The pretty highs and hot lows of driving a replica vintage race car

You probably saw the movie.When it debuted on Nov. 15, Ford v Ferrari bested the box office and production-house projections by making $31.5 million worldwide; as of Dec. 1, it had made $143.3 million and counting. Audiences thrilled to Matt Damon and Christian Bale's portrayal of Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles, respectively. The cannonball stunts and racing scenes on historic racetracks earned rave reviews.

The real stars of the film, of course, are the cars. Especially the team of three Ford GT40s that prevailed during the 24 Hours of Le Mans race to break Ferrari's winning streak. These were the special fire-breathing American-muscle V8 coupes that Shelby built in the early 1960s as a special project for Ford Motors' racing program; they have since gone down in history as Ford and Shelby's greatest feat. Vehicle Director Rob Johnson used lookalikes to portray them in the movie, which makes sense, considering that only 105 originals were produced, and each is worth multiple millions of dollars.

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So cool, so rare, so unattainable. If you don't have that kind of cash, consider owning a replica. Superformance Factory makes a good one: The one I tried out comes with a Ford-built V8 engine, Goodyear tires, and racing-grade, five-speed manual transmission. At $180,000, it'll cost you a fraction of the price of an original-and, if you're in for the full experience, it will overheat on hot days, just like the real deal. It's automotive time travel at its most authentic.

That's what happened the afternoon Bob Lee brought his Superformance-made replica GT40 to downtown Los Angeles so we could go for a drive. We started off tooling through the Arts District and crawling through traffic near City Hall, Lee chattering away while the car baked in 90-degree midday heat.

He ordered it equipped with a quick-velocity, eight-stack, electronic fuel injection system and racing five-speed transaxle transmission. (All told, two-thirds of the car's parts are interchangeable with those of an original, including the "monocoque" chassis.) With 467 horsepower and a weight of only 2,500 pounds on a carbon-fiber body, it can get to 60 mph in 3.6 seconds, Lee says. So far, Superformance has shipped more than 400 of them worldwide, at the rate of 30 a year.

Heat such as that day imposed is no problem if you're driving fast-the air flow keeps the powerful V8 engine cool-but it's an issue if you're not moving fast enough to generate wind.

We stopped for a photo opportunity in front of the Disney Center. I took photos of the two tiny seats pockmarked with ventilation holes, of the myriad round dials on the black dashboard, and of the door sill (where the door closes) that's so wide I could sit on it. But once the engine had turned off, it didn't want to start.

"It happens all the time," Lee told me serenely. The fuel injection, engine cylinders, and myriad valves and other components under the hood are like the refined muscles of a thoroughbred racehorse; they're made to operate under high-speed conditions, not do anything so pedestrian as sit in downtown L.A. traffic.

"Those cars were designed for-and the cooling system was reliant on-high speeds," Johnathan Klinger, spokesman for the classic-car insurance firm Hagerty and a talented mechanic in his own right, told me later. "The fact that you're going slow, and it's reduced air flow, means you're going to risk overheating. And that's true on a lot of old race cars. Corvettes are notorious for that."

Lee himself was unperturbed. He opened the back half of the car to allow the engine to cool off. The 72-year-old former financier has owned it since April, during which time he has put 200 miles on it taking it to car shows throughout the state. Superformance built it by using a body fabricated in South Africa and shipped to Southern California; the Irvine, California-based company dropped in such components as a new Ford racing 427 engine, four-wheel vented disc brakes with high-performance Wilwood calipers, and Bilstein coil-over progressive shocks, with H&R springs.

We waited 15 minutes, then climbed back inside-or, more accurately, tilted our torsos back and flopped inside. The seats are so low, you practically barrel-roll and then lounge when you get inside. On pulling the thin metal doors closed, you find the legroom and headroom surprisingly ample.

Click. Lee turned the key in the ignition. Whiiirrrrrrr. Then nothing. Nope. Not going to start. We waited an additional 10 minutes, watching the engine-temperature gauge on his dashboard fall from above 100 to 95, and to 90.

A crowd, as you might imagine, formed: a few skater kids, a Latin family on the way to a Quinceanera, an older couple on their way to the Broad art museum next door.

The crowd that gathered was aware of the GT40's rarefied pedigree, largely thanks to the Ford v Ferrari film; several people asked whether this was the actual car from the movie. Even if they hadn't seen the movie, one look would have told them the car is something special. With its unmistakable hood scoops, side vents, low profile, roaring engine, and loud paint job, the Ford GT40 represents the pinnacle of American motor racing. Bold, blue paint with twin, white racing stripes running over the front of the car makes it an exact copy of the GT40 MK I Shelby's team raced at Sebring in 1965. (That car was driven by Ken Miles and Bruce McLaren; it finished first in class and second overall that year.)

The car's wide Goodyear "blue streak" racing tires, with a thin blue line circling them, are exact matches of the ones Shelby teams used during that period, too. The pressed steel roof and body come in wide body (1968) and extra-wide body (1969) configurations, as well as both right- and left-hand drive-Lee's is a left-hand model. Half the roof on each side is cut out to add some overhead to doors that swing open and closed with a thin, metallic CLANK.

"Obliviously, you have to have a lot of money to own these cars, but it takes more than that. The GT40 is really a car you have to want to own, because there aren't many of [the originals] and they're not easy to maintain and drive," Klinger says. "This is a car for serious connoisseurs."

The most valuable one ever sold was a 1968 Ford GT40 Lightweight, which took $11 million at the RM Sotheby's auction in Monterey, Calif., in 2012. RM Sotheby's sold a 1966 Ford GT40 Mk11 in "good" condition for $9.795 million in 2018, and it sold a 1965 Ford GT40 Prototype Roadster in "good" condition for $7.65 million earlier this year.

Even better, values of the 1964-69 Ford GT40s have risen, on average, 77% over the past five years, according to Hagerty's Klinger.

"The film is going to also take the modern, honest-tribute cars-the replicas-and raise their popularity," Klinger says. "Will that translate into value growth, we have yet to see. But if you've got someone sitting on the fence about whether to sell your GT40, now is definitely a good time."

Even the modern ones that carry the same GT name, which Ford started making years ago, are expensive: A 2017 Ford GT sold for $1.815 million at Mecum's auction in Indiana in 2018.

Lee says he doesn't plan to sell his car anytime soon; he's having too much fun. The man sat calmly at the wheel while we talked about the car's mechanics and the afternoon heat. Finally, with a grin, he tried the ignition again. Success! The engine roared to life like a monster angry at having had been held up in the first place; it barked and popped and snapped, as if into a megaphone, as we surged forward and shifted into higher gears. The car leapt forward, and we took off and whipped around corners as if we were on an old metal roller coaster. Not a lot of cushioning, but a huge thrill.

Want one? Go for it. Ear plugs are a must. And do your best to keep the car moving. No track god like this wants to take things slow.


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