Bill Nelson wasn’t looking for an investment, just a thrill. So, nine years ago, the then-64-year-old retired engineer from Asbury, New Jersey, went to his local Ford dealer and put down $160,000 to buy the fastest and most expensive production car the company had ever built, the Ford GT.
“I’m a lifelong Ford guy,” he explains. “When I saw that car, I absolutely had to have one.”
Owning America’s first supercar has given Nelson more than his share of adrenalised drives on New Jersey’s back roads. And one day it will potentially deliver an impressive return on his money.
Earlier this year, another Ford GT—one bearing an early VIN of 003—brought an astonishing $605,000 at Barrett-Jackson’s Scottsdale Auction. And lesser GTs routinely change hands for more than double their original sticker price. In fact, the GT is the only American production car built this millennium that’s an appreciating classic rather than an expensive, used fast car.
It’s not just 200mph top speeds but also escalating prices that separate true super cars—such as the Ferrari F40, the Porsche Carrera GT and the McLaren F1—from run-of-the-mill exotics, and the Ford GT has earned its membership in this exclusive club.
“Ford checked off all the right boxes,” says Wayne Carini, owner of Connecticut’s F40 Motor sports and the host of Velocity’s Chasing Classic Cars. “It’s an iconic car.”
Buyers like Nelson aren’t so much purchasing 3,400 pounds of superplastic aluminum as they are the story behind it. The GT is the successor to one of the greatest racing cars of all time, the Le Mans-winning GT40s of the late 1960s.
The GT40 project was launched by Henry Ford II, who felt betrayed after Enzo Ferrari backed out of a deal to sell him his company. Beating the Ferraris at their own game, the GT40s competed during the sport’s Golden Age, when race-winning cars could actually be driven on the street. But there were only 31 street-legal GT40s back then, and they’ve since become all-but-unobtainable rarities, with multimillion-dollar price tags.
The second-generation GT carried a different sort of mandate from CEO Bill Ford: A halo car that would commemorate the company’s centennial in 2003. And, of course, help sell Mustangs in the process. Engineering manager Fred Goodnow was charged with producing three production-ready cars—red, white and blue—in a mere 15 months.
The first prototype (code name Petunia) was striking but too generic. “People thought it was the new Acura,” Goodnow recalls. After that disappointing feedback, a visiting Ford executive pointed to the original GT40 sitting in Ford’s design studio and provided the lightbulb moment. “It’s got to look like that.”
Which created its own set of challenges. “If you screw it up, everyone in the world is going to be upset with you,” explains the GT’s chief designer, Camilo Pardo.
But the gamble paid off a couple of years later with a fresh-but-familiar shape that landed the muscular GT on every car geek’s want list, including early adopters Jay Leno and Top Gear’s then-host Jeremy Clarkson. “They just really captured the essence of the original,” says Peter Klutt of Canada’s Legendary Motorcar Co, who has sold dozens of GTs and owns an original GT40 road car. “And that’s a big deal.”