Larry Holt said yes.
He could have just hung up the phone when he got that first call. Most automotive suppliers would have rather than turn their already thriving business upside down for a gargantuan task: build a fantastical, small-batch halo car. The whole thing. By hand.
But Holt, an automotive engineer and a legend among his ilk, is a bit of a mad scientist. He even has the look, with slightly stooped shoulders and a mop of wild, grey, shoulder-length curls that call to mind images of Doc Brown, Christopher Lloyd's character in the Back to the Future movie franchise. And the caller on the line was Ford Motor Co., his largest client.
"When Ford phones me and says, 'Would you make this car for us?' and they're your largest customer … you don't hang up," said Holt, vice-president of engineering for Multimatic, a Markham, Ont.-based manufacturer of auto-industry components. "Some mornings you wake up and say, 'Why … did I do that?'"
Other mornings, Holt finds himself with an ear-to-ear grin as he pulls the puppet strings that make history unfold. That was the case last week as he gave the green light to his team, a black polo-clad crew of about 60 automotive wizards, who crowded around to watch the first Ford GT roll off the makeshift "line" Multimatic has created to build it. "It's pretty cool," Holt said.
Until it took on the new GT, Ford's $450,000 (U.S.) technology-packed, limited-edition supercar, Multimatic enjoyed relative anonymity. Based in what appears to be a non-descript office building on an unremarkable strip in Markham, the privately owned company has built its reputation in the industry as a reliable supplier known for delivering on promises without exception. Most of what it does isn't sexy. Its foundation business is volume-production stamping; it makes simple parts such as door hinges, tire jacks and other technology that most customers simply see as part of their vehicle, including the trademarked BoxStep and StepGate technologies on Ford's top-selling F-150 pickup truck.
In other words, to the average auto enthusiast, Multimatic is basically invisible. That status isn't accidental.
"It's not about beating our chests," said Peter Czapka, the enigmatic owner of Multimatic, adding: "If you have a secret weapon, why tell everybody about it?" In jeans and a black jacket stamped with a Ford logo – Czapka, who drives a Porsche Panamera and rarely grants news interviews, stood deep on the sidelines as he watched the GTs roll off the line for cameras in his shop last week, a place so clean one could safely eat off the polished floors. His low-key appearance gives few clues about his lineage, which is richly steeped in Canadian automotive royalty. In the 1950s, Czapka's father, Tony, started the original Multimatic with partner Frank Stronach. The company would change its name to Magna and become the top auto-parts supplier in North America. When Peter Czapka, who worked for Magna, left to start his own company, he named it Multimatic in an homage to his father.
Today, Peter remains the sole owner of Multimatic, which has in the past been estimated to be worth of more than $800-million (U.S.). Earlier this year, the company's motorsports arm was inducted into the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame.
The GT is not Czapka and Holt's first supercar: Their shop built James Bond's most recent Aston Martin DB10, Aston's CC100 roadster and the company's One-77. But until now, the exotic side has remained a small corner of the business, which is overwhelmingly focussed on less visible elements.
"Their stock and trade is faultless execution. It's a company that keeps its eye on the ball rather than making a lot of noise about it in public," said Peter Frise, a professor of automotive engineering at the University of Windsor. "In the auto industry, there are some companies that tend to overpromise and underdeliver and there are others that underpromise and overdeliver. The second group is always much more successful.
"The people who are their customers know them very, very well."
Ford's relationship to Multimatic dates back to the early 1980s, when the two companies began racing together; that history combined with a solid working relationship is what led Raj Nair, Ford's executive vice-president of product development, to ask Multimatic to take on the project.
"They know how to work with us. I don't know anybody who I'd rather have," he said.
Dave Pericak, global director of Ford Performance, said the personal connection he and Nair have with Holt and Czapka was critical to bring the GT to life.
"There's a whole lot of trust between the four of us that goes beyond a traditional business relationships," he said. "It would have been hard to deliver a project like this if there wasn't that trust or that personal relationship."
The project, several years in the making, has healthily pushed the limits of Multimatic's team. "This is a really big step for us," said Holt, who typically oversees teams building a small handful of highly technical but one- or two-off models. To meet Ford's sales goal of delivering 250 GTs a year for four years, Multimatic has to expand its process to build about one car a day over the two-a-week it currently finishes. While the production run is too small to justify an automated line, Holt did have to create a human-powered replica of sorts. Pulling from his top staff, including the racing side, he created seven "stations" that each GT passes through. Anchored by neat butcher-block countertops and a parts guide that Holt likened to an IKEA instruction book, the teams at each one get the car for 24 hours before it moves down the line.
There are challenges: Multimatic still needs 20 more staff to hit full capacity; it has had to hustle for parts suppliers. Of 14 possibilities for headlights, only one company agreed to participate. With 350 main suppliers, Holt said the company's courier bills can easily hit $40,000 in a two-week period.
The craziness of it all makes him shake his head, but then he starts spitting out engineering equations as if they're as easy as singing the alphabet, and it's clear the GT has opened a new cavern of possibilities for Multimatic, which is delivering what it promised, despite the strain. The company, unable to escape the broad spotlight cast by Ford's marketing machine, has been energized by the project.
Czapka said it fits with the company's mandate, which is to create advanced solutions for client problems.
"We try to incubate things we think might be important for the future," he said.
Which of those baked into the GT's carbon-fibre body are destined to make the leap into mainstream driveways? Time will tell.
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