Welcome to Freeze Frame, our look back at moments from this week in automotive history.
1 February 2004 – Ford GT revealed through Super Bowl advertisement
The late 1990s and early 2000s explosion of retro-styled cars will be regarded as its own unique period in automotive history and the cars are, ironically, becoming old enough in many cases to be considered classics, or at least emerging classics, in their own right.
Within the space of a decade or so the Volkswagen New Beetle, BMW Z8, BMW-era Mini, Fiat 500 and Chrysler PT Cruiser all hit the market, and in the US market things went even further, with the Ford Thunderbird, Mustang, the Chevrolet Camaro, Dodge Challenger, and Chevy’s SSR pickup and HHR wagon all debuted before 2010.
Most special of all though was Ford’s reborn GT supercar, and on February 1, 2004, it was shown to the world in a commercial break during Super Bowl XXXVIII.
While many of the retro cars of the ‘90s and 2000s had real heritage to support them, Ford’s reimagining of its Le Mans-winning icon, the GT40, was more titillating than any revived economy model or retro-restyled pony car.
Unlike the most recent GT revealed out of the blue at the Detroit auto show in 2015, the car that made its screen debut in 2004 was not unexpected. It had already been seen as a prototype two years earlier, at the 2002 Detroit auto show.
The concept’s lines were strongly inspired, and cleverly reworked, by Camilo Pardo. Pardo was in charge of Ford’s ‘Living Legends’ studio, which had recently launched the friendly-faced 2001 Thunderbird, and had been behind the 1994 Mustang – a car that wasn’t overtly retro itself, but incorporated several design cues from the classic ‘Stang that its boxy 1980s predecessor did not.
With enormous interest in the concept, Ford quickly pushed the project into production. A 5.4-litre supercharged V8 was bolted behind the bulkhead and to it a 6-speed manual from British firm Ricardo. With 550bhp and 500lb ft at the driver’s disposal, Ford quoted a 0-62mph time of 3.8 seconds and a top speed the right side of 200mph.
But better than its outright performance was the way it drove. This was not the frequent recipe of power over finesse, nor the racer-turned-road car of its GT40 predecessor and 2015 successor, but a road car capable of giving Ferrari, Lamborghini and others a bloody nose. It was good enough, even, to win evo Magazine’s Car of the Year test in 2005 – nudging the Ferrari F430 into second, and one of the best-ever hot hatchbacks, the Renault Sport Clio 182 Trophy, into third.
Not that those Super Bowl viewers would know any of that when the advertisement aired. Even so, the overwhelmingly positive reception did give credence to Ford’s cheesy marketing spiel. Shown on a race circuit, the one-minute advert called the new Ford GT “The Pace Car for an Entire Company”. And despite a recent run of incredibly strong product offerings, from Fiesta STs to Raptors, Mavericks and Mach-Es, Ford is arguably yet to catch up with its 2004 pace car.