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The Best Car In The World

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On: Mon, Dec 29, 2014 at 1:01PM | By: Jon Summers

The Best Car In The World

Since cars are for driving, your writer will usually review only cars he has driven, and not driven on a sanitized manufacturer-prescribed route, but on roads and in a context of his own choosing. In talking about the Superformance GT40, this habit is broken, simply because this is such a remarkable car.  Although boasting a 200mph+ top speed and a sub-4-second 0-60 time, this is not a modern supercar. Rather, it is an accurate replica of a near-half-century-old racing car.  But it is fully road legal, California smog compliant, and cheaper to buy than a BMW i8. Sounds like the best sixties psychedelic trip ever, right ?

The finest fighter plane of WW2 was the P51 Mustang. It was this plane, not wild horses, which inspired Ford’s marketing people when they were reskinning the Falcon into the fastest selling car in history. The P51 was not a success out of the box; the original American engine did not make enough power, and greatness was achieved only when the Mustang was powered by the Rolls-Royce Merlin motor. The GT40 story is a similar tale of Anglo-American teamwork. It was commissioned in Detroit, powered by a Ford V8, designed and built in Britain. Like the P51, success was not immediate, but came eventually with the big block 427, which Ford had developed with great success for NASCAR, and Carroll Shelby’s team of Californian hotrodders.

Superformance are based in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, and make this car, like the originals, from a steel frame with fiberglass panels (doors, engine cover, etc.) Superformance say 90% of their car is interchangeable with the original, and, indeed, people have told me that when original GT40s are damaged, they are often repaired with Superformance parts. Engines and transmissions are sourced and fitted separately, leaving buyers a choice of small and big block motors. Most popular with Superformance customers is the Windsor small block, normally a 351 c.i. unit, but available now in all-aluminium 427 form, producing a feeble 550+ hp, considerably more than Shelby’s drivers had at Le Mans in 1966. Big blocks are also available, either in period correct iron, or aluminium, although prices are higher, and choice is really about deciding how historically accurate you want to be. Transmissions are typically ZF 5 speed units.

Inside, it is all business, with black plastic dash and switch gear. The tach is front and center, the speedo away, in the middle of the car, angled to face the driver. The seats have the same large eyelets in the leather you’ve seen on the sixties racing cars. The pedals are offset towards the center of the car, brake and accelerator close together, clutch heavily weighted, as you would expect in a racing car. If you were thinking this car might be awkward in say San Francisco’s traffic and hills, you might be right. Most original cars were right-hand drive (most road racing tracks have more right turns than lefts, so racing cars are usually right-hand drive) with a right-hand shifter—that is to say, the shifter is on the sill, close to the door jamb, and Superformance offer this as an option, although most cars have a more conventional console shift. The GT40 is only 40 inches tall, and tall people traditionally struggle to fit into it without needing to have their heads crooked to one side. At 5'11", I was expecting to be a tight fit; in fact, I was fine, and would not need the extra headroom offered by the optional “Gurney Bubble”. There are a few token concessions to practicality: air conditioning is available, and there is some “trunk” space in the form of a couple of custom bins fitting around the rear wheels, and room for a gent’s overnight bag in the nose, around the chassis, steering rack and suspension parts. It feels like a racing car, like a Caterham Super 7 or a sportsbike. The motor sits right by your head, the windshield wraps around panoramically; be in no doubt, it’s just you, strapped to the front of that roaring, epic, V8.

I went to investigate Superformance hoping that the car would make me feel like Dan Gurney or Ken Miles, one of the guys who developed and raced these beasts in period, and without even a drive, I am now sure it would. The Superformance GT40 is not a throwback, not a kit car, not a modern supercar, and certainly not for the faint of heart. It is The Best Car You Can Buy.


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