Exclusive: Rod Millen scores New Zealand's first Ford GT supercar
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When Kiwi motorsport great Rod Millen applied to buy one of the world’s most elite cars, the all-new Ford GT, he probably thought he had a good chance of owning one, especially as he featured in the commercial for the original GT.
But he was wrong.
In 2015, Ford unveiled the Forza Motorsport 6, a new Ford GT, that was to be released in 2016 to mark 50 years since the GT40 won Le Mans 24 hour race.
The Ford GT was limited to 1000 buyers who, if accepted, would have to pay more than US$450,000 ($605,000) for the privilege.
The Ford GT is powered by a 3.5-litre twin-turbo EcoBoost V6 engine producing 482 kW of power and 746Nm of torque.
The GT has a lightweight carbon fibre monocoque bolted to aluminium front and rear subframes covered in carbon fibre body panels. The car also has racing-inspired pushrod suspension, active aerodynamics, and dihedral doors. The windshield of the vehicle is made of Gorilla Glass, which is used for smartphone screens, to reduce the weight of the vehicle.
Production began in December 2016, with Ford planning to build the GT at a rate of one car per day in their new, low-volume assembly facility at Multimatic in Markham, Canada until October 2020.
Millen was keen on the owning the all-new Ford GT “because it was a limited addition and by invitation-only, plus I liked the specifications of it”, he told Driven exclusively.
After years of racing internationally, Millen and his American wife Shelly Campbell Millen moved to the Leadfoot Ranch, in Hahei, Coromandel where the annual Leadfoot Festival was established with motorsport drivers competing up the 1.6km (1 mile) drive.
“I knew the Ford GT would be a wonderful car and a wonderful opportunity to share it with guests at Leadfoot,” said Millen.
The Pikes Peak champion and international rally competitor who drove one season for Ford, owns a number of Ford vehicles — including four Model Ts — and featured in a TV commercial for the original Ford GT from 2005. Millen has also toured the Ford plant and museum. So you’d expect he would have a guaranteed invitation to buy one of the 1000 elusive GTs.
No. Instead Millen received a rejection letter.
He shared the rejection with Ford NZ’s managing director, Simon Rutherford, at Leadfoot Festival last year and the car company boss said: “Leave it with me”.
A couple of days later, Millen received a congratulations letter from Ford, with his GT to be built in the second wave set for 2018.
“There are 200 built a year and they are hand-built. I love the fact that they are a race car and a street car, a high-performance street car,” said Millen.
As part of being exclusive GT owners, the couple were invited to last year’s Le Mans 24 hour endurance race as guests of Ford. While there, they were introduced to Henry Ford’s great-grandson, Henry Ford III.
Ford III hit it off with the Millens and was impressed with the Leadfoot Festival’s ethos.
“He shared the excitement of the event and he took a liking to Leadfoot,” said Millen.
But when Millen explained that he was in the second wave, so the Ford GT wouldn’t be available for Leadfoot 2018, Ford III said: “Let me look into it.”
Again, Millen received good news, with the car pushed up the production line and the finished product delivered to him in Los Angeles on January 1 before being shipped to New Zealand.
Millen picked up the GT yesterday, being the first owner in the Southern Hemisphere to receive the car, and had it transported to Hahei.
He says the realisation that he was the owner of such an elusive vehicle hit home when he was invited to an owner’s orientation at a Ford dealership in LA in December last year.
For a driver who has won numerous motorsport titles and was the record holder at the famed Pikes Peak International Hillclimb for many years, you’d think he’d know a thing or two about driving.
But in reality the two-and-a-half hour introduction session in a Ford GT was an eye-opener for Millen.
“It hit me then that I actually owned a Ford GT,” he said.
“I went through all the details of the car and all the driving variations ... the whole process was very exciting.”
Though Millen is a fan of gunmetal grey on his vehicles, he picked red so it would stand out on the drive at Leadfoot.
“It’s very striking, and it photographs a bit better than grey.”
The Ford GT is sure to be the star of next weekend’s Leadfoot Festival but it won’t be competing. Instead Millen will put it in action up the famous driveway at lunchtime and other breaks over February 3-4.
Millen is hoping his famous Pikes Peak Toyota Celica will be back from an overhaul in time for next weekend so he can take back the Leadfoot title from returning champion, Alistair McRae.
Joining the line-up is Indy champ Scott Dixon, three-time World Drift Series champion Vaughn Gittin Jr and former World No. 2 motocross star Josh Coppins.
At the 2016 Leadfoot event, Dixon drove the classic 1906 Darracq Grand Prix, much to fans’ delight. But next weekend he’ll
be paired with the new Honda Civic Type R. Millen’s son Ryan will also be competing along with the drifting contingent of “Mad Mike” Whiddett, Shane Allen, and D1NZ champions Cole Armstrong, Darren Kelly, and “Fanga Dan” Woolhouse, Race to the Sky legend Ian Ffitch, and back-to-back Polaris NZ 1000 champ Ben Thomasen, join Coppins in the off-road ranks.
Shelly Campbell Millen told Driven that online ticket sales were up 46 per cent on last year (leadfootfestival.com for tickets) and it will “go ahead rain or shine, it’s very exciting in the rain”.
Millen says he hasn’t been thinking too much about his chances this year as he’s been busy “thinking all about the property”.
During the winter, Millen fells and mills pine trees on the property to build the picket fences and picnic tables at the event, plus new buildings for the festival.
So what is Millen going to do with the Ford GT when Leadfoot finishes?
“Well, at the moment I’m used to driving [my pickup] truck and tractors around the ranch, but I think I may take the GT on road trips around New Zealand.”
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