Jim Vogel, the owner of the Shelby GT40 MKII (he daily-drives it), gave me a rundown of his car’s idiosyncrasies — mainly so I didn’t stall it or throw it in reverse while looking for first gear on the dog-legged gear box. Then came the instructions simply to get in it.
“It’s easier with the steering wheel off, but step in with your right leg and straddle the door sill. Don’t fall into the seat! Not yet. That’s a hole that’s hard to get out of. Hold the door open, pivot and bring your left leg in. Now slide your butt in and get snug.”
And snug it was. Vogel was a few inches shorter than me and the car’s seat was tailored to him. Nothing is adjustable. My right knee is in the dashboard, my left foot is forced to rest either hovering over the clutch or on the floor behind it. It’s not ideal, but I make it work. I go to close the door, and, at the last second, quickly cock my head sideways, but not fast enough. Because it’s so hard to enter and exit, the GT40’s door’s design includes a large section of the roof to allow ingress and egress that much easier. It was originally meant to help speed up driver changes during pit stops. The door grazes the side of my head, nearly clips me in the temple. This car is trying to kill me and I haven’t even fired it up yet. I love it.
“Play Le Mans, Gand Prix and Days of Thunder, simultaneously, at maximum volume, with your ear to the speaker and you’ll have something close.”
When it comes to vintage cars, “character” is usually just a euphemism for indefensible quirks. But the hurdles this GT40 throws in my way genuinely seem like acts of tough love. The A/C doesn’t work and the only ventilation is a janky flap in the fixed plexi-glass window. The steering wheel feels like two 20-pound sand bags are tied to each side of it. Revs take a dramatic dip between shifts because I second-guess my own handiwork while learning the shifter. It’s exactly as I expected it to be and everything I wanted it to be. Now, it might sound like I set an extraordinarily low bar for the GT40, but I desperately hoped that it would demand an effort — because it makes the reward that much sweeter.
The reward: the sound. Sweet mother, the sound. Between the engine bay and the driver’s cabin, it’s a pretty intimate setting. That is to say, there’s not much between the two. Play Le Mans, Gand Prix and Days of Thunder, simultaneously, at maximum volume, with your ear to the speaker, and you’ll have something close. Speed builds almost like any other high-horsepower supercar, but the 40-inch-high sightline seems to add another 50 mph. It’s more rock concert than orchestra, but it’s a show I’d never thought I’d have front-row tickets for.
Then the mosh pit forms. Heavy steering, resistant pedals and a shifter that feels more like a pump-action shotgun all require some muscle and motivation to go along with the input. You can feel how flat the car is in every corner, how much the wheels spin with a ballsy kick of the throttle, with every crack in the road the front wheels find. And with the engine in close confines and every operation demanding effort, everything in the car seems to be directly bolted to the driver’s seat. Every input has instant feedback — instant gratification.