As Yogi Berra would say, “It’s Déjà-vu all over again.” About fourteen years ago, Ford brought out the GT, a stunning limited-production supercar with a mid-mounted forced-induction engine loosely related to its mass-market truck powerplants. The world was amazed at the new car’s power and handling. This homage to the GT40 was a completely new chapter in high-performance American sporting vehicles.
A few years later, however, Chevrolet put a supercharger on its plain-Jane Corvette, called it a ZR1, and promptly beat the Ford GT like the proverbial red-headed stepchild everywhere from the Top Gear “test track” to VIR’s Grand East course . The ZR1 of that era had some remarkably special features, from the carbon-fiber bodywork to the massive carbon-ceramic brakes, but compared to the thoroughly exotic Ford GT it was like that new McDonald’s Signature hamburger: a classy version of the same old beef .
Last year, Ford started delivering a new GT–and they started kicking ass with it as well, on racetracks around the world, in both street and race trim. Confession time: your humble author never thought much of the old Ford GT, with its blobby-retro styling and the decidedly unorthodox methods by which it was sourced and assembled, but I would chew glass to own the new one, which dispenses with the Sixties silliness in favor of a GTLM look that is as modern as today’s Le Mans Series fields. I can almost forgive it for having a V-6; the Jaguar XJ220 had one as well and just like that swoopy supercar of years past, the GT’s heart is literally in the right place.
Unfortunately for new-GT admirers such as yours truly, however, it looks like GM Performance is once again spoiling the party with a new ZR1. It might have the face of a deep-sea monster fish, but the ZR1 has the soul of a first-rate track car–and the lap times to prove it. Adding insult to injury, the newest C7 costs almost exactly what the C6 ZR1 did once you adjust for inflation—a tough bit of news to swallow for the Ford GT buyers who lined up to pay an MSRP that is approximately triple that of its 2005 predecessor .
Should any of this matter, either to the moneyed enthusiasts with the new GT on order or the man on the street whose closest connection to this battle is the choice he’ll make for his next full-sized pickup? Well, bragging rights are always worth something, particularly for the drivers who don’t personally visit the limits of their vehicles. I’ve never turned a 9.3-second quarter-mile on my ZX-14R, but I absolutely cherish the fact that any number of more talented owners have managed the feat. This same mentality is common among Corvette owners, who love nothing more than a beer-swilling session of “magazine racing.”
According to my extremely precise calculations, approximately 87.6 percent of late-model ‘Vette drivers have already heard the news about the ZR1 taking the Ford GT to school. I pity the fellow who drops a half-million bucks on a fresh new GT in his favorite colors then shows up at his local Cars & Coffee, because I guarantee you some fellow in an automatic-transmission C5 droptop with aftermarket chrome taillight louvers is gonna walk up and drawl something along the lines of, “Ya’ll heard that fancy car of yours ain’t as fast as that new ZR1, right?” It’s the same mild abuse that owners of Ferraris, Lamborghinis, and Porsches have been suffering since around the time that somebody stuffed a Mercury Marine boat motor into the C4 and gave it a Botox butt injection so it could hunt Testarossas like a West Virginia woodsman with camo undies from K-Mart and a penchant for knocking off a buck’s antlers at four hundred yards.
(Yes, I know it’s more complex than that, save your e-mails, please.)
Those harried new-GT owners, if they can keep their wits about them, can take some solace in the fact that the market rarely rewards the fastest anything in the long run. A used C6 ZR1 is worth just a little more than half what you paid for it new; a 2005 Ford GT is probably worth just a little more than twice what you paid for it new. My 1995 Porsche 911 came complete from the factory with an extra-strong right turn signal to flick on when an LT1-powered C4 ‘Vette pulled up next to it at a stoplight; today my car strongly resembles an appreciating asset while an LT1 C4 is a $7,000 proposition in most cases. Oh, and remember that infamous crack from our sister publication Car and Driver fifty-five years ago, about how the Pontiac GTO was faster than the Ferrari GTO? Hope you didn’t build your classic-car retirement portfolio around that fact.
