Since 1995

Ford GT – the Mustang connection

 

A few things you probably didn’t know about the Ford GT

… find out some of the amazing tech and how the car almost wasn’t even built

 

This, folks, is the car everyone’s been waiting for. McLaren’s 720S? Boring! Ferrari’s 488? Yesterday’s news. And Lamborghinis? Well, they’ve become so common, no one notices them anymore.

Nope, everywhere I go, all anyone – from pointy-head owners of traditional supercars to Mustang-loving Duck Dynasty loyalists – wants to know is Ford’s new supercar. Is it fast? Is it as fast as it looks? Most importantly, is it as fast as a Ferrari? Indeed, that rivalry – Ford versus Ferrari – goes to the heart of the GT, which is, after all, a celebration of the Ford GT40, the car that decimated Maranello’s 330s at the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The engine bay of the 2017 Ford GT.

But, if you’re the motorheads I think you are, you already knew that. Well, then, here are a few things you might not have known, forgotten or really haven’t had time to think about. These will give you just a little more perspective into what promises to be the greatest sports car ever to wear the Blue Oval.

The GT is really a race car that’s been (sort of) civilized. Everything inside the GT – the sleek aerodynamic body that resembles an airplane’s fuselage, the super-high-tech suspension, the computer-controlled rear wing – was engineered for one thing and one thing only: to win Le Mans on the 50th anniversary of Ford’s greatest triumph, its seminal 1-2-3 sweep of the ’66 24 Hours by the famed Carroll Shelby-fettled GT40s.

Everything about the GT’s chassis is state of the art. It’s where Ford spent the vast majority of its development dollars and what separates the GT from lesser supercars. By comparison, its 3.5-litre EcoBoost V6 was lifted (but admittedly, tweaked) from an F-150. Hell, every GT – race and production versions alike – has an FIA-approved roll cage built into its carbon tub. By building the roll cage right into the chassis, Ford claims it was able to reduce the weight of the race car. But, says Jamal Hameedi, global performance car chief engineer, it actually made the street version heavier. In other words, unlike other performance cars — yes, even supercars — the GT was designed to win races first, the everyday needs of us proles secondary.

Ford had to deliver at least one production GT before the end of 2016. In order to qualify for the 2016 Le Mans race, Ford had to prove it had sold at least one GT before December 31. Otherwise, says Hameedi, it would have had to give the trophies back.

The company sold two. One to Bill Ford — you know, Henry’s great-grandson. The other went to Mark Fields, Ford’s president and CEO. Both were in red, white and blue “Victory” livery. Both now sit in the lobby of Ford’s Dearborn headquarters along with the 2016 Le Mans-winning GT.

Ford executive chairman Bill Ford, left, and president and COO Mark Fields, at the introduction of the Ford GT during the 2015 North American International Auto Show, both took ownership of a GT last year.

More than just a supercar, however, Ford says the GT is a learning experience. Ford is using the GT to glean experience that will allow it to mass-produce carbon fibre cars in the future. That’s why, unlike McLaren, which boasts that its carbon fibre tub is one giant moulding, Ford is actually proud of the fact its chassis comprises about 40 different pieces of carbon fibre. Yes that makes it heavier – all the resin needed to bond all those carbon fibre bits together does impose a weight penalty – but, says Hameedi, it makes the manufacturing process strikingly similar to what happens when a conventional steel unibody car comes together. That’s a learning experience the chief engineer thinks will pay dividends when carbon fibre goes mainstream.

The GT is built in Canada. Actually, in Markham, Ont., not 10 kilometres from the Booth manse. Besides the GT, Multimatic has built one-off supercars (the De Macross GT1) and moulded all the carbon fibre for Aston Martin’s ultra-exclusive One-77. But one of its main sidelines – the company is a major OEM parts supplier – is building high-tech Dynamic Suspension Spool Valve shock absorbers (which, for lack of an easier explanation, look rather like the transfer ports in a two-stroke engine) for race cars. And, yes, the GT rides on just such a set of high-tech DSSV dampers.  

mnv ford gt 069 Motor Mouth: A few things you probably didnt know about the Ford GT

The all-new Ford GT is entering the final phase of development and production has begun. One of the first Ford GTs is being driven off the line at the Multimatic assembly location with the first behind the scenes look at the assembly line for all-new Ford GT.

Here’s a detail specifically for the nerds. Each corner of that high-tech suspension rides on two springs — one traditional coil, the other a high-strength torsion bar. When the suspension is lowered for Track mode – to 70 millimetres off the ground, barely 10-mm higher than the full-blown Le Mans race car – the computers “lock” out the coil so only the stiff torsion bar is working.

Why is this a big deal? Many performance cars offer adjustable suspension damping, but, says Hameedi, the GT is the only supercar to be able to increase its spring rate on demand, the stiffer suspension reducing roll during the high-speed cornering allowed by the incredible aerodynamic downforce.

And yet another one for the gearheads. Besides adding considerable rigidity to the chassis structure, the rear buttress – that wing-like appendage connecting the rear fender to the GT’s main fuselage, er, body – is actually part of the engine’s intake system. Hidden in that sleek, knife-edged strut is the tube connecting the turbocharged V6’s intercoolers to the intake plenum. So, yes, the Ford GT’s body is technically part of the engine’s intake manifold.

Despite all this talk of performance, we still don’t know how fast the GT really is. In fact, nobody does. Indeed, anyone unequivocally stating they know how fast the Ford GT is compared with its supercar competition is full of bull patooties.

First, other than stating the GT’s top speed is 347 km/h, Ford is releasing absolutely no acceleration data. Nothing. Nada.

Complicating the matter further, Ford launched the GT at Utah Motorsports Campus near Salt Lake City. It’s an absolutely lovely track, but perched in the Oquirrh Mountains, it’s 1,354 metres above sea level. And elevation, as every gearhead knows, saps power. My back-of-the napkin calculation estimates Utah’s cool, crisp — but less dense — mountain air sees the GT’s 3.5L EcoBoost V6 some 85 horsepower down on its claimed 647-hp peak. So, is the GT fast? You betcha! Is it faster than its competition? Uhm … there’s just no way to tell.

And, lastly, the GT wasn’t even supposed to be, well, a GT. It was supposed to be a Mustang, a super-duper, extra-special Mustang to be sure, but a Mustang nonetheless. The original plan — codenamed Project Silver — was to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the ’66 Le Mans sweep with an ultimate Mustang powered by the same 3.5Lturbocharged V6 that ended up in the GT. But, to get the aerodynamics needed for the requisite performance, the darned thing started to look like, well, a Ferrari 458, a non-starter for Ford’s marketing mavens.

After the project was cancelled — the super ’Stang would have cost US$250,000, another thing that “didn’t align with Mustang sensibilities” —executive VP and chief technical officer Raj Nair formed a small skunkworks team (a dozen engineers and designers) that developed the GT on the sly. The GT — now aptly codenamed Project Phoenix — was built in a basement storage room beneath Ford’s Product Development Center and completely disguised every time it rose from its underground lair, lest the senior execs who cancelled the Mustang Le Mans project got wind of Nair’s skullduggery.

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Raj Nair, Group VP of Global Product Development and Chief Technical Officer at Ford Motor Company, introduces the Shelby Mustang GT350R at the North 2015 American International Auto Show.