Following the shock unveiling of the new Ford GT at the Detroit Motor Show in January, there’s now reason for more excitement as it’s finally off the show plinth and testing on the roads, plus we’ve been behind the scenes at Ford’s HQ in Dearborn, Michigan to learn more about the supercar was born.
The dramatic supercar will be delivered to the first customers at the end of 2016, but it’s already out on Michigan plates being put through its paces. Ford is aware there’s no point in disguising it as its been seen by the world, so a vicious-looking matt grey paintjob is the only attempt at camouflage.
That low, wedgy stance is clearer than ever amongst the SUV-heavy Michican streets, as are the enormous flying buttresses, rakish rear end and aerodynamic body slits. It’s Ford’s second attempt at a modern take on the retro GT40 Le Mans racer of the 1960s.
We know that the new GT sports a mid-mounted twin-turbo 3.5-litre V6 EcoBoost engine, and is mated to a seven-speed dual clutch automatic gearbox. The body is made primarily from carbon-fibre, and Ford promises “one of the best power-to-weight ratios of any production car”.
Ford hasn’t given us a pricetag yet, but it’s strongly hinted at around the £250,000 mark. Ford will build it in fairly limited numbers (around 250 a year) in order to preserve its exclusivity.
The tale behind this reinvented American icon goes back a little further, so we visited Ford’s headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan, to get the full behind-the-scenes story.
The Ford GT project was so secret that it was designed by a tiny team of people, not in one of the many studios in the vast Ford Design Center, but in a windowless basement corner room protected by a padlock.
New 2016 Ford GT: New from the ground up
From the beginning, the brief was to make something different to the 2005 GT, which used aluminium and magnesium components and a 550bhp 5.4-litre supercharged V8. An early decision was made to construct it from lightweight carbon-fibre structural and body panels, with a rear-mounted, twin-turbo 3.5-litre V6 producing more than 600bhp.
This new engine couldn’t be further from an old-school V8. Stephen Russ, director of global engine engineering, explained that the GT’s ECU processes 3,000 signals from 50 sensors around the car and uses 28 microprocessors running 10 million lines of code (an F22 military plane uses two million lines, and a Boeing 787 six million).
New 2016 Ford GT: a top secret programme
Only a handful of people were aware of the program. These included top management, like chief designer Moray Callum, exterior design chief Craig Metros and global interior design boss Amko Leenarts, plus the Ford Performance team, including director Dave Pericak and chief engineer Jamal Hameedi.
Standing at the entrance to the design bunker surrounded by sketches and scale models, Callum told us: “This room housed one of the first mills that ever came into Ford Motor Company. We took this space, moved everything out of it and refurbished. Not only did the space have to be different, but the process had to be different, too.
“We mixed a couple of young designers with more experienced ones. We wanted fresh ideas from the youngsters, but knew we needed the experienced guys to get the car done in a record time of 14 months.”
New 2016 Ford GT: styling and design details
Despite the dramatic styling details on the GT, the low stance and profile is instantly recognisable to fans of its predecessors. There’s 20-inch wheels clad in Michelin Pilot Super Sport Cup tyres, and the suspension is a torsion bar and pushrod setup that is height-adjustable. Carbon ceramic brakes are also standard.
Callum said the team used the traditional method of doing a two-dimensional sketch of the car and moving on to scale models carved from foam using mathematical data. This lightweight foam made it easier to move the models outside to view them in natural light.
Plus, he added that the ducting and venting on the body, the flying buttresses and the teardrop shape of the fuselage behind the cockpit were all tested and proven in the wind tunnel. Ford Performance chief engineer Hameedi talked about the breathtaking shape of the car: “The tapering fuselage comes from a Formula One or an LMP1 car. They all have a taper, which sets up a very clean air path to the rear wing, and that’s what we’re doing here.”
He added that the team worked hard to not only get a low coefficient of drag (Cd), but a low CdA figure, too. This is the Cd multiplied by the frontal area of the car – an indicator of the aero drag that must be overcome to achieve both speed and stability.
“One of the goals was to have a small greenhouse [upper section of the body] to get a world-class CdA number,” Hameedi said. “Air coming around the surface does not detach. It’s been carefully crafted and designed to have clean laminar flow.”
Elizabeth Baron and her team used Ford’s virtual design studio to build a complete interior and exterior of the GT from computer data that engineers and designers could get into and sit down in. There they could explore the spatial relationships in the narrow cockpit by donning a special stereo viewing helmet and using a wand and a “flashlight” to look at elements in detail.
Amko Leenarts, who led the interior design, said: “When you have a special package, and this was a special package, engineering and design have to go hand-in-hand. In this car, there was no big centre console with a big shifter, because we had to be as lean and efficient as possible.
“We designed it so the steering column and pedals come to the driver. Because of the hyper-small space, we needed to carve out a lot of space from the dash to get a lightweight feel. When you get into the car, you get an immediate feel of raciness. All the functions are on the steering wheel.”
Whether or not the Ford GT will be raced in international competition, a subject that Hameedi dodged, it will be the most sophisticated, fastest and most expensive car ever to wear the famous blue oval badge.
2016 Ford GT: motorshow debuts
The Ford GT made its European debut at the Geneva Motor Show, having been revealed for the first time at the Detroit Motor Show back in January 2015.
With a price tag expected to be pushing £250,000, the all-new supercar has been benchmarked against the likes of the Ferrari 458 Speciale, confirmed by Ford’s chief technical officer, Raj Nair.
The new GT is a key part of Ford’s promise to deliver 12 global performance models by 2020. Also included in that list are the new Focus RS, F-150 Raptor and Shelby GT350.
Set to be built in Canada, the GT is powered by a mid-mounted 3.5-litre twin-turbocharged V6 EcoBoost engine delivering upwards of 600bhp. That’s paired with a unique seven-speed dual clutch transmission. From power output alone, the GT should produce performance that strikes fear into the world’s most prominent supercar manufacturers, such as Ferrari, Lamborghini and McLaren.
While it’s still 18 months away from showrooms, Ford officials also confirmed that 95 per cent of the car’s design will be carried over to the production model we see next year.
“It’s a showcase for all our latest technology, including EcoBoost performance and aerodynamics,” Mark Fields, Ford CEO and president, told us earlier in the year at Detroit. “We’ve been working on it for a little over a year.”
Ford’s return to Le Mans with the new GT
Fields fuelled speculation that Ford will return to the race track, specifically the GT class at the Le Mans 24 Hours, when he added: “It’s worth remembering that our first innovation as a company was not in a laboratory, but on the race track.” Another spokesman said it was “a nice idea”. The timing couldn’t be better – 2016 is the 50th anniversary of Ford breaking Ferrari’s six-year winning streak at Le Mans, and going on a four-year winning run of its own.
Would you prefer a Ford GT or a Lamborghini Aventador? Let us know in the comments section below…