No, the market cares little for raw speed because raw speed tends to become meaningless over time. Even the mighty sixteen-cylinder Grand Prix streamliners of the thirties would struggle to keep pace with a modern MX-5 Cup car around most normal tracks. The fastest factory drag car in history, the mighty Hemi Dart, wouldn’t stand much of a chance against a Dodge Demon or a McLaren 720S on the street–and that’s assuming you could get the Dart to idle for twenty minutes without fouling its plugs . A lot of people bought those Botox-butt C4 Corvette ZR1s and wrapped them in plastic, thinking that they would be immensely valuable to future generations. If you’re one of those people, and you haven’t looked at auction results lately, then maybe you should just keep on not looking. And if you happen to line up against some retiree in an automatic-transmission C7 Grand Sport convertible, you might also want to refrain from whipping out the pink slip, ’cause you’re gonna get toasted like fresh bread.
It’s also easy to become accustomed to speed, whether that speed comes from replacing your Model T with a Model A or replacing your Ford Escort GT with a Ford GT. In much the same way that any major-league hitter can adjust for a 100-mph fastball if he sees it three times in a row, even the most wickedly fast vehicle tends to become old hat in a hurry. There are almost no actual limits to this; far too many times in the past two years I’ve found myself approaching an off-ramp at what seems like a “nice, comfortable” speed on the ZX-14R, only to realize at the last minute that I’m actually doing 120mph or more. The human brain adapts remarkably well to high speeds, which is why you don’t freak out every time your Suburban Premier Plus achieves a velocity higher than what your ancestors could reach on a horse or sailboat.
So what really matters in the long-run market, or the middle-run ownership experience, if it isn’t speed and power? Looking at auction results will give you a better sense than I can convey here in a few words, but: Beauty. rarity Daring design, first-ever features, aesthetics that perfectly represent the era in which the car was sold new (see: Tri-Five Chevrolet, 1977 Trans Am, 1986 Supra). Most of all, however, it’s that undefinable “specialness” that some cars have and others don’t. A Berlinetta Boxer is more special than a 930 Turbo, even to the loofacult people. A new V6 Camry is faster in a straight line than a first-year-production Scion FR-S, but something tells me your classic-car budget is better spent on the latter. Specialness comes in many enthusiastic forms, but it’s primarily associated with being uniquely fit for purposes.
The new Ford GT is hugely, delightfully, special. The C7 ZR1 is less so; it shares many parts with lesser Corvettes and you could probably get the same lap time cheaper with a used Z06, a few hop-up parts, and a sticky set of Hoosier tires. The fact that well-heeled enthusiasts have the choice between two American cars of this caliber is, however, more important than any of the fine distinctions between them, either of provenance or puissance. So if you have a Ford GT on order, I wouldn’t worry too much about the lap times. And if you have a ZR1 on order, it’s not worth thinking too much about Barrett-Jackson results of two or three decades from now. Enjoy the cars, drive them as hard as you safely can, count yourself #Blessed for having the opportunity.
As for the rest of us… I just saw a 2010 Corvette ZR1 for sale on the Internet. 11,800 miles. No goofy modifications. Plain silver. The price? $59,900. That car, plus some nice aftermarket aero from one of the shops that specializes in NASA Super Unlimited racers, and some first-rate modern R-compounds, will be within spitting distance of a new GT or a new ZR1 pretty much anywhere you go. That’s probably the enthusiast’s choice, right there. Don’t expect to win your local car show or attract the envy of the masses. You’ll have to be content with my respect, and my envy. Oh, and maybe a few local lap records. I say it’s money well spent. The thrill of pushing the limit in a wickedly fast car is as strong now as it was in 2007, or 1957, or 1907. Just know that someday there will be something available that goes faster for less money. It’s always going to be that way—or at least I hope it will. Deja vu, all over again.
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