Here’s a little food for thought. We often times ask ourselves, and maybe others, why an auto manufacturer made a certain decision? This was the case with nearly everyone when Ford made the executive decision to power the all-new 2017 Ford GT an EcoBoost engine.
Point being, manufacturers like Ford make executive decisions like these for more than one reason. Those reasons aren’t just to tick people off. In fact, in all honesty, most of them boil down to cost – as Raj Nair, head of global product development at Ford, recently revealed about an ill-fated Mustang project, which proceeded the Ford GT race car.
Cost played a major role in Ford’s decision to return to competitive racing at Le Mans, but it wasn’t the all-new GT that originally spawned the concept of racing again. At the SAE International’s WCX conference, which took place in Detroit, Michigan, earlier this week, Raj recalled a story you would have had to hear to believe.
When he and his team originally entertained the idea of returning to Le Mans for the Blue Oval’s 50th anniversary victory, the idea of developing a potent, race-only Mustang built specifically for Le Mans was the first order of business. The brainchild, dubbed “Project Silver” as a reference to the Lone Ranger’s horse, was immediately rejected by Ford brass due to its quarter of a million dollar price tag.
That $250,000 note for each vehicle would have enabled engineers to essentially redesign the Mustang to the tune of a Le Mans-induced aerodynamic exterior, along with all of the mechanical modifications necessary to compete.
Ultimately, Mustang does not need Le Mans to be a global car. To be candid, I still wanted to do it. I was actually a little bit mad … in fact, I was really mad. — Raj Nair, Ford
“It was all good learning, but it turns out not to be the right fit,” Raj said during the conference. “Ultimately, Mustang does not need Le Mans to be a global car. To be candid, I still wanted to do it. I was actually a little bit mad … in fact, I was really mad.”
But his frustration didn’t stop there, as Automotive News explained. He felt the company was underestimating the importance of the 50th anniversary, and this is when he decided to take matters into his own hands.
Once the Mustang homologation project was rejected, Raj and a handpicked team of less than 12 people inside Ford lead a new endeavor in late 2013 to begin R&D on an all-new Ford GT. This, of course, was behind closed doors without the blessing of Blue Oval executives, naturally. Raj had a different perspective this time around – taking what he learned from the rejected Mustang project, and finding the positives in this one, such as a “low-cost investment” ideology.
The goal here, as Automotive News reports, was to incorporate new advancements in tooling that, “could really keep investment costs low and the quality exceptional.” It was a risky move made by Raj and his team, but one that undoubtedly would pan out for the better, as we learned. From this work, “Project Phoenix” was born. This moniker was appropriately selected by this council of 12, as the GT was to rise from the ashes of Project Silver.
Before that name was chosen, however, Raj said that one member of the group had suggested “Project Groundhog,” in reference to the classic movie, Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray. As we all know, Raj and other Ford team members have declared that the all-new GT was developed both as a Le Mans competitor and a road going car – but what you might not know is that all along, he and his team wanted to see the GT as Le Mans dominator.
“Our plan was clear – this was going to be a test bed for our technologies – for engine development that had to push the boundaries of material usage such as the lightweight carbon fiber that eventually ended up in the car, and had to stretch our understanding of what was possible with aerodynamics,” Raj confessed.
So, how did Raj and his team convince those same executives that denied the Mustang project to build an all-new GT? With a double-edged sword, of course. Raj coaxed all of those executives into joining him in the secret room (in the corner of Ford’s Dearborn product development center) to introduce them to the magic happening – the development of the all-new GT.
With this sorcery, Raj was able to convince them that they could build a new GT while creating a racer that would win Le Mans. And that our friends, is the story behind the inception of the all-new 2017 Ford GT – a Le Mans contender for the 21st century.
Of course, we’d love to get a look at those Project Silver renderings…