Deep in the bowels of Ford’s Product and Development Center in Dearborn, Michigan, there’s a room that no security pass will grant you access to.
Not that you’d ever know to try. The room is at the end of a corridor about four flights of stairs underground. It’s the kind of room that only caretakers and security guards would ever walk past: unused and almost forgotten for years.
For the past two years, though, that room has been home to one of the most top-secret projects in Ford’s history: the new GT. Created to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the GT40’s first Le Mans victory, the new supercar’s launch at the 2015 Detroit motor show was so secret that it came as a surprise even to most of Ford’s staff, including some top executives.
At the time, those involved in the project spoke about the secret room in which they created the car. Now, a year on, its secrets are about to be revealed.
The room may sound like the creation of something for an Ian Fleming novel, but in this instance life really does imitate art. The access corridor is lined with dusty storage racks for foam blocks that will be milled into prototype parts.
“There would be no reason to go down there,” says Ford’s Chris Svensson, design director for the Americas, “and it would be out of bounds for most people anyway.”
The room is accessible only by an old-school key, the digital touchpad beside it having been disabled. “It was very top secret,” adds Svensson, who has the key hanging around his neck. “Very few had access to the project, and no one was allowed to talk about it. Out of 600 or so designers here, 12 had access to the room. It’s not a beautiful place; it’s a grafting place. It’s a real basement studio: no windows, dirty, uncomfortable, floods when it rains… but it’s beautifully functional.”
Svensson was one of the few involved in the early stages of the project, which kicked off around 15 months before the GT’s 2015 Detroit debut. According to Jamal Hameedi, Ford Performance’s chief engineer, the goal was, in essence, the same as that of the 1960s GT40: to be a tour de force of the very best Ford design and technology in order to beat Ferrari at their own game. “And to take Ford back to Le Mans,” adds Hameedi.
The room, far removed from the main Ford design studio, was cleared, and the crack team involved in the project got to work, often in the evenings and at weekends so as not to arouse suspicions.
“We started with aerodynamic efficiency,” says Hameedi, adding that Ford has “never done so much with CFD [computational fluid dynamics] software” to hone the GT’s aerodynamic form. “We knew we were going back to Le Mans,” he says, “so we had set criteria to go racing and have a fantastic road car. Racing is therefore at the core of our existence. I’m not sure you can say that about some of our peers.”
Three key design themes for the car were chosen, none of them retro, and then models were made off those themes, all with the same teardrop fuselage and extremely aggressive glasshouse and extreme aero packages, but with different styling. They were then put through wind tunnel and computer testing, and the best-performing one was chosen for the design, not necessarily the best-looking one. Carbonfibre bodywork allowed for some extreme sculpting.
The model then spawned a full-sized clay model, which was then used as the basis for the prototype unveiled in Detroit last year. This, in turn, formed the basis for the final verification model unveiled at this year’s Detroit show, with such small changes from the earlier model that you’d struggle ever to notice the difference. Svensson says fewer changes were required than on any other project he’s seen in his 23 years at Ford. “And if you can spot them, you’ve got a very good eye.”
With aerodynamic efficiency and low weight being the top priorities in the car’s development, the engine was considered to be of secondary importance and was chosen primarily on the basis of fuel economy. For that reason, the team went with Ford’s twin-turbocharged 3.5-litre Ecoboost V6.
“Le Mans is a fuel economy race now,” says Hameedi, “so efficiency is a key criteria. You can’t beat the V6 for that, and you can make the homologated 500bhp or so output in the rules easily and also be extremely fuel efficient.”
All secrets now fully out, the GT race car, in addition to its Daytona outing and Le Mans appearance this summer, will compete in the World Endurance Championship this season. The GT road car will follow by the end of the year, produced in limited numbers, each costing around £280,000. It will be a gratifying moment for the team involved.
“We didn’t want to be another Ferrari, McLaren or Lamborghini,” says Svensson. “This is us; we can compete with the very best and represent the best of Ford.”