With its sleek styling, rumbling motor and glowing taillights, Ron Wade’s ruby red Ford GT looked like it was ready to rocket to another galaxy, not merely sit idling for gawkers.
But Wade was more than happy to indulge the earthly audience that had shown up for a glimpse of his otherworldly automobile.
The car collector and all-around auto aficionado had taken delivery a few days earlier on the Ford GT. He’d let friends and folks in the auto enthusiast world know the public unveiling would happen Monday. They knew it was a big event.
Just as Wade is not just any car collector, the Ford GT is not just any sports car — or “supercar,” as Ford calls it. For starters, its base price is $500,000, only 1,350 of this model will be produced in a six-year span, and more than 9,000 people capable of paying for one applied for permission to do so. Wade made the cut.
With its public debut in the rearview mirror, Wade does not plan to let this baby sit gathering dust in an auto museum, even though he has one. Wade plans to drive it. In fact, he believes that’s part of the reason Ford allowed him to buy the twin-turbocharged, 647-horsepower V6 beast. He has a track record of putting plenty of miles on the steeds in his vast automobile stable, including his 2005 Ford GT — the last year that Ford produced the legendary car.
But at age 81, Wade knows there are a limited number of miles remaining on the odometer. After more than three decades of building a vast car parts business, of collecting cars, of serving as an ambassador for the American automobile industry, Wade has paved a path for the next chapter. For now, though, he’s going to enjoy that GT.
Born out of competition
Wade knows well the history of the Ford GT, and tells it with the enthusiasm of an unofficial historian.
In 1963, Italian automotive entrepreneur Enzo Ferrari was interested in selling his eponymous company and reached a verbal agreement with Ford Motor Co. But Ferrari backed out of the deal. That angered Henry Ford II, who launched an effort to develop a car to compete in and win the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the world’s oldest active sports car race. The Ford GT40 went on to win the race four consecutive years, 1966 to 1969.
As part of its 100-year anniversary, Ford Motor Co. developed a limited-edition GT for 2005-06. Slightly more than 4,000 cars were produced, sold at about $150,000 apiece, and Wade bought one of them.
Ford unveiled plans for another GT iteration in 2015, to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the 1966 win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The company announced only 500 cars would be built, but ended up increasing production to approximately 1,350 cars in total.
The cars are built at a factory in Markham, Ontario, at a rate of about one vehicle per day. That means about 250 cars are built per year, starting with the first one in December 2016 for Ford chairman William Clay Ford. The last car should be built and delivered in 2022.
For Ford, the 1,350 GTs in the public eye serve as an advertisement for the company’s capabilities at styling and engineering.
“It’s a rolling demonstration of advanced technologies that will eventually make their way into other Ford vehicles,” company spokesman Mike Levine said in an email.
By one measure, the GT is a vehicle from another era: It gets 11 mpg in the city and 18 on the highway, consuming 7.1 gallons of gas for every 100 miles. But the car contains state-of-the-art automotive engineering that Ford expects will find its way down the line — including electric vehicles — such as advanced lightweight materials including carbon fiber. (Dearborn, Mich.-based Ford, the world’s fifth largest automotive company by sales, has a four-year, $11 billion plan to expand its lineup of electric cars globally. Last month, it announced it would convert a second North American plant to build plug-in models.)
Jon Creedon, president of Vancouver Auto Group, which includes Vancouver Ford Inc., remembers hearing about the GT for the first time at a Ford dealers meeting in 2014.
The sales approach for the 2005-06 edition of the GT closely followed a typical auto sales model: Dealers purchased the cars from the manufacturer, betting they would find buyers and keeping their fingers crossed. Creedon bought two and sold two — one to Wade and to another buyer.
This time around, Ford officials told dealers the sales structure would be different: The manufacturer would sell directly to buyers who’d been approved through an application screening. Buyers would choose the dealer to deliver and service the car.
Ford officials at that 2014 meeting did not share the particulars they’d be looking for in successful applicants, Creedon said. “They didn’t want people to play to the criteria,” he said. “They wanted customers who could say in their own words why they wanted one, what they would do with it, where they lived.”
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