Even if you have the $400,000, chances are you're not getting the Ford GT. Having the ready cash may be the least difficult part of scoring a supercar these days.
Only 500 GTs will be handbuilt over two years, and now Dearborn executives have to figure out who will get them. Ford is joining a tiny cadre of carmakers who deal in the black art of supercar exclusivity, an arena where manufacturers have the upper hand, and the rich don't always get what they want.
Ferrari wrote the rulebook, vowing to always make one less car than the market demanded. But the market for supercars—and the number of qualified buyers globally—has surged. It took only a fortnight to sell out 500 McLaren 675LT Spiders (base price: $372,600). And all 40 examples of the $2-million- Lamborghini Centenarios were snapped up sight-unseen.
"When we first sat down and started thinking how to handle this, we benchmarked the competition by looking at Ferrari and McLaren," says Henry Ford III, global marketing manager of Ford Performance (and yes, a direct descendant of the Henry). "But we needed an experience that was unique to Ford."
Last week the company opened up a month-long online process, sort of the equivalent of a college application, which includes links to personal videos and a question if an applicant qualifies as an influencer.
"We want the process to be open to everyone," Ford says. "But once you log into the application, we ask about your relationship with Ford. Are you a GT owner? Do you take it to car shows or the racetrack? We really are looking for Ford brand ambassadors, and we want to find customers who will actually drive the car."
Do they truly think the rich will have patience with an application? "Well, we expect that some high-profile folk probably won't be sitting at their own computer typing away," Ford says. "They may have an assistant do it for them, which is fine as long as it's truthful."
According to Ford, global teams from the U.S., Asia, and Europe will separately evaluate their own applications before recommendations are sent to senior management—and all applicants will get a response within 90 days of the May 12th cutoff. "We'll probably already know most of these folks personally, just because they'll have been involved in clubs and are active in the enthusiast community." Ford says that influential younger buyers, who may have no previous Ford relationship, would also be considered. "I almost feel like I'm in a college admission committee," he says with a laugh.
The selection process will pit traditional big-money types against more regular, Ford-loving folks. One such example of the latter is a Michigan family whom I've raced with at LeMons, the Horbals. The patriarch, Rick, is a doctor who put himself through college working at the Ford offices and the River Rouge factory. His father-in-law was a lifelong tool-and-die man at Rouge ("He died one month after retiring," Rick says), and a nephew currently works at Ford's wind tunnel. "We've always been a Ford family," he says. "Owning a GT would be a dream come true. I'm a racing person, and the GT is the pinnacle of racing. Imagine owning a car that has raced at Le Mans. I'll probably die and give it to my kids." Asked what he thinks his chances are, he pauses. "Thirty-five percent?" Rick says hopefully.
The relative level of transparency makes sense in Ford's case, and is very different than international competitors. (Ford notes that the other manufacturers "keep their practices pretty close to the vest.") I've spoken to a number of current and previous owners of Ferrari and McLaren about their experiences, and every one of them asked me not to use their name. No one wants to get on the bad side of their dealership, for whom the relationship is all-important.
"Relationship is everything," says one Ferrari collector. "My guy knows I'll buy the hottest mid-engine every year and then turn it back to them six months later to re-sell to the next guy, which they usually do at full price. They make money every time they re-sell the car, which they might do three times in its life cycle. And I've always got the coolest new Ferrari."
Building that relationship may begin with buying the less sought-after cars. Says one industry insider: "You're Jo Schmo and you want a 488. They laugh you out of the showroom. So you go ahead and buy a used 458 and they'll put you on the two-year list for the 488. But agree to buy a FF or a California today, and you'll get on the faster list."
One Ferrari owner I spoke to got his start when he bought two 1980s-era Ferraris and a F430 just as the 458 was debuting. He eventually got the 458, traded up to the Spyder, acquired a Speciale (which he still owns), and then traded the Spyder for a new 488.
"My dealership says they can put me on the list for the 488-level Speciale now. But if I want to get on the list for the Aperta, I need to buy a California first." And so he put a California on order. "My wife will drive it."
Several buyers told me that Ferrari uses a points system, factoring in how many new and classic Ferraris are in your current collection. "You want one of the big-daddy front engines like the F12 tdf, you'll need 10 or 12 points. And for something like the LaFerrari, you have to be invited on the list. Perhaps you've had a one-off built, or you've got 20 classic and current Ferraris," another owner tells me.
As a relative newcomer to consumer cars, McLaren relies heavily on its dealerships. Customers I spoke to agreed that going to the right dealership was key. Some dealerships get greater allocations than others, but if you're looking for a hot new model, it might benefit you to go to a dealership which sells cars more slowly.
Either way, you could probably buy a 650S almost immediately if you're not fussy about the color. Order the new 570S, and you'll wait five or six months for it to be built. But getting a 675LT was a matter of having a pre-existing relationship with your dealer. Like one gentleman I know, when you already own a P1, it's easy to score a 675LT Spider.
"We generally don't say who does or does not get a car," says John Paolo Canton, senior PR manager at McLaren. "We give the dealer an allocation and they sell to whomever they want from there." He also says that they encourage dealerships to follow the suggested MSRP.
However, that doesn't mean McLaren isn't watching who gets its cars. "Both the dealerships and corporate are acutely aware who buys cars to flip them," Canton says. "So when we get to very special cars like the P1, that's when we pay close attention."
In the end, though, one wonders if the McLarens of the world might take a note from Ford. More than 100,000 people have played with the online configurator so far, and some 7000 have submitted applications. That's a lot of free, positive publicity for a car with such a limited run. "We fully understand that some folk are applying just for the fun of it, " says Ford. "And that's great, because that means they're engaged with the brand."
Jason Harper, a contributing editor to Road & Track, has tested and written on cars for two decades. His scariest drive was a rally race in an original Lancia 037, his first drive of a supercar was the Porsche Carrera GT, and the only time he's gotten a speeding ticket was in a base Mini Cooper. His column, Harper's Bizarre, runs every Wednesday.