2016 Superformance GT40
After Le Mans ‘66, can Superformance make a reader’s GT40 dream a reality? The List Reader Arron Nichols spends a day driving a Superformance GT40 Arron Nichols has lusted after the Ford GT40 for decades. Will Superformance’s exacting continuation stir his soul? Words Emma Woodcock. Photos Jonny Fleetwood.
‘It’s madness but in a good way. It’s amazing what this car can do’
The List Your dream drive made real
Two Ford GT40 MkIIs feature prominently in the recent Hollywood racing epic Le Mans ’1966 – or Ford v Ferrari for our American readers – but neither are Fords, and both were recently constructed by US firm Superformance. A leader in continuation cars, the company creates GT40s whose components are at least 85% interchangeable with those fitted to the Blue Oval originals, and that carry legal rights to the GT40 name.
‘Whatever you can see ahead, you’re there in an instant. It’s a brutal style of acceleration’
Superformance machines also wear ‘GT40P’ chassis numbers – just like their Sixties predecessors – and can be added to the Shelby World Registry. They’re a faithful evocation and offer a more accessible way to experience the GT40 legend.
One such GT40 is sitting outside the Sussex workshops of Le Mans Coupes, the Superformance UK agent. Arron Nichols is visibly entranced; today we’re putting him in his dream car. He says, ‘I wasn’t sure of the mint green before I arrived – some shades don’t lend themselves to the GT40 shape. Now I’m seeing it in the metal, though, it definitely fits the car and the era of the design. The central stripe and the racing roundels are a key factor in that. There’s no part of the appearance that would make you think it’s modernised; this car could have come straight from the Sixties.’
The next few minutes are lost to first impressions, Arron circling the car time and time again. He doesn’t try to spy the engine or open the doors: the hip-high bodywork monopolises attention by itself, its blistered wheelarches matching the look of the revised MkI machines first raced in 1968. ‘It’s all about the stance and those haunches. Just look at the way the rear body hunches up around the wheelarches to contain those massive ten-inch wide wheels! The air intakes ahead of the rear wheels have always been defining GT40 feature for me; the softening lines that come forward over the doors make the car look like it’s speeding when it’s standing still. ‘One of the other things I’ve noticed are the front canards,’ says Arron. They’re an optional extra for Superformance cars. ‘When I was reading about the history of the GT40, I saw that the early cars struggled with lift at speed, so they added these for high-speed stability. There are pictures of the very first cars with wire wheels too – that’s a bit of a throwback! I much prefer these BRM alloys: the black finish sets off the paintwork brilliantly.’ They’re wrapped in Avon CR66ZZ historic competition tyres, chosen by Le Mans Coupes for their period looks and breadth of ability.
Click two catches, release a retaining pin and the rear clamshell shoulders backwards through a shallow arc. The sight below has has Arron grinning. ‘I’ve always been attracted to engines – the bigger and shinier the better! I’ve fitted all the chrome and blingy bits to the 289 in my Mustang.’ Le Mans Coupes managing director Oliver Hulme explains, ‘We like the 347 because it’s relatively comparable to the 289 and 302 engines Ford fitted.’ That means more than 450bhp and a redline past 7000rpm.
Cradling the cylinder heads and shooting back to a pair of centre-exit tailpipes, the ‘bundle of snakes’ exhaust system also plays true to GT40 tradition and attracts effusive praise. ‘Only now we’ve lifted the clamshell can I really appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into the manifolds. These things can’t be done on a production line, with all the bends and welds, and it shows the hours that someone put into building the GT40. There’s automotive art in how they got it exactly how it should be for this individual car.’
Now it’s time to climb aboard – easier said than done. The doorframes boast a top edge that extends deep into the roofline, creating a wide aperture for Arron to step over the sill and into the car. ‘Getting in is quite novel and it’s a bit weird to be standing on the seat. The removable steering wheel makes the whole process a lot easier.’ That’s a modern concession to usability but the driving position is still pure GT40. ‘The reclined seatback doesn’t feel too bad and I can tell these bolsters will hold me tight. I quite like the long-arm driving position too; I’d expected it to be difficult but it feels like a leather armchair.’ Tucked into position, he turns the centre-mounted key and hits the starter button, ready to drive.
