Ford GT RIP

ford gt rip

I'll never forget driving a red-with-white-striped Ford GT to a photo shoot one misty Manchester morning. By then, I knew car and road well enough to use the former to annihilate the latter. The GT hurtled through the woods like an Imperial speeder, its supercharged V8 sounding like God scrubbing the world clean with a wire brush. The 550-horse GT also did an excellent imitation of pre-Army Elvis: thrusting obscenely in time with the changes, moving in perfect synch with the mechanical melody. After that run, I wanted a Ford GT more than a Porsche Carrera GT, Ferrari Enzo, Pagani Zonda or Lamborghini Murcielago. The GT is that charismatic, that much fun to drive.

On Friday, Ford announced it's idling its Wixom assembly plant in the second quarter of next year. As a result, production of the Ford GT will end this September. Speaking to the Detroit News, Ford spinmeister Jim Cain handed the mid-engined supercar its gold watch with only a slight hint of sentimentality: 'It was our plan all along to wind up production on the 40th anniversary of the 1-2-3 victory at Le Mans… It's not being canceled. It's just run its race.' Yes, well, checkered flag or no, FoMoCo's 'dismissal' of the GT is the automotive equivalent of Buddy Holly's plane crash: a sad day for a special car.

It's unlikely that Ford made a dime on its $151,245 range topper. The Ford GT relied on new construction techniques and materials. And as with many "all-new" cars, the Ford GT program faced substantial production problems and experienced long delays. Even after the GT finally hit the forecourts in late 2004, a defective suspension part (made using a new technique) grounded the entire fleet of 100 sold cars, and halted production for a few months. Even more surprising, Ford dealers have only sold 1603 of the 2603 GT's produced to date. Although many dealers say they plan to keep their GTs indefinitely for promotional purposes or personal use, there's clearly no shortage of Ford GT's sitting in dealer showrooms, waiting for a home.

A great deal of the blame for this sad state of affairs lies with Ford's dealer network. The GT was first released in a very limited supply. "Early adopters" were willing to fork out a large premium above the manufacturer's suggested retail price (MSRP) to buy their own personal piece of automotive heaven. But now that the supply has increased and those few "gotta have it now" buyers have their GT's, the days of the $100k premium are long gone. Even so, dealer greed has kept MANY GT's bolted to the showroom floor. That will change; as the 2006 model year Ford GT has arrived on the scene, reports are filtering through of '05 Ford GT's selling for sticker or, gulp, below. With 1400 more cars to go before production ceases, it's only a matter of time before prices soften further, perhaps dramatically.

Clearly, Ford screwed-up the sales side of their supercar project. They should have produced fewer, better GT's, or more cheaper ones. But that doesn't mean they should kill it. The money spent on the Ford GT bought them a small but wealthy population of Ford GT owners. Surely it makes sense to keep these buyers within the Ford family with new and faster GT's, just as the Viper has a dedicated coterie of owners. If Ford eased-up on the GT supply (without ending it), demand would eventually catch-up and profits would be restored. After all, this is a car whose intrinsic appeal is not likely to diminish over time. Nor has the GT's promotional value run its course.

Time. Ford just doesn't get the whole long-term thing, do they? Their minivan tanks and they cut bait and run. The Lincoln LS looks a bit old in the tooth and they kill it stone dead in an endless pursuit of The Next Big Thing. The Ford GT wins the hearts and minds of millions of enthusiasts but the company's attention span for it is only two years long. In fact, I'm so disappointed about the GT's short run I'm contemplating a Ford Death Watch. So far, I've resisted the urge because I didn't think The Blue Oval Boys were headed for the buffers. Now, I'm not so sure. By failing to capitalize on the long-term benefits available from making a car like the GT, Ford has revealed itself as short-sighted, timid and clueless. If left unchecked, these traits will prove fatal to a company that once aimed for the pinnacle, and, despite the odds, got there in style.

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