In the tyre-tracks of giants

by Andy Bryenton

Following in the footsteps of the acknowledged greats must be tough. Consider the people tasked with producing a new cinematic rendition of the ‘battle of ‘66’, the Le Mans rivalry between Ford and Ferrari. Steve McQueen put an indelible mark on the story, and now Christan Bale and Matt Damon have to step up.

It’s the same with the cars themselves, of course. Ford’s recent GT, the one that once again scored Le Mans victory, was always going to be compared to the sleek, low V8 of yesteryear. That is where one of the film’s stars, Carroll Shelby comes in. When it comes to modified Mustangs, he was for many years the king, with his Cobra logo defining the fast Fords through many generations. Now there’s a new ‘hot’ Mustang on the horizon, and it’s interesting to compare it not just to Shelby’s masterpieces in the pony car arena, but to the GT40 as well.

The roadgoing Ford GT40 (that’s the MK III, for purists) developed 308hp from its big V8. The new Mustang, dubbed the High Performance 2.3, delivers 318hp from (you guessed it) 2.3 litres. That’s only four cylinders, but before the high priesthood of displacement call heresy, remember that one of the fathers of the original GT40, Roy Lunn, had previously worked on a mid-engined four-pot 1.7-litre car, which was going to be called the Mustang, for Ford, back in ‘62. So here we have a Mustang with a modern turbocharger, a smaller engine to reduce forward weight, and a legitimate claim to having more oomph than the original GT40.

Shelby’s modified cars were always good looking, and the initial glimpses of the High Performance 2.3 display some of the features, which carry on from his inspiration. Bonnet stripes and scoops, an offset mustang emblem on the grille right where the hooded cobra would have been, and those four big exhausts are giveaways as to the car’s intent. All in all, then, there’s a lot we can learn from the forthcoming Ford v Ferrari film. This single event established a legacy for hot Fords, inspired by Shelby, through to the present day. It was also the race that kicked off a rival to Ferrari, which really does match them supercar for supercar as well. That’s McLaren, of course; named for the great Kiwi driver and still delivering hits to match the best in Italy.