: "For fuck's sake, slow down, you're gonna get us killed."
Me: "No, I'm not. Well...you, maybe. Me, I'm wearing my seatbelt, asswipe. Seatbelts save lives."

All the while, I've got "Hand of Blood" by Bullet For My Valentine on the CD player. It's metal, and it's amazing to drive to. I was feeling it.

I slowed it to 100 and started powersliding through turns. 100mph powerslides are really fun, but if you screw up, you die. Once the traffic cleared, I floored the gas and let the seven-speed automatic do its magic. 200mph on the highway! On an American highway! That was done mostly to attract the attention of law enforcement.

And it did. A State Police pursuit car--they use trick Camaros with Z28 bodies and serious badness under the hood--popped out and tried to follow us. Problem is, they top out around 170 or so, so I had to slow down to let the cop catch up. And I had to slow down some more to make sure he didn't kill himself--I can do shit like 200mph because I know how to do it, he might not, really. He nosed up behind me, and my passenger brought the knife all the way out and pointed it at me neck.

So I tapped the brakes and dropped back alongside the trooper, so he could see the knife, and thus know not to shoot me. I jetted away from him again, signalled for and took the next exit, and hooked a hard left. The g-forces pushed the carjacker against the door and caused him to drop the knife. I slammed on the brakes, got the car stopped, and proceeded to use my left hand to grab the keys, unbuckle my seatbelt, and open my door, while using my right hand to punch him in the face as many times as I could. Then I dived out of the car and got clear.

Two black eyes and a broken nose. That's what you get for picking the absolute worst guy to carjack. The cops were nice enough to give me a ride back to do my little statement. Those Camaros are really cramped inside, but they look fun to drive. Especially if you get to use the lights and siren. The cop asked me where I learned to drive like that, and laughed when I told him.

Lisa picked me up at the trooper's barracks. She even surprised me by bringing the Skyline. I didn't think I'd be in a mood to drive again, but...hot damn, I was! Skylines and pretty girls will do that to a guy.

My boss wanted to know only two things: One, was his lead seller okay to come to work tomorrow? Two, was the car okay? The car was fine, I just managed to smoke all the tires off. Not an enormous problem.

In other news, the Skyline now features a bumpin` soundsystem and a GT-style wing. I forgot how much I love downforce. I'm also going to slip on some tasteful carbon-fiber front splitters. I don't want to disrupt the R34's clean lines too much. The soundsystem install is kinda rough...just a box enclosure and concealed wiring. In summer, I'll replace all the interior upholstery, redo the dashboard and all the seats, and do a really nice integrated enclosure to house the subs and the amps, probably featuring either a coating of black-gloss fiberglass or carbon-fiber weave. And I'll remove the rear seats and cover an area back there with smooth black plastic for use as a cargo area.

Goddamn stupid people. I need a beer.