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Ford GT: American supercar splendor for only $450,000

The Ford GT is a 647-horsepower street-legal race car.

The Ford GT is the hottest American production supercar ever made, and it's an icon that represents homegrown automotive glory.

Ford built the first prototypes to challenge Ferrari's dominance on European racetracks. The GT beat the Italians at their own game in a historic 1966 victory at Le Mans — taking first, second and third place.

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Then Ford came back to Le Mans on the 50th anniversary of that win and did it again, in 2016.

The current Ford GT is loud, low, impractical and uncomfortable. Getting in and out through the dihedral doors is a calisthenic ordeal. The visibility is almost nil. The steering is balky and the suspension is stiff. The roar of the engine drowns out the radio and makes everyone on the other end of a phone call say, "Where are you?"

Inside, there isn't even a cup holder. Luggage? Sorry. No trunk.

Slow-speed driving is a nightmare. This two-door coupe couldn't possibly feel more awkward crawling through city traffic, creeping over speed bumps, or using the small backup camera to parallel park.

Under 30 miles per hour, the transmission jerks through the shift points. It's so clunky on downshifts that I was afraid I was leaving gearbox parts on the road behind me.

But higher-speed driving is a dream.

The Fords that beat Ferrari were powered by massive American V-8 engines. The modern GTs are a little more sensible, and get their boost from a 3.5-liter V-6.

Similar to the EcoBoost engine Ford puts in its F-150 pickup trucks, this twin-turbocharged V-6 makes 647 horsepower and 550 pound-feet of torque. That's a lot, especially for a car that weighs only 3,054 pounds dry.

Ford has shaved weight from the GT by replacing steel and aluminum hard parts with carbon fiber.

So, to get a sense of how it behaved, I took a spin through Carbon Canyon — across Anaheim, through Yorba Linda, and up into Chino Hills.

Everything wrong with the car in traffic is right in the canyon.

I didn't need to listen to the radio when I could listen to the gurgling V-6 instead. I didn't want to talk to anyone on the phone. I didn't need a caffeinated beverage to stay alert because the GT had me wide awake.

Uncommonly low and uncommonly quick, the GT sits wide and flat. At speed, it's all business. The power is instantaneous, with no appreciable turbo lag, delivered to the rear wheels through a tight, seven-speed paddle-shift transmission.

Ford's engineers have limited the dashboard details to the bare minimum. Everything required to operate the car is embedded in the steering wheel. Though there is a navigation system, and the GT has Apple CarPlay, the cockpit is designed for maximum efficiency.

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Want to adjust the seat? You can't. Instead, you can use a lever to bring the gas and brake pedals closer to the immovable seat.

The stiff suspension and balky steering make the GT shockingly easy to manage once the speedometer starts to spin. The car gets lighter and nimbler as the speed rises. Above 71 mph, a rear wing deploys to help keep the rear tires on the ground. The faster you go, the better it feels.

The tires and suspension provided excellent feedback, reporting on every wrinkle in the road. Cornering felt intuitive. The Brembo calipers and ceramic brakes slowed and stopped the GT with precision.

Stopped or moving fast, the Ford GT is, for my money, one of the most beautiful vehicles ever designed. The current crop has continued the iconic livery of the 1966 Le Mans winner — starting with the broad center stripe — but the bodies are even more elegantly streamlined. The line that runs from the doors to the rear wheels, and defines a wide channel for air flow, is the definition of sleek.

Ford says this sports car will go from zero to 60 mph in 3 seconds and achieve a top speed of 216 mph. (In addition to Normal, Sport, Track and Wet driving modes, there's "V Max," which is meant to maximize acceleration for maximum straight-line speed.)

Being an Eagle Scout and a current member in good standing with the California Safe Drivers Club, I didn't attempt anything like those performance numbers. So I was not able to push the envelope, or even approach the envelope, of this car's abilities.

Other drivers with access to a helmet, driving gloves and a racetrack will be able to do that — but not many of them. Ford is going to make only 1,000 Ford GTs, at the rate of about 200 a year. (Each one is marked with a dashboard emblem. The one I borrowed read "H984." In Ford GT code, that means it was built in 2017 and has a VIN that ends in 984.)

Former late night host and permanent car enthusiast Jay Leno got one of the first ones, at a reported cost of $505,000.

Anyone else able to get on the waiting list will have to cough up almost half a million bucks to take a GT home.

That's a stupid amount of money for a car, of course. But this isn't just a car. It's a piece of history, and extremely unique, and highly collectible. Like the limited-edition Ferraris, McLarens, Lamborghinis and Paganis they resemble, these Ford GTs will be worth a lot more than $450,000 when the 75th anniversary of that 1966 victory comes around.

Ford GT

Times' take: The most iconic American sports car

Highs: Beautiful to look at, delightful to drive

Lows: Awkward at some speeds, and so spendy

Vehicle type: Two-door, two-passenger sports car

Base price: $450,000

Price as tested: $505,000

Powertrain: 3.5-liter, twin-turbocharged V-6 gasoline engine

Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic

Horsepower: 647

Torque: 550 pound-feet

Estimated fuel economy rating: 11 miles per gallon city / 18 highway / 14 combined

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