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Ford: The making of the Ford GT 40

Ford GT40
Click image for larger view

DEARBORN, Mich., July 16, 2002 - In a conference room they call "Le Mans" connected to garage area dubbed "The Pit," an elite group of Ford engineers, designers and supplier partners gathered for the first time recently to take on a dream assignment - building the production version of the Ford GT40 concept car.

The team gets its inspiration from Chris Theodore, Ford's vice president of North America product development, who handpicked the people in the room - his "Dream Team."

 

   "From the day I came to this company, I've wanted to do this car," says Theodore. "When it arrives on the scene, it will set a new standard for supercars. And it will teach us valuable lessons about the power of small, nimble product teams and supplier partnerships."

  

To build the low-volume supercar, Theodore assembled a team of performance engineering experts and supplier partners with the skills to deliver and the knowledge to get things done within Ford while operating outside the established system.

Ford GT40
Click image for larger view

Core supplier partners include: Lear, the interior systems experts; Mayflower Vehicle Systems, which specializes in aluminum chassis and body systems; Roush Industries, developing the powertrain, and Saleen, experts in low-volume niche manufacturing systems.

Ford GT40
Click image for larger view

The Dream Team

The production version of the GT40 concept will be built for speed - on the road and in the system. The project serves as a lightning rod for consumer excitement and a catalyst for change within the Ford system.

With Theodore leading the vision, the development work is led by:

  • John Coletti, director Ford's Special Vehicle Team programs

  • Fred Goodnow, vehicle engineering manager and former SVT programs manager

  • Jamal Hameedi, program manager and former Ford Powertrain and Off -Road racing manager

  • Neil Hannemann, chief engineer and former chief engineer of Saleen S7 and former program manager for the Dodge Viper GTS-R

  • Camilo Pardo, chief designer and head of design for Ford's SVT products

  • Tom Reichenbach, vehicle development manager and former dynamics manager for Ford's racing programs, including Formula 1, CART and NASCAR

  • Neil Ressler, former Ford vice president of Advanced Engineering and Chief Technical Officer, now senior technical advisor.

  • Carroll Shelby, owner Shelby American Inc. and senior technical advisor to the team.

The vehicle development program began as a small skunkworks group of enthusiasts who toyed with designs for a Ford supercar on and off for several years.

Ford GT40 Ford GT40
Click image for larger view

When Theodore joined Ford in 1999, he brought with him the knowledge and expertise to create small product teams within a larger organization. His model of such a team allowed a focus on cutting through the bureaucracy and delivering creative products. And, when he discovered and joined the early skunk works team, he added credibility and clout that they never had.

The first step toward developing a program for the car was to create excitement through a concept car. With Vice President of Design J Mays already dreaming up designs, the Ford GT40 concept car development went into full swing in the summer of 2001. Mays led the concept car design from its inception, appointing Ford's Living Legends Studio designer Camilo Pardo as chief designer of the project.

Ford GT40
Click image for larger view

The concept debuted at the 2002 North American International Auto Show in January 2002. Response was overwhelming and, in February, Ford announced it would produce a version of the car for the street as a symbol of its upcoming centennial celebration.

Building the Team

To be the conscience of the team, keeping one eye on the customer and the other on the competition, Theodore tapped Neil Ressler, formerly Ford's chief technical officer and vice president in charge of advanced engineering and motorsports development. Ressler, who retired in 2000, has a global reputation as a performance vehicle guru and, at Ford, was the engineering visionary behind the Special Vehicle Team (SVT). Ford's SVT unit, under the direction of Coletti from its inception, produces high performance versions of production vehicles including the Mustang Cobra, F-150 Lightning and the all-new 2002 SVT Focus.

Coletti, who provides day-to-day direction to the team, and Ressler went through the Ford Product Development organization to choose the engineering and business management talent to match the task at hand. The operation meant securing some of the best talent who were not fully committed to other critical product programs.

"This was a 'physician first do no harm' proposition," says Ressler. "In some cases, we had to horse trade and plead with program managers to get some key people on-board. Of course, one of the best ways to tap top talent without affecting other programs is to look to the bench."

Ressler is not the only recent retiree to join the team. In order to deliver the program on time, fully committed business managers, such as purchasing director Gary Quick, were needed. Ressler knew that Quick was fully versed on the Ford purchasing system and had a reputation as a "Mr. Fix-It" with suppliers. It's this mix of Ford engineers and business managers, retired and active, and core suppliers that will set the car apart from the typical Ford program and will serve as a test bed itself for different approaches to Ford's product development system.

Dream Team Supplier Partners

With the team in place, finding the right mix of Tier I suppliers was the next priority. The team worked through the system to match their needs and gain approvals in record time. The Dream Team includes the following core suppliers:

  • Lear Inc. - Interior systems

  • Mayflower Ltd. - Chassis and body systems

  • Roush Industries - Powertrain development

  • Saleen Inc. - Niche manufacturing system

By joining the project, some of the partners who are natural competitors with each other are learning to work hand-in-hand under the daily direction of Coletti and Hanneman. All key players are collocated at the Dream Team's Dearborn headquarters, a modern technical center owned by Roush Industries, which also separately houses Ford's SVT team and Roush's aftermarket, OEM and Roush Racing powertrain development operations.

"In order to meet our needs, we had to quickly cut through a lot of the red tape that typical programs have to deal with," says Coletti. "The leadership knows what it takes to do a car like this and we know the right people who, in turn, know their stuff. We went out and signed them up and we got support from Mr. Theodore and management. That put us ahead of schedule right from the start."

Fast Development, Easy Access

In order to shorten development and production time, the team found suppliers with core operations located within a 275-mile radius of its Dearborn headquarters.

"This is taking the 'just-in-time' inventory theory to every aspect of the development," says Coletti. "It's 'on-demand' access to every key person, place and thing related to the program. There's no need to fly to Japan to review a part or a process at a supplier. They're all within driving distance."

Completing The Living Legends Lineup

The production version of the Ford GT40 concept, a modern edition of the historic, two-seat supercar, will add new excitement to the Ford brand when it debuts in 2003 and goes on sale in 2004.

It joins Thunderbird, Mustang and the Forty-Nine concept as part of Ford's "Living Legends" lineup.

Production capacity, vehicle specifications, performance numbers, pricing and the name of the production vehicle will be revealed at a later date.

Ford GT40 Timeline

  • August 1963 - Henry Ford II announces his intention to produce a new Ford race car to compete in the endurance races at Le Mans and elsewhere

  • June of 1964 - Ford GT40 unveiled to the automotive press

  • Fall 1964 - Ford hires Carroll Shelby to oversee the racing program

  • February 1965 - Ken Miles and Lloyd Ruby drive GT40 to its first victory at the Daytona 2000-km race

  • June 1966 - Ford GT40s cruise to a 1-2-3 victory at Le Mans

  • June 1967 - A.J. Foyt and Dan Gurney enjoy victory at Le Mans

  • June 1968 - Third straight victory achieved at Le Mans

  • June 1969 - Jackie Ickx and Jackie Oliver score Ford's fourth and final Le Mans victory

  • March 2001 - Ford's Living Legends Studio begins work on GT40 concept

  • January 2002 - GT40 concept debuts at North American International Auto