Mastering 40 Inches of Fury

Saturday, Aug 24, 2013

5778295618_e1442f56fd_z.125749When the name “Ferrari” is batted around, specific images instantly come to mind. For most, it’s that hue of Cora Rossa red or the thundering velocity stacks of the open wheeled racers of the 50’s. But for me, I think of something different. I think of the Ford GT40 – the car that was conceived with the soul mission of knocking Ferrari off the top step of world motorsport. The GT40 did this quite handily in 1966, taking all three steps of the podium and continuing to do so for four straight years. It’s history, written by guys including Carroll Shelby, Dan Gurney, A.J. Foyt, Enzo Ferrari and the great Mario Andretti, is a fantastic read and well documented. Give it a read here for some more on the development of America’s greatest automotive triumph.

But enough of the history lesson. At Classic Car Club, we’re interested in the drive as much as the legend. This is a hand-built 1966-titled GT40, built by CAV America. The first thing one notices are the proportions. At just 40 inches tall – thus the name – the GT40’s roof fails to meet my belt buckle. It’s low. But it’s as wide as it is low. The rear of the car looks like it will take up every inch a highway lane has to offer, and that’s not too far from reality. Open the door, mind the bit of roof that comes along with it, and step over the wide sill that doubles as one of the GT40’s two gas tanks and sink into the cockpit. This is when you notice you’re wearing the wrong shoes. Anything short of a pair of racing shoes is a very difficult fit in the pedal box…. Joana has more on this topic below.

A quick look around reveals the iconic toggle switches on the dash, the massive tachometer in front of you and the speedo, placed way off to your right. The rule is, if you’re in a GT40, you’re going too fast. You don’ tneed a speedo to confirm it – it’s a given. A glance in the rearview mirror displays eight Weber velocity stacks peeking over your shoulder and little else. There’s no view behind you, but whatever there would be to see is most likely too small to see. This car leaves most anything on the road in the dust. Visibility out of the sides is equally challenging. The windows don’t roll down, the side view mirrors are mounted on the hood and you’re ass is about four inches off the ground. It definitely takes a few miles to get used to what’s around you and the size of the car you’re inside of.

Turn the key and push the big red ignition button mounted to the center consule. The race-built 302 block producing more than 400bhp barks to life with thunder clap. A few things are immediately obvious. This is no road car. This is a race car with plates. Your right foot is hovering over a grenade and in your hands is less like a familiar steering wheel and more like an unfamiliar yoke of an F-4 Phantom. This car is a weapon of motorsport war.

Let the clutch out and you’ve just accomplished the equivalent of 10 leg lifts at Equinox. It’s heavy and it feels purposeful. It’s meant to handle the truckload of torque you and that 302 is about to throw at it. The clutch, being race bred, lets go all at once, like an on-off switch. You’re jerked into motion and you’re moving. Put your foot down, but the GT40 doesn’t welcome the stomp and go approach. Rather, it requests the press and squeeze strategy of a racecar driver. The GT40 lacks any nanny technology to keep you in line. There’s no traction control to speak of, no less ABS, electronic dampening and other techno training wheels. It’s all mechanical and it’s up to you to keep it going in the intended direction. Too much pedal will send you spinning, but press and squeeze and a wave of speed washes over you. It’s astonishing.

You’ll also notice you don’t grab gear after gear as one would in a modern car. There’s no seven-speed sequential gearbox in the GT40. It’s a manual six speed and the gears go on forever – long and tall, as typical in a GT car, especially one specifically designed to shatter 200mph on the legendary Mulsanne straight. On the road, This produced one of the finest exhaust notes I’ve ever experienced. It’s a cannon, where other cars of this speed are machine guns. Big booms and long trails as you shift and climb through the revs.

From the wheel, you can feel the road. Really feel the road. Every dip, bump and degree of camber touches your hands. At the same time, the car develops impressive amounts of grip. But no matter, entering into a spirited corner is frightening. The car sticks like glue and stays composed. It’s built for this kind of speed. Yet, in the back of your mind, you know that its 50/50 mid-engine configuration can snap at any moment, letting you know just how better of a car the GT40 is than you are a as a driver. But that’s what makes is so impressive. How much it can handle before it bites. To drive a GT40 well, one must use a very healthy dose of track knowhow. Brake in a straight line and get all of your downshifting done before entering a corner. Squeeze the throttle on at the same rate you straighten the wheel out of the corner. Don’t throw the weight of the car around to its four corners. Rather, coax the weight there, lean it in a bit, try to be smooth. Treat her right and she’ll show you what mechanical speed is all about.

As you start to burn off the fuel, make sure to switch from the current fuel tank to the other one to balance out the port to starboard weight distribution. Check your gauges to make sure that 302 peeking over your shoulder is happy. Try to match your revs to the road speed with every downshift. Send a blue flame from hell out the exhaust pipes every time you do it. Be the better driver that the GT40 pushes you to be.

Before the drive comes to an end, make sure you scope out a Gulf gas station. This GT40 is an official Gulf Racing product. She likes to drink at the family watering hole, just like we all do.


The Art of Driving In Heels

Here’s one for the women of CCC. Sometimes you have to manage two requirements at once, like jack AND ginger or driving a spectacular car and looking good while doing it. Looking good usually requires wearing heels. So CCC’s own femme fatal, Joana Belo gives us a guide to proper driving in heels.

1. If you have to drive in heels, try to make them wedges or at least a pair with more of a platform to them. This will keep a sharper heel from breaking or getting snagged under the pedals – a definite no-no. The back of the wedge will get dirty, so don’t be surprised. Instead, where it like a medal.

2. Don’t use the typical amount of pressure on the pedals. Instead, throttle that back by one-third. For some reason, heels are made of lead. So be wary.

3. When moving from gas to brake, make sure to really lift your foot up more than normal. Wedges and big heels have thicker soles and sometimes you don’t clear the pedal. Use big steps.

4. Driving powerful machines in heels can give you that uneasy feeling. There’s a lot that can go wrong. To get over this, just pretend you’re wearing race shoes. Being fast, driving well, or being a danger behind the wheel usually starts in your head. Build your confidence by pretending you’re in a pair of Sparcos.

Speaking of, it’s not a bad idea to stash a pair of driving shoes in your bag. If your job is anything like mine, your boss might just require you to drive an 458 Italia Ferrari….. a CCC gal is always prepared.

5. When exiting the car upon arrival, make sure everyone notices you’re actually driving in heels. It’s a talent shared by women. Guys have nothing on us.

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