From its debut in Detroit in January of 2015, demand for Ford’s groundbreaking GT supercar was unprecedented, and to determine a distribution strategy, the company asked individuals to apply to become an owner.
After demonstrating Ford ownership and a predilection for driving one’s Fords, one of the key criteria to earn an allocation was a social media presence. This is 2017 after all, and, as it turns out, a number of early Ford GT deliveries have gone to owners with prominent social media followings.
One of the first Ford GT deliveries in Canada went to prominent Ottawa-area businessman Richard L’Abbé. Unlike many other GT owners, L’Abbé doesn’t have much of a presence on social media. In fact, that may be an overstatement—it’s perhaps more accurate to say he has an aversion to social media platforms.
Which begs the question: how does someone without an affinity for selfies and hashtags get on the list for a Ford GT?
To L’Abbé’s credit, there is his background as a successful engineering entrepreneur (L’Abbé co-founded Med-Eng Systems, Inc., a leader in the explosive ordinance disposal equipment industry and has blown himself up more than once) and his involvement as a partner in the Calabogie Motorsports Park racing circuit. (Ford’s key supplier in the supercar project, Markham-based Multimatic Inc., conducted much of the GT road and racing car development at Calabogie.)
Following a chance meeting with Raj Nair, Ford executive vice-president and one of the stakeholders in the GT project, L’Abbé applied and did indeed earn himself an allocation.
To Ford’s benefit, there couldn’t be a better ambassador for the GT than L’Abbé. As an amateur racing driver and mechanical engineer with incredible curiosity, L’Abbé has a thorough understanding of the complex engineering that’s gone into his new car. The same can’t really be said of most GT owners, nevermind the media’s reviews of Ford’s supercar.
We spoke with L’Abbé – through his now-permanent Cheshire Cat grin – the day he unveiled his new car at Calabogie Motorsports Park. Given his deep knowledge of his signature blue Ford GT, we asked for his take on this Canadian-built supercar.
“I must admit to you that I’ve never been a fan of supercars. I could have bought many, but it just doesn’t turn me on. The thought of having a car that everybody stares at you in, it’s just not me,” L’Abbé told us.
“When I first saw the GT from the aesthetics standpoint, from the aerodynamics standpoint, from the sheer complexity of the engineering development behind it—I just fell in love with this car. To think that the Multimatic team had an integral part in the design. Multimatic is in Markham, Ontario, right in our backyard. To know that the car is built there by Canadians, all of that in the equation made it a very exciting car for me.
“For me,” L’Abbé continued, “having the chance to know the story behind the development so intimately and being able to share that with students both in the primary school level, pre-school, and university level, to be able to excite them to become passionate about something is a great tool to have.
“Hopefully by having the car exposed at the Museum of Science and Technology in Ottawa, and by having busloads full of kids cycle in front of it will be such that it’ll be easily absorbed by people of all ages. If we can excite just a handful of kids, it will have been all worth it. For me it’s all about giving back to the community, having the car in the public’s eye, getting a lot of people to be able to savour what it represents for us as Canadians.”
As much as Canadians love to think of our country as world-class, we don’t do a great job promoting the kind of engineering excellence that comes from Canada. On the surface, our automotive industry does a fine job pumping out perfectly good sedans and crossovers, but most Canadians are unaware Multimatic is one of the finest automotive engineering firms on the planet.
Perhaps L’Abbé is onto something, and putting his Ford GT in front of as many people as possible will get students excited about careers in engineering.
With his background in both engineering and race driving, L’Abbé is in a unique position to grasp the subtleties of his Ford GT, so we asked him to explain his obvious passion for the supercar.
“If I had bought this car 10 years ago, I would have been like many other customers that don’t really have a feel for it, they don’t get it. But because I’ve had a chance to drive so many different kind of cars at race speed on this track, and to have had a chance to develop products my entire career and understand what it means to go from ideation to peak production, and when you’re compressing that in the shortest amount of time possible, which is what Ford did with the GT, all of that process to me is fascinating.
“To understand that you’re putting the A-team on a development project like this, the time constraints they had and what they’ve been able to accomplish is amazing. That whole process of the innovation, the creativity, pushing the boundaries of technology as Ford and Multimatic did with this GT is something that’s very, very interesting for me.
“The result is in the absolute pleasure of driving it on the track, as we did this afternoon, to see that it can do what it does with such ease. Because I’ve raced so many different kinds of cars, I can really savour that.”
L’Abbé took this writer for a spin around the Calabogie circuit, and the owner couldn’t have been happier.
“When I was driving it on the road what I noticed immediately is how comfortable this car is, how planted it is,” L’Abbé said of his initial driving impressions. “Then when we came back in and I took it on the track, that’s when it really shines, because ultimately it’s a racecar.
“It has beautiful styling, it’s a car that everyone is going to remember because of its iconic flying buttress design and so on, but ultimately, it’s a racehorse, so if you want to enjoy it you have to be in the right environment, which is the track.
“I wish more youngsters could have a chance to drive a car on a track and see what it’s like to really exploit your car, and to really have the grin-factor.”
And from the cockpit of a Ford GT, we couldn’t agree more.
Photos courtesy Multimatic/Ford