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Classic Ford racers - made in SA

Published Sep 9, 2014

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By:  Henri du Plessis

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Cape Town - After almost 50 years, the emotions evoked by the classic shape revealed in the open factory doorway in Capricorn Park are undiminished.

 

The low, small roof, the broad, aggressive nose and the muscular width over the rear wheels remind you of a leaping predator. Anybody could be forgiven for wondering why Ford didn’t name the famous GT40 after some or other angry feline.

 

Such is the universal popularity of this shape, that a large market has developed worldwide for GT40 replicas in the past two decades, well after these magic cars first roared to life on some of the world’s greatest race circuits.

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After all, the rarity and subsequent value of the original few, produced just so Ford could taste victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race in France in the second half of the 1960s, puts ownership well outside of the abilities of most people.

 

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All replicas, however, are not created equal. While the outer shell may resemble the original with remarkable accuracy, it is what is under the skin that is going to determine if the replica is worthy.

 

And that is where Cape Advanced Vehicles, or CAV as it’s more commonly known, laid a foundation to survive.

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The brainchild of Jean Fourie, Cape Advanced Vehicles was founded in 1999 as a South African manufacturer of Ford GT40 replicas. They were soon a hit on the road and on the race track.

 

Fourie became a well-known face at Killarney as at least one of the cars he had developed would be ready at the starting line for a roaring sports car race.

 

A TIP OF THE HAT

 

In choosing the name for his company, Fourie was tipping his hat to Ford Advanced Vehicles, which was the company founded by Henry Ford II in 1963 under the auspices of the Ford Motor Company to produce the original GT40 racing cars.

 

Fourie’s first builds were developed on a basic tubular space-frame chassis, with further development to offer clientS a relatively easy package as a possible home-built kit car.

 

These days, however, there are four people at the factory in Capricorn Park who build a car from scratch in three months.

 

A fifth person, a contracted expert welder, welds up the chassis from water jet cut stainless steel. The rest is assembled right there from precision-produced parts obtained on a just-in-time basis from various suppliers.

 

Jordi Reddy, at 28 already a mechatronics engineer, product development expert and former bio-mechanics designer, is at the rudder now, with big plans for CAV’s future - but his business sense keeps him grounded, realising that the first thing to do is to recover what has been lost.

 

Lost? Yes, as a company for which export remains the primary market, the knock the US economy took from the sub-prime lending scandal and subsequent world recession in 2009 was quite damaging.

 

Now it is very much a back to basics period at the premises of CAV after Reddy and three associates bought the company in 2013. They have a lot to work for, as the recovering economy shows that the appetite for well-made GT40 replicas remains substantial.

 

Two cars completed this week are about to find their way to the US where the CAV distributor, South African expat Johan Keyser, is preparing to receive them and hand them over to their new owners.

 

The cars are going without engines. After all, why export a US-made Ford engine to the US? But everything else is there and not only complete, but bespoke, fitted to the client’s specifications.

 

These cars are no longer just replicas, they are highly modernised, making them easier and more pleasing to drive while retaining the character of the original.

 

No one would want to drive a 1966 race car on a public road, except the very eccentric few who might believe this is the only way to stay true.

 

NEW CHASSIS

 

In 2005 Fourie started an initiative to modernise the cars. The aim was to improve on all aspects of the original racing car except, of course, its beautiful lines.

 

The most important upgrade was a monocoque stainless-steel chassis developed to take over from the previous space-frame construction.

 

To see the chassis in the raw in the CAV workshop is to admire beautifully skilled tungsten inert gas welding and a construction of waterjet-cut and computer numerical-control bent stainless-steel, put together with superb accuracy to create a body rigid enough for extreme handling on the race track or a twisty mountain pass.

 

Welding is done on a contract basis by master welder Andre Bell.

 

But the new monocoque chassis also allows much improved ergonomics. Comfort levels and the ease of entry and exit have been greatly improved.

 

With the final assembly, led by specialist Martin Serafin, focusing on precision, the CAV cars achieve a level of finish not easily found on kit cars. After taking over the company, Reddy has also brought in industrial designer Kenneth van Rensburg, while Candice Veitch is responsible for procurement on a just-in-time scale.

 

“Each car is individually built, taking about three months from chassis to start-up,” Reddy said. “The engines are 5.7-litre Ford V8s assembled from parts, not in crate form. Lots of human attention goes into the assembly.”

 

“Of course, the cars are handbuilt, so they’re not perfect - but that’s part of the experience - each car has a character of its own and driving them is a visceral experience, a powerful feeling."

 

“I bought this company because I’m a car-crazy nut and I wanted to build something like this, but I’m also planning to do more development and even more accurate design, to tighten up the tolerances even more.”

 

The CAV GT40 cars sell for “in the R1 million ball park”.

 

“We’re still working out our new prices,” Reddy said.

 

For that money, you get a car with 335kW, 550Nm and a claimed 0-100 sprint time of 4.5 seconds. And one that is rare, unique and classic.

 

IF YOU’RE LOOKING FOR A MUSCULAR RIDE...

 

The CAV GT40 can no longer be considered a direct replica of a classic car, as it has been endowed with too much new technology.

 

But how does it compare with today’s ultra-modern sports cars on a performance and value basis?

 

The first thing to realise is that it’s not a supercar. There is nothing about it to compete with cars such as the latest Lamborghinis, McLarens or Ferraris.

 

This car falls into a bracket similar to that of the Jaguar F-Type S, the Jaguar XKR, the Maserati GTS and the Audi A8 4.2-litre V8

 

On performance alone, the CAV GT40 is equal to or quicker than any of these cars. On finish, not quite, but neither is it that far behind. On price, the only car in its ball park is the F-Type S.

 

The others are all much more expensive, with some more than double the price.

 

The GT40 does not come with the electronic wizardry of the others, or course. There is no traction control, no paddle-shift gearboxe, no ABS. This is a powerful American V8 bolted directly on to a really light chassis and a set of rather wide wheels. It will take brawn and brain to drive.

 

THE FEUD THAT LED TO FORD’S WINS OVER FERRARI

 

In the early 1960s, Enzo Ferrari entered into an arrangment with the heir to the Ford throne, Henry Ford II, that would have seen Ford buy Ferrari.

 

But Ferrari got cold feet and pulled out at the last moment, after Ford had already spent seriously big money makinbg it happen.

 

Henry Ford II was none too happy and swore revenge: on Ferrari’s terms, on Ferrari’s turf - the race track, hitting the autocratic Italian where it hurt most.

 

Developed with Ford money and with the help of Ford expertise, the Ford GT40 was designed and tested in Britain with the help of race-car builder Lola. Its second and third incarnations were also built in the UK, although the fourth and final series was wholly developed in the US by Ford Advanced Vehicles.

 

Powered by V8 engines of 4.7, then 4.9 and finally an earth-shaking, window-rattling seven litres, the Ford GT40 got Henry Ford his revenge, beating Ferrari at Le Mans four times in a row, from 1966 to 1969.

 

In addition to four consecutive outright Le Mans wins, Ford also won four FIA international titles with the GT40, in what was then unofficially known as the World Sportscar Championship:

 

1966 International Manufacturers Championship (over 2000cc)

1966 International Championship for Sports Cars – Division III (over 2000cc)

1967 International Championship for Sports Cars – Division III (over 2000cc)

1968 International Championship for Makes.

 

Related Topics:

Ford

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