by Peter M. DeLorenzo Let's set the way-back machine to a few years ago when the Ford Motor Company blew the lid off of the Detroit Auto Show with a modern rendition of its all-conquering Ford GT race car. Ford created the modern-day tribute to its most famous racing car as a way of paying tribute to probably the greatest era for on-track success ever achieved by an American automobile manufacturer in international motorsports competition. Ford owned the '60s with its "Total Performance" product, marketing and advertising campaign, which saw the Dearborn-based automaker win in virtually every form of racing that existed at the time, including sports car, Indianapolis, NASCAR and drag racing - and the culmination of Ford's onslaught was four straight wins in the world's most famous endurance race, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, with its magnificent Ford GT. The back story of this whole effort made the Ford triumphs sweeter, of course. As most hard-core enthusiasts know, Henry Ford II was impatient with his Le Mans program early on, and he wanted instant results. He came to believe that the best way to get those results was to take over the company that was winning everything in big-time endurance racing at the time - Ferrari. Ford and Ferrari entered into protracted negotiations to have Ford buy the Italian automaker, but Enzo Ferrari rebuffed Ford at the 11th hour of the deal, because Ferrari refused to relinquish control of his famous racing team and its blood-red cars. This sent Hank the Deuce into a controlled fury, and he vowed to "kick Ferrari's ass" on racetracks all around the world. And he did exactly that, sparing no expense to assemble the finest design and engineering talent within and outside of Ford, some of the smartest racing minds in the business and some of the best driving talent ever assembled in motorsports history by one manufacturer. So, even though the Ford GT concept that debuted at Detroit was yet another notch in J Mays' "retro futurism" belt, everyone gave Ford huge amounts of slack acknowledging the significance of the car to the company's history - while hanging on to a thread of hope that Ford may actually build the supercar for production. And when William Clay Ford, Jr. announced that Ford would in fact build the modern-day version of the Ford GT, enthusiasts were universally pleased and pumped that the Ford Motor Company appeared to be finally getting its mojo back after years of playing around the periphery of building "Total Performance" machines again. And euphoria reigned. But not for very long, it seems. The reality of the situation has turned ugly for Ford, and those fleeting moments of euphoria have been replaced by a seemingly endless series of problems that have plagued Ford's super car since its introduction. Ford first recalled the GT on Dec. 16, when cracks were discovered on a durability test vehicle's control arms. Ford took a shot at using a new casting process for the arms, which didn't work, and now they are replacing all eight arms on each recalled GT with forged versions. Owners were warned in no uncertain terms not to drive their cars in the meantime. Then, there was a fuel tank vapor leak that affected over 40 cars. And now comes word of an engine oil leak problem, as reported this week by Automotive News. An improper finish on some of the crankshafts is the culprit this time, and Ford is taking the highly unusual step of advising its dealership technicians to install a "Speedi-Sleeve" on its $150,000 super car to prevent oil from leaking from the rear crankshaft seal. These sleeves are normally used in high-mileage beaters to stave off oil leaks, but using them on Ford's flagship super car? Even though not all of the GTs are affected by this problem, as we are fond of saying around here - not good. Ford insiders will probably take great umbrage with my description of problems related to the Ford GT earlier in this column as being an "endless series" - but I wasn't the one who came up with "Pace Car for an Entire Company" as an advertising themeline used in association with the car, either. Even one problem is unacceptable on a machine of this magnitude. Let's not forget that this is the most highly visible new Ford to come along in, oh, maybe 35 years, not counting the new Mustang, of course. And the Ford GT is not only supposed to symbolize the reborn and reenergized Ford Motor Company, Ford claims that it should take its "rightful place" among the great super sports cars of the world. So, when you have a highly visible "symbol" of an entire car company being put through the ringer by a series of decidedly significant problems that have no business happening, then this kind of recall-laced publicity can only be considered disastrous. After all the things I've written about in this column over the past 5-1/2 years - how this is the most competitive market in automotive history, how car companies have a very narrow window of opportunity to launch new products and how Detroit car companies have an even narrower one, how Detroit's bad, 20-year run of product mediocrity has absolutely killed them, and that the lingering negative "perception gap" out there among car-buying consumers exists as a devastating reminder of just how far Detroit has to go before they can even tread water in this market - well, you can multiply all of those things by a 100 when you apply them to such a significant touchstone machine like the Ford GT. The enthusiasts buying the Ford GT are the True Believers, the ones who want Ford to succeed, who want an American manufacturer to kick some ass again with a no apologies super car that they can show off to their buddies who are smugly comfortable in their au courant but oh-so-typical Italian and German machines. The word-of-mouth "buzz" rests with these True Believers, because they're the influencers that Ford so desperately needed to convince first, before the rest of us could believe along with them. And Ford blew it. This is no time for excuses from Ford, and we understand they're taking steps to fix these problems on the GT and to keep any more from happening again (see "On the Table" - ed.). Ford better hope it's not too late to restore the damaged reputation of the GT, but then again, with True Believers, you usually only get one shot. Steve Saleen was in town last week to shake things up at the Troy, MI, final assembly point of the Ford GT super car, which he has responsibility for. The car has been plagued with a series of problems almost since its introduction. Robert Lane, Publisher of BlueOvalNews.com, told us that the entire top management team has been fired, including the production boss and COO.