Down a stark stairwell into the bowels of the Ford Research and Engineering Center, we wander past industrial cement walls lined with racks of foam blocks and auto parts, past used oil drums, up to a nondescript steel door. Behind the door is a private studio, converted from a large storage room, where a small team of Ford engineers developed the GT in about 14 months – all in complete secrecy.
The GT rolled into the limelight at Detroit's Cobo Center in January, to the shock of almost everyone there, with little more than drips of leaked information to hint that Ford was even thinking of a new supercar, much less building one.
How can you hide such an immense project from even those in your own company?
Amko Leenarts, the global director of interior design for Ford and Lincoln, says keeping the development team small was key to secrecy. "We weren't bigger than about 15 people. Normally, for another car [development team], we would have three times that many."
There's still an air of secrecy in the high-ceiling studio; although Leenarts and others gave a short tour of the facility, photos were not allowed. Large boards of sketches and computer drawings surrounded full-sized early prototypes cut from foam blocks, along with smaller models on pedestals. Leenarts says that, along with holding project-management meetings in secret after working hours, he had to take extra steps with his regular Ford design team upstairs to hide the project.
"[The GT studio] is right next to the restrooms, so then I would say I was going to the restroom and then just stick around here, so that nobody knew. My designers here would sometimes give me a text asking, 'do you need to go to the restroom soon?' – meaning he had a question for me."
Ford finally let its employees in on the secret, but even then the GT stayed under wraps.
"What was really amazing was, at the Detroit show, we gave Ford friends and family a preview the night before," Leenarts says. "We thought for sure we wouldn't keep the secret before the show but, even with 2,000 people, nobody photographed, nobody tweeted, nothing."
And did the Ford engineers give this secret studio a name? Skunkworks, perhaps? Area 51?
"Uh, we just called it the basement," Leenarts said with a shrug.
The writer was a guest of the auto maker. Content was not subject to approval.
HOW THE FORD GT WAS DEVELOPED
The cloak of secrecy is finally off the Ford GT.
Little information was shared when the supercar debuted at the Detroit auto show, but last week at its Research and Engineering Center, Ford officials detailed three tenets of its design: light weight, aerodynamics and technology.
Unlike the last GT, which was built in 2005 using aluminum, this one is built around a carbon-fibre passenger tub, with aluminum sub-frames and a carbon-fibre structural skin. Carbon fibre and other light materials will also be used in engine parts and other areas to lighten it further.
In designing the GT, Ford engineers wanted some DNA from the legendary GT40 – such as the round tail lights and side inlets – but were careful not to make this just a "retro" supercar; the focus was on aerodynamics and packaging efficiencies.
"Even the holes in the centre of the tail-lamps help draw cool air over the intercoolers," says Moray Callum, Ford's vice-president of design. "It was just a case of editing out anything superfluous."
With the mid-mounted, 3.5-litre, Ecoboost engine (rated at more than 600 horsepower) being relatively small in dimension, Ford tapered the rear of the car to resemble an F1 racer. Carbon fibre makes the rear blades – which direct air over the car – lighter and easier to produce in a single form. And the shape was designed to maximize downforce without adding to drag. An active rear wing will deliver more downforce only when needed and will act as an air brake.
The interior was designed to help the driver at high speeds and also keep the exterior dimensions tight. The seats don't slide (the wheel and pedals adjust instead), so Ford could keep the windshield and roof closer in, not having to account for a driver moving back and forth.
And its controls and systems are light years ahead. "We consider the 2005 GT to be one of the last of what we call the analog supercars," says Jamal Hameedi, Ford's global performance vehicle chief engineer. Compared with the 2005 GT, this GT is packed with computers and sensors controlling and monitoring everything from engine temperature to the vehicle's pitch and yaw to the rear wing. In fact, the new GT has more computing power than an F-22 fighter jet.
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