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Superformance GT40 Versus Ford GT - Forbes

Friday, March 10, 2017

If you're like me you tend to scoff at terms like "replica" or "tribute" when tied to a classic car. I grew up driving American muscle cars, and while their market value wasn't as high in the late 1980s as they are today, there were already hucksters trying to pass off common daily drivers as rare, high-performance machines after a sloppy engine swap and stripe kit. The explosion in value for original, numbers-matching classic cars over the past 30 years hasn't reduced this practice. Quite the opposite, in fact.

These factors were top-of-mind when I visited the headquarters of Superformance recently to drive their continuation version of the iconic Ford GT40. As an automotive purist, who happens to own a 2005 Ford GT, I was curious to see if Superformance's version of the GT40 could win me over. I've seen these vehicles at car shows (and in more than one Hollywood production) for years, so I already know they look dead-on accurate when compared to the 105 original GT40s built by Ford 50 years ago. With prices of those originals hitting eight figures the Superformance GT40s are a far more attainable option for under $200,000. They're even less expensive than current 2005-2006 Ford GT market values. But are they worth it?

Let's start by addressing what the word "continuation" means in reference to the Superformance GT40. Unlike the "tribute" or "replica" terms I called out earlier, these cars can accurately be labeled continuation models for several reasons. First, they use chassis and engine numbers that line up with the original Ford GT40s. The term "GT40" is now owned by a company called Safir GT40 Spares, Limited, and they have licensed Superformance to continue building GT40s while using a sequential VIN system that tracks back to the Le Mans-winning cars.

So they use the same VIN structure, but how similar are these Superformance GT40s to the original Ford models? According to Superformance representatives over 80 percent of the continuation GT40s are interchangeable with the original cars. The Superformance monocoque chassis is built to the exact same spec, and all body panels are swappable. The 20 percent that doesn't line up with an original GT40 comes from alterations to improve the continuation car's performance, like switching from the original Girling brakes to Wilwood four-wheel vented disc brakes with four-piston calipers. Other upgrades include Bilstein progressive shocks, a high capacity air conditioner, an aluminum radiator with dual electric fans and adjustable pedals.

Buyers can also configure their GT40 with a range of options that include various paint schemes, exhaust systems, wheels, tires, seats and drivetrains. The Gulf livery car I drove for this story was powered by a Ford 427 V8 with fuel injection and a ceramic coated "bundle of snakes" exhaust system good for 535 horsepower. A Quaife 5-speed manual transmission sends power to the rear wheels, but Superformance can build your GT40 with an automatic. The company also offers left- or right-hand drive configurations of both Mark I or Mark II versions of the GT40.

So the VIN sequence, chassis, body panels and interior all match the original GT40, and if a customer wants, the drivetrain can be similarly configured to mirror the engine and transmission specs from the 1960s. The only real variations are for performance improvements and, if desired, convenience features like air conditioning and adjustable pedals. That leaves just one question: how does a Superformance GT40 drive compared to 50 years ago?

I've never operated a 1960s era GT40, so I can only speculate on how they felt. But I have sat in one, and everything from the steering wheel design to the seating position to the entry/exit process feels as accurate as these Superformance cars look. The time-travel effect continues when the engine fires up and those bundle of snakes start their V8 barking. The Superformance GT40's heavy, direct steering and shifter certainly feel vintage. It took me about 30 minutes to get fully acclimated to the primary controls. The attention a bright blue-and-orange GT40 draws as it navigates the steets of South Orange County didn't make it any easier to focus on coordinating the heavy shifter and gas pedal.

But after 60 minutes in the Superformance GT40 I was confident I'd experienced the same vintage mid-engine magic enjoyed by guys named Gurney, Foyt, McLaren and Miles. The stiff gas pedal and tight shift pattern (and common sense) were still holding me back from fully exploiting the car's capabilities, but even half throttle blips easily hurled the 2,500-pound GT40 forward with ease. Zero-to-60 tests on similar cars have recorded times in the mid-3-second range (for the record, my Ford GT clocked zero-to-60 in 3.6 seconds). And unlike the earlier cars, if it's a hot day you can turn on A/C.

Probably the best news for GT40 fans (and Superformance) is the recently passed "Low Volume Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Act" that lets Superformance assemble an entire GT40 and deliver it to you ready to go. Previously you had to contract for the body and drivetrain separately and have them assembled by a third party (or do it yourself) to avoid potential federal law entanglements. Now the full range of Superformance vehicles, including Cobras, a Daytona Coupe and a 1960s Corvette Grand Sport, are also simple to configure and purchase through one company.

For fans of iconic, multi-million-dollar vintage cars looking to experience their childhood dreams at a much lower price, it's never been easier to make that happen.

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