‘Loud. That’s the first word that comes to mind when you start up the car,’ he laughs. ‘There are reverberations shaking all through the car, then I’ve just looked in the central mirror to see all that engine right there. It instantly reminds you of what you’re driving and I’m starting off with a real consciousness that there’s almost 500 horsepower just behind me. It’ll definitely be the fastest car I’ve ever driven.’ With a labyrinth of farm roads to navigate before we reach the public highway, Arron won’t be using that power just yet. ‘I’ve come most of the way down here using only the clutch. Only now it’s opening out am I beginning to touch the throttle, and I’m being very light with it.’
The GT40 noses up to the junction and after adjusting the four-point harness for a little more mobility, Arron is pleasantly surprised. ‘I didn’t expect to have a good view out – I was just hoping everyone else would be able to see and hear me – but the field of vision is actually really good, even though I’m lower and further back than in my Mustang. It needs a little throttle as we pull away and the engine roar reminds me that I need to be careful.
‘It’s a deceptive car to drive. I expected it to be very wide but it’s similar to driving my Mustang. So long as I keep the road markings in line with the front bulges, the Superformance fits the road well and it’s easy to position.’ The unassisted steering is bolstering Arron’s confidence too. ‘There’s no delay and it’s right at the end of your fingers; the tiniest movements take you around junctions and roundabouts. It’s heavy at slower speeds but I caught a pothole on the way out to the road and instantly realised I’d feel everything through the car.’ Barely ten minutes into our drive the GT40 is cutting through turns in steady arcs, but Arron is still learning.
‘I’m a little worried about how close the pedals sit to one another and all three of them have quite a meaty feel. The clutch is particularly tricky at the moment, because of the length of its travel. When I first depressed it, I thought I’d moved through the pedal’s travel and I was only halfway. And it’s got a very short bite.’ Despite sitting to the driver’s right and featuring a dogleg first, the gearbox is posing fewer issues. ‘It needs a push but the action is smooth with a short throw.’
A series of long, rising sweepers appears and Arron dips further into the rev range, the GT40 squatting over its rear tyres. ‘As soon as you get past 4000rpm, the exhaust note changes and you start to feel the power. Whatever you can see ahead, you’re there in an instant. It’s a brutal style of acceleration.’ Rising revs send a transformation through the whole car, Arron taking Oliver’s advice to grab it by the scruff of the neck. ‘The car felt tightly wound at first but it’s really come straight into my hands now. The steering feels even more direct and I’ve got an instant trust for the chassis through these S-bends.’
Speeds drop on the narrow approach to Ashdown Forest, so talk turns to the practicalities of using a Le Mans racer on the road. ‘The period-correct window flaps don’t let in much airflow and it’s getting ridiculously hot now I’ve extended the engine a few times. I like how all the modern air conditioning controls are hidden away in the door cubby but it’s taken me 45 minutes to work out how to turn it on!’ The period-correct positioning of the Smiths speedo is also causing issues. ‘I know it’s as-original but you have to turn your head completely to the left to see it. I’ve just started making a mental note of what revs equate to what speed instead.’
The GT40 bursts out onto the wider B2026 and its complex curves, scudding above open grasslands. With empty roads and clear sightlines, Arron has more space to load up the Superformance chassis. ‘It’s highlighting how little of the car’s ability I’ve been using so far. Now we’re repeating this loop, I’m going through the corners a little faster each time, learning there’s further I can push within mine and the car’s boundaries. Only once have I felt the rear begin to wiggle under power, plus there’s no kickback and the steering feel is just right for me. It’s just about being firm with the car. I can really chuck it into corners when there’s space, and that’s a lot of fun.’
‘Tighter turns are giving me the chance to brake a lot harder too. Oliver said this car has upgraded discs with six-piston calipers and they’re definitely worth having for fast driving: they’re responsive, they bite every time and there’s no fade.’ Familiarity is encouraging faster gearshifts too. ‘I love the feel. It’s got the response of a shortshift but still has a good amount of movement from second to third, and I’ve realised I can just dip the clutch and flick the lever.
Do that and there’s no juddering on the way up, and the revs are right there when you downshift.’ Arron’s wrist is moving faster and faster, barely punctuating the Mulsanne Straight soundtrack. Volume and a rich, garrulous texture define the sounds shaking through the cabin. ‘I keep easing off then flooring it again in second. The whole process is addictive, with crackles from the exhaust as soon as I let off the accelerator. You don’t just hear those pops and bangs, you feel them running through the structure. It smells like a Sixties racing car too, with that unfiltered whiff of petrol.
