Forty years ago, the Ford Motor Company was determined to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans, a crusade that began perhaps with the refusal of Enzo Ferrari to sell his company to the American car company. Ford jumped in with both feet and got the ball rolling with the Ford GT-40 in 1964. Thanks to the hard work and talent of a number of people, success was achieved in 1966 and 1967 as Ford won Le Mans and captured the International Sports Car Championship title each of those sea sons (a complete history of the seasons can be seen in the January 1968 issue of Road & Track).
Of course, Ford’s big rival in all of this was the Ferrari team, which had been dominating the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the 1960s. And that has led to this story on the modern-day rivals: the 2006 Ford GT and the Ferrari F430. Both are sensational-looking, mid-engine cars with enormous performance capabilities. But how do they truly stack up with each other?
Both of these cars are something very special, and at the risk of oversimplificaion, I’d call this a contest between modern and retro.
The Ferrari F430 is beautifully styled and thoroughly modern-looking, with all of the sophistication we have come to expect of Ferrari. It’s also sensuous and at the same time muscular, looking very much like a black panther loping through the jungle.
The Ford GT is equally eye-catching, with all of the exciting design that made many of us fall in love with the original GT-40 so many years ago. The special Gulf Oil Team paint scheme—light blue with orange trim, like the 1968-1969 winner— makes the GT stand out on the street like a very large man wearing a very bright- colored suit. It draws attention wherever it goes and elicits exclamations of “Awesome” from young men.
Inside, the Ford GT looks and feels like the race car from which it is descended; in a word, claustrophobic. You sit way down in the car, the windows are not very tall, the windshield header comes down into your line of sight, and the massive A-pillar blocks your view during left-hand cornering. At the same time, the extra-wide B-pillar makes it hard to see someone running alongside your right rear quarter. However, the seating is reasonably comfortable, the dash is simple and easy to see, and the toggle switches for the controls solidify that feeling of being in a race car.
The Ford’s driving dynamics are sensational. The 5.4-liter supercharged V-8 engine blows out 550 bhp and 500 lb.-ft. of torque that will send you rocketing away from the start line even at part throttle. We measured the 0-60-mph time as 3.6 seconds with the Gulf Oil car (a shade quicker than the first GT we tested in the December 2003 issue), and covered the quarter-mile run in 11.7 sec. at 125.8 mph—”Awesome!”
The Ferrari F430 coupe couldn’t be tested for this issue because we borrowed the car from Ferrari of Orange County, and it came right off the showroom floor. But last January in our test of the F430 we notched 0-60 mph in 3.5 sec. and the quarter mile in 11.7 sec. at 120.1 mph, so we’re dealing with very similar acceleration. But the Ferrari comes across as a thoroughly modern exotic car, with a beautiful interior that is more spacious. This car is also easier to get into and out of, and offers more head room. Ferrari’s double-overhead-cam V-8 engine displaces 4.3 liters and yet it pumps out a wonderful 483 bhp and 343 lb.-ft. o f torque. This is an engine that runs like a thorough bred, with its power band farther up the rev range than that of the Ford GT’s V-8.
The 6-speed paddle-shift manual transmission is a delight to use, making every downshift sound as though it was performed by Michael Schumacher. The engine note is crisp and music to my ears, which is good because you hear the Ferrari’s engine more than that of the Ford while you’re driving.
Both cars are the kind you love to drive on a winding two-lane road. They both offer excellent steering response, great gripping power in the turns and reasonably pleasant ride characteristics for longer hauls. Each car rewards the enthusiast driver with exhilarating performance and a sense of truly being in command of what ever the road throws at you.
So, pay your money and take your choice: The Ford GT lists for $149,995 and the Ferrari F430 is a bit pricier at $171,000. As for me, though 1 grew up during the days of the Ford GT racing program at Le Mans, and imagined myself a budding Phil Hill or Dan Gurney, at this time in my life I’d go for the Ferrari F430.