Although we elected to ignore the warning, the electronic your-speed sign did provide useful context: 4,000 rpm in second gear is faster than 55 mph. That’s a handy bit of information in any car with no speedometer, but especially one geared to hit 212 mph.
Superformance is perfectly happy to build you a street-legal Ford GT40 MKI replica complete with luxurious amenities such as a speedometer, a fuel gauge, and even air conditioning, but for $30,000 more, it’ll build you one like this, an exact “Tool Room” replica of the 1969 24 Hours of Le Mans winner. No matter how rich you are, you’ll probably never drive the real car, chassis P1075, much less own it. For $209,900 plus engine and transmission, Superformance will build you one so close to the original the company boasts that 75 percent of the parts will bolt right up to the progenitor. The 1969 Superformance Ford GT40 MKI 50th Anniversary “Tool Room” special edition is every bit the 1960s Le Mans-winning experience in a brand-new car.
What the hell are we doing driving an actual race car (yes, you can race it in historic events) on the street? Well, technically, the car is only a set of rearview mirrors, a set of road tires (though these Coker reproductions of Goodyear race slicks do have tread cut—not molded—into them), mufflers, and front turn signals away from being street legal. Thing is, depending on the year and the engine fitted, the original GT40s raced in several different classes at Le Mans, and the 1969 car was running in the second-highest Sports Group, not the top-level Prototype Group. This meant the car had to be homologated, a fancy word for “you have to sell some street-legal versions before you’re allowed to race.” We had this speech rehearsed in the event law enforcement posed the question, though the opportunity never presented itself.
Why the 1969 car, though? After all, ’66 was the famous race, immortalized first by the 1-2-3 finish of the GT40s and more recently by the movie Ford v Ferrari. The 1969 running, though, is considered among Le Mans fans to be one of the greatest finishes in race history. You should absolutely look it up, but know this: no one, not even the drivers or team manager, expected the GT40 to be competitive, let alone win. But win it did after starting dead last due to driver Jacky Ickx’s personal protest of the traditional Le Mans start. It outlasted the new Porsche 917s, and it benefitted from the employment of a brilliant draft and out-brake strategy by Ickx on the last lap to get ahead of the faster Porsche 908 at the end of the Mulsanne Straight.
Not that rushing to his car at the start would’ve helped Ickx all that much. GT40s are hard to get into, especially P1075. For some ridiculous reason, it was the only GT40 without a removable steering wheel, and this 50th Anniversary “Tool Room” car—being an exact replica—doesn’t have one, either. That’d be difficult enough were it a traditional left- or right-hand-drive layout, but it’s right-hand drive with the shifter mounted on the sill between the steering wheel and the door. There are several ungraceful ways to climb in, but the best seems to be to slot the dogleg five-speed shifter forward into fourth and then snake one foot at a time between the shifter and the wheel.
Inside the Beast
Once in, the GT40 is surprisingly comfortable by race car standards. With the car standing just 40.0 inches tall at the roof (hence the name), you’re basically lying down in the driver’s seat. The unmistakable leather seat with brass ring inserts feels like a thin recliner, and there’s decent head-, shoulder-, and elbow room for an average-size adult. Even so, watch the secondary latch on the ceiling when you close the door (part of the roof is attached to the top of the door, creating a big cutout in the roof when open).
The secondary latch was necessary because the aerodynamics of the GT40 meant those odd doors liked to pop open at high speeds. The lips on the roof of the car are part of the solution, but failing to ensure the doors are closed all the way is a critical error even today, as we’d discover rounding a corner in third gear. Twice.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. First, you have to start the car. Reach awkwardly behind your right elbow and switch on the main power, because you forgot to do it before getting in. Two toggles to the right of the steering wheel activate the ignition and fuel pump. Crack the throttle slightly (but not so much that you flood it) as you press the starter button. The battery is tiny, so you don’t get many chances. Get it right, and the time machine explodes to life and transports you directly to pit lane, 1969.
The Roush-built, 302-cubic-inch V-8 topped with four Weber dual-throat downdraft carburetors and entangled in the famous “bundle of snakes” headers makes an unholy noise that’s as intoxicating as any sin you can commit with it. You know you should be wearing earplugs, but how can you impede the clarity of that siren song? No time to dwell on it, though. This being a race car and all, it doesn’t have cooling fans on the radiators, and the water pump and alternator don’t even engage until 3,000 rpm. Do not try to drive this car in traffic. Don’t even let it idle in the driveway or in pit lane. Just go.
Sitting still, it’s even money which will overheat first, you or the car. Naturally, there’s no air conditioning and not even a fan in the cockpit. The air vents at either end of the dash run on physics, channeling outside air toward the driver when the car is moving, and quite effectively. Still, there’s a massive engine inches from your head and uninsulated coolant lines running across the passenger floorboard, so any cooling effect of outside air is relative. There’s a reason the Superformance people call it “the sweatbox.” The faster you go, the less sweaty it is. It’s as if everything about this car is designed to encourage you to go as fast as possible.
So that’s just what we did. The indicated redline is 7,000 rpm, but no amount of sign waving from Carroll Shelby himself will change the fact this particular engine is brand new and currently limited to 6,000 rpm and starts to slack off at 5,500 revs. Once broken in, it should be good for 500 hp and 450 lb-ft of torque. Similarly, no amount of screaming “alright” in your best Christian-Bale-as-Ken-Miles impression will allow you to be heard over the engine. That’s movie magic, kids. Driving this car an hour without earplugs leaves your hearing dulled like when you leave a rock concert. But it’s worth it.
Rage Against the Machine
The unassisted steering is very heavy at low speeds but frees right up when you’re moving. With a fast rack and a steering wheel small enough to drive wearing handcuffs, you need to make slow, deliberate inputs. There’s an enormous amount of feedback from the front tires, enough to make the car feel darty until you remember this is how manual steering racks drive.
This aside, the GT40 is remarkably easy to drive fast. It handles confidently and has more grip than you need on the street. Those 15-inch-wide steamrollers on the back would take serious clutch or throttle abuse to break free. The shifter slots neatly and easily from gear to gear, though it’s not hard to catch fifth accidentally when you’re downshifting from fourth to third and trying not to hit first.
That’s not the only tricky bit. The mechanical throttle linkage takes a lot of muscle to break loose when you first put your foot on the gas, so moving the car around at parking lot speeds takes practice. A racing clutch only makes it harder to avoid stalling. The unassisted brakes, likewise, require a strong right leg but stop the car hard when you muscle them. Driving this car takes effort, but the effort is rewarded. Once you’re moving, both the throttle and brake are quite tractable, giving you surprisingly precise adjustability for a car based on more than 50-year-old engineering.
A few days before we drove the Superformance GT40, a silly analogy for a wild, uncontrollable car popped into our head. We liked it enough to pull over and write it down, figuring we could use it for this review if the Superformance car turned out to be a widow-maker. You’re not reading it now because the GT40 “Tool Room” replica is anything but a wild child, and we need to save the one-liner for a car that deserves it. This one’s great. Sure, you can buy a lot of nice cars for the $282,900 this one costs with its custom engine and transmission built to 1969 FIA homologation standards (much less its current valuation of around $450,000), but you can’t buy an experience like this anywhere else.
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