A 1954-1964 Ford GT For the Road
Not all Ford GTs were racers. A few were prepared for street use and, in fact, there was a brief official attempt to turn the GT into a serious roadgoing grand tourer. The responsibility for making it happen was assigned to JW Automotive (successor to Ford Advanced Vehicles) in England.
This was no halfway effort. From the outside, a new nose was most obvious. It had reshaped fenders to allow mounting of the headlights (round sealed beams for the U.S. rather than the rectangular CibiÈ halogens otherwise used) at legal height. Useless bumperettes were installed as well, as was a heated rear window. Inside, carpeting was added, the fixed-position racing seats (which worked with movable pedals) were replaced by adjustable units, and provisions were made for air conditioning, a radio, and all necessary conveniences, including a helping of sound-deadening material.
Mechanical changes were equally extensive. In place of the race-prepped 385-bhp, 289-cid V-8, the Mark III was given a milder 306-bhp unit as used in Shelby's Mustang G.T. 350. Mufflers were also added, of course. The racers' ZF gearbox remained, complete with a sequential gearchange. Smaller, less expensive brakes were installed on the theory that Mark IIIs would not often be haulded down from 200 mph, for which they were not geared anyway.
Soft rubber bushings were installed to filter out suspension harshness, and suspension geometry was altered to improve ride comfort without materially affecting handling. Smaller fuel tanks were installed in the side pods, reducing capacity (from 39.5 to 27.6 gallons), but allowing space for some impact-absorbing foam filling around them.
The plan was for selected Ford dealers to sell Mark IIIs in the U.S. to the same sort of discerning clientele who might otherwise have bought, say, a Ferrari 250 LM (if they could get one). Base price was set at $18,500, a substantial sum, but certainly in the ballpark when compared to the money asked for a contemporary street-legal Ferrari (anywhere from $14,200 to $21,500 depending on model).
After seven GT Mark IIIs were built, the project was called off. According to one inside source, the reason for the abrupt cancellation had much to do with a road test published in Car and Driver. Among other complaints, the C/D article reported that "the workmanship and most of the hardware on this, the most costly Ford of all are, miserably below the standards of the meanest Falcon." That was a damning charge, considering that the entry-level version of Ford's compact car listed for a mere $2,118 in 1967.
If that wasn't enough, numerous quality-control problems were reported, ranging from electrical failures, to ineffective shoulder-harness reels, to a right-side door that would not remain shut. There were other gripes about uncomfortable seats and uncooperative clutch and shift linkages as well, enough in fact to fill more than the first third of the story with complaints.
C/D's driving impressions reported favorably on the Mark III's attention-getting looks ("People would stop dead in their tracks . . . and stare open-mouthed"); handling ("The . . . suspension is beautiful . . . . [The car] rides around corners like a ground-effect machine at the end of a tether. The steering is uncannily responsive, with the precision of -- not surprisingly -- a good race car"); acceleration; brakes; and ride comfort.
Hindsight allows us to see the Ford GT program as the significant and praiseworthy success it really was. Yes, winning Le Mans cost Ford a substantial sum of money, but few major victories come cheap. In the end, however, the transformation of a beautiful but ineffective would-be racer into a serious winner had more to do with top-flight drivers and the hard work of men who really believed in the project than it did with the depth of HFII's pockets.
Clubs for Ford GT Enthusiasts
Shelby American Automobile Club
P.O. Box 788
Sharon, CT 06069
Telephone: (860) 364-0449
Fax: (860) 364-0769
Antique Automobile Club of America
501 W. Governor Road
P.O. Box 417
Hershey, PA 17033
Telephone: (717) 534-1910
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