Concept cars are, by their very nature, ephemeral creatures. They appear at auto shows, dazzle us or underwhelm us, and then disappear. Some go into production, some inspire later designs, but most vanish forever. But few — if any — concept cars have remained in our collective consciousness like the 1995 Ford GT90.
(Welcome to Long Lost Concept Cars, a new semi-regular series we're trying out on Fridays where we highlight amazing concepts from years past that never made it to production — but maybe should have.)
It's kind of surprising how much the GT90 has stuck around. Nearly 20 years after its debuted at the 1995 Detroit Auto Show, it continues to show up in modern video games, "Best Concept Cars Ever" listicles, and even in the form of garage-built tributes. This concept has had more staying power than a lot of production cars.
What makes the GT90 so beloved for a car that was never even made? I think it was a lot of things. First, you had its name, which was a clear and deliberate homage to the Ford GT40, the famous Ferrari-fighting race car of the 1960s. Second, you have the tremendous power, which would be nothing to sneeze at today.
Third, it just looks breathtaking. A couple years ago Autoblog wrote that if the GT90 were to show up at a modern Detroit Auto Show, it would still be considered "one of the coolest cars on the show floor." I think they're right.
But there are plenty of concepts with a great heritage, a ton of power and incredible looks. Why does the GT90 remain so special? Let's see if we can find out.
What was it? A two-seat, mid-engine supercar concept that debut at the 1995 Detroit Auto Show. The car was a one-off that cost $3 million and six months to build.
What were the specs? The pièce de résistance was the 6.0-liter V12 with four turbochargers which sent a stunning 720 horsepower and 660 pound feet of torque to the rear wheels. It was created by mixing parts from two Modular V8 engines and strapping on some Garrett Systems T2 turbochargers. (Apparently, the test mule for this engine was a Lincoln Town Car, which is just about the greatest thing I have ever heard.)
At the time of its debut, the GT90 was considered the most powerful car in the world. Zero to 60 mph came in about three seconds, and 100 mph came in 6.2 seconds. The top speed was said to be 230 mph.
Many of its components, including the chassis and suspension, were lifted off the Jaguar XJ220, another much beloved supercar which at the time was produced when Ford was that company's owner. The five-speed manual (perhaps the only aspect of this car that is a bit dated) also came from the XJ220. Weight was kept a smidge under 3,200 pounds by using carbon fiber body panels.
What else made it special? In the GT90's case, a lot of things. First, the name — it was deliberately planned as a modern-day successor to the GT40, although the intent here was never to win at racing. But with a similar shape, mid-engine architecture and high performance spirit, it was envisioned as a modern interpretation of that legendary car.
There was also the fact that the GT90 debuted the New Edge design language that Ford used on many of its cars through the 1990s and 2000s, like the Focus, Ka, Cougar, and Puma. The GT90 sports a design that is somehow both futuristic and timeless; 10 or 20 years from now, I wouldn't be surprised if it still looked decades ahead of the curve.
What did it look like on the inside? Blue. Like, really goddamn blue. It looks purple in most photos, but people who have been in it say it was more of a deep Ford Blue Oval shade of blue.
A driver got inside by pressing a yellow panel on the side of the car, which opened the door. The inside was surprisingly spacious thanks to its airy greenhouse, and also because the gear lever and its exposed linkage were suspended between two slim tubes running from the rear bulkhead and the dash. Reviewers at the time said it wasn't nearly as cramped as cars like the Lamborghini Diablo.
Did it actually run? You better believe it ran, although as a concept, it wasn't quite as 100 percent as a production car would have been. Journalists like Top Gear's Jeremy "Young Jezza" Clarkson and Motor Trend's John McCormick were among the lucky few who got to take it for a spin. The latter drove one when it was detuned to "only" 400 horsepower — engineers feared taking a concept car to full blast — and he found it to be quite fast, responsive in corners, and endowed with tremendous stopping power.
As for Clarkson, well, he described it as proof that "heaven really is a place on earth." The 90s, you guys. Different time.
Was it ever planned for production? It doesn't seem that way. Motor Trend's December 1995 story says that production — and possibly Le Mans duty like its famous predecessor — was strongly suggested when the car debuted. But by the end of that year Ford admitted it was never meant to go beyond the concept phase, and it's unlikely Ford management ever seriously considered making a high-end supercar.
The GT90's engineers learned a lot from the project, however. They moved on to another V12 program that, in hindsight, is probably what ended up in several Aston Martin cars.
Should it have been built? What kind of a question is this? Heck yeah, it should have been built.
Never mind the fact that it would have been next to impossible to make a business case for such an expensive Ford — everything about this car was incredible, and a production version probably would have been even better. Who wouldn't want to see this car in full racing livery, trashing European cars at Le Mans like the GT40 did?
To answer the question I posited at the beginning of this story about why the car is so fondly remembered, I think it's because it did everything right. It had a revolutionary power output. It looked amazing and still does. It actually worked, unlike most concept cars that are just for show. And it lived up to one of America's greatest automotive legacies while at the same time improving upon it and bringing it into a new era.
What's not to love?
Long Lost Concept Cars runs on Fridays. Got a favorite forgotten concept you'd like us to feature? Drop a suggestion in the comments.