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Ford steals the show
Shock all-new GT to recall Le Mans glories | by Andrew Frankel

On the surface, it seemed a mistake to be getting on the plane. I’d gone to the Detroit Motor Show last year after many years away and enjoyed a show rammed with new and important products and interesting concepts. This year it looked like the new Audi Q7 was about the most exciting unveiling on the cards.

But then something happened, something that used to be reason alone to go to any big motor show but is so rare these days as to prove very much the exception to the rule. Someone pulled a very large rabbit out of a hat.

That someone was the Ford Motor Company and the rabbit came in the rather extraordinary shape of the new Ford GT. On Ford’s home territory it didn’t steal the show so much as throw it over its shoulder and run away.

The GT revealed a side of Ford we have not seen for too long: confident, ambitious, proud and not afraid to celebrate the expensive, hedonistic and out-of-touch joy of supercar design.

The styling of the car is a quite startling evolution of the GT40 theme first seen more than 50 years ago and seemingly lower and certainly wider than ever. Does it have the simple beauty of the original or the stunning purity of the 2005 Ford GT? Not to me, but not even a 7-litre MkII GT40 has anything like the presence or naked aggression of the new car.

We are told that Ford will build it and launch it in time to celebrate the 50th anniversary of its first Le Mans win next year, courtesy of the aforementioned MkII. Will it race at Le Mans itself? It is certainly a possibility that Ford will develop a version capable of being raced under the equivalent of the current GTE Le Mans regulations.

But for now we must focus on what we know for sure, which is that while it might appear to be a direct descendant of the GT40, it is in fact a very different car underneath, not least because its tub is made from carbon fibre. Aluminium subframes then carry the engine and other assemblies.

And that engine? A large, fire-spitting V8 in the finest traditions? Actually no – it’s powered by a 3.5-litre V6 carrying twin turbochargers to reach an output of ‘at least 600bhp’. So while it won’t be in any way lacking in firepower, it will come from a rather different arsenal to that which might reasonably be expected. Likewise the gearbox: Ford did experiment with a two-speed automatic GT40 back in the 1960s but gave up on the idea… at least until now: the new GT will have just two pedals in its footwell but seven gears in its paddle-operated, double-clutch, automatic gearbox. Ford offers no information about performance, price or production numbers, but I would estimate a top speed of above 200mph, a 0-60mph time of below 3.5sec, a £200,000 price tag and a total run sufficiently exclusive to make the 4000 Ford GTs made 10 years ago look positively common.

SUVs and turbo chat

If the Ford GT was by far the most interesting item actually on show at Detroit, that which could not be seen was at least as beguiling.

We know, for instance, that Jaguar and Bentley’s new SUVs are to be called F-Pace and Bentayger respectively, and while I can just about see the Jaguar name assuming some semblance of normality once we’ve all become used to it, I struggle to see the Bentley Bentayger ever being a phrase to trip lightly off the tongue.

But the most interesting chat of the trip came courtesy of Porsche’s R&D boss Wolfgang Hatz. Among his more startling revelations came the news that from this autumn all 911s save the GT3 models will come with turbocharged engines as he tries to balance the customer’s desire for performance with the imperative as part of the VW Group to drive down corporate average CO2 emissions. I don’t know how I feel about the idea of no more normally aspirated 911s, though I do know I’d be much more reassured if even once I’d driven a 911 Turbo I preferred to its atmospheric stablemates.

GT4 Cayman on horizon

Elsewhere in his ranges, Hatz confirmed the long-trailed GT4 version of the Cayman and said it had been a project of the Weissach-based Motorsport department rather than Porsche as a whole. This means it was developed by the same people responsible for the GT3 and GT3 RS and, as such, is bound to be a far more sporting proposition than any Cayman seen to date. Hatz would not be drawn on its power output other than saying it would have less than – but in the region of – 400bhp. The most powerful current Cayman is the 335bhp Cayman GTS.

Nor has the Boxster been ignored.

A new, ultra-sporting version of the mid-engined roadster is being developed too, albeit as part of a standard Porsche programme (unlike the Cayman GT4). It is likely to be a stripped-out version à la 2011 Boxster Spyder, which derives its performance not from oodles of additional power, but reduced weight and a more dynamic set-up. Both the Cayman and Boxster will receive Porsche’s new flat-four turbocharged engine next year. This is believed to have a capacity of about two litres but, says Hatz, will still be capable of delivering “proper Porsche performance”.

And finally Hatz confirmed Porsche is still working on a supercar to fit in above the 911 range but below the current 918 hypercar.

Its mid-mounted V8 engine is likely to be derived from the all new unit currently under development at Porsche for fitment into the next generations of Panamera and Cayenne.

Black Series AMG GT is on

Over at Mercedes-Benz, AMG boss Tobias Moers (above) was not afraid to talk about a few things not in the official press releases. Most interesting was the decision to make a Black Series version of the new AMG GT, which when we spoke in Paris in September seemed not to be on the cards.

Back then he talked about a lighter, more powerful and aerodynamically efficient ‘GT3’ version of the car. While it seems that this project proceeds apace, the new Black Series will come in at an even more extreme level. Expect about 600bhp from its 4-litre twin turbo engine and a level of performance to eclipse that of even the mighty SLS Black Series of 2013.

Honda NSX’s triple spark

Back on the detroit show floor, the new Honda NSX (below) would have created more of a stir had concepts of very similar appearance not been doing the rounds for a number of years. But it was good to see Honda staying so true not just to the original design but to its technology, too. This calls for – count ’em – three electric motors to supplement the power of its mid-mounted V6 engine.

Exact details are still to be revealed but there is an electric motor to drive each of the front wheels, providing not just four-wheel drive but active torque vectoring, and a third positioned between the engine and gearbox acting as an element in a more conventional hybrid powertrain.

Total power is anticipated to be around 550bhp, or double the output of the original NSX engine some 25 years ago. The car will be made with right-hand drive and will go on sale in the UK priced some distance the other side of £100,000.

Extreme diet for Audi Q7

And what of that Audi Q7?

It is an immensely important car not so much for what it is, as what it will become. The first to use a heavily revised platform that drops the weight of the seven-seat SUV by a barely believable 325kg, this is the car that will spawn not only the next generation Porsche Cayenne and VW Touareg but also the Bentley Bentayga and possibly even the Lamborghini Urus SUV. The car is also slightly smaller on the outside though, Audi insists, even more spacious within.

* Another interesting Detroit newcomer was the Alfa-Romeo 4C Spider, critical to establishing Alfa’s US credibility ahead of the introduction of the new Giulia saloon next year. Because the 4C has a carbon-fibre tub, little additional structural strengthening is required, so the fabric-roofed Spider weighs just 10kg more than the 4C coupé and claims unchanged performance figures. No indication of price has been provided.

* Porsche’s new Cayenne Turbo S has lapped the Nürburgring Nordschleife in 7min 59sec. I know I shouldn’t care about such an irrelevant feat, but I find myself drawn like a moth to a flame. It might be pointless, but is it not staggering that a 2.2-tonne Porsche SUV can now lap this track five seconds faster than the first Porsche 911 GT3 in 1999? It might not be important, but it is amazing progress.