‘I’ve spent some time plodding around in third at maybe 2500rpm, where the engine is just a lowdown grumble behind your back. Even then, I could plant the pedal and go off more quickly than most cars. I can definitely feel the torque, no matter where I am in the rev range, so there’s never any compulsion to upshift or downshift.’ The best is still saved for higher revs though, and Arron grabs some final lunges as we head back to Le Mans Coupes. ‘As soon as you hit 4000rpm, there’s a constant power delivery that never dips. There’s more and more and more… The GT40 is like nothing I’ve ever experienced.’
Rolling back down the farm track to the workshops, the Roush 347 swells one last time as Arron navigates the final twists of his day in the Superformance. The door slices open and the beaming grin within tells its own story. ‘The GT40 was and is the number one choice in my top ten. It’s the car I really wanted to drive, and I’m giddy to have driven a continuation that’s so close to the original Ford. I probably would buy a Superformance, in the unlikely event I had £170,000 to spend on a car! I expected it to be quick but not that quick; I thought the interior would be confined but it’s got a great field of vision; I worried it would snap back at the driver but it’s so user-friendly.’ That’s one blockbuster performance.
2016 Superformance GT40
- Engine 5686cc V8, ohv, electronic fuel injection
- Power torque 450bhp @ circa 6500rpm
- Max power 491lb ft @ circa 6000rpm
- Transmission Quaife five-speed manual transaxle with limited-slip differential, rear-wheel drive
- Steering Rack and pinion, unassisted
- Front: independent with unequal length wishbones, H&R coil springs, Bilstein dampers and anti-roll bar
- Rear: independent with trailing arms, unequal length lateral arm, H&R coil springs, Bilstein dampers and anti-roll bar
- Brakes Wortec servo-assisted discs front and rear
- Weight 1100kg (2425lb)
- Performance 0-60mph: sub-4.0sec;
- Top speed: 180mph-plus
- Fuel consumption 22mpg
- Cost new From £142,000 plus VAT
Tacho takes centre stage; speedo is cast out to the fringes.
Sill-mounted gearlever is easy to get used to
To Arron’s eye the Superformance is indistinguishable from an original MkI Jacky Icyx’s endorsement – he signed the car during a race meet at Spa. Arron finds the GT40 to be far more compact and wieldy than he’d expected. Arron enthuses to Emma about the Roush-tuned 347ci small-block V8 Hand-built tubular exhaust manifolds sound just as good as they look.
ARRON’S CAR CV
Arron’s tastes have gone all transatlantic
2002 MG ZS180
‘Someone I knew wanted rid so I upgraded. The clutch failed en-route to the Nürburgring and it was towed to Holland to find a specialist…’
1966 FORD MUSTANG
‘I ended up with an inheritance and mum told me to enjoy it. I’ll never sell it. I added a twin-exit exhaust after it was rear-ended last year.’
2002 MG ZS 1.8
‘It looked like a budget Impreza. I ended up buying all the X-Power bits I could find, including a loud exhaust – a terrible decision!’
ARRON’S DREAM DRIVE LIST
‘I saw Swordfish and the look, the flip paint, just stuck with me.
And it’s got no driver aids with strong construction’
Lancia Delta Integrale
‘Spent a lot of my youth watching rallying and playing the video games. Wherever it was, the Integrale was always fast’
Chevrolet Corvette C1
‘I love the scallops on the front wings and the C1 looks like it’s doing 80mph standing still’
Austin Healey 3000 ‘It’s mutual between my wife and I – we’re always drawn to one we see at our local car shows’
Ford GT40 ‘Always fancied one to just pop to the shops for some milk, then take onto the track’
Jensen Interceptor ‘The 6.3-litre engine appeals – and it’s a looks thing too!’
BMW 850CSi E31
‘It’s a V12 with pop-up headlights. Come on, what more could you want?’
Land Rover Series 1
‘It’s the epitome of cool… and I’ll probably have a Defender 90 as my next car’
‘I watched Magnum PI every week in my youth and spent my time lusting after the car’
’Such a different look to other cars of the era – I saw one as a child and it stuck with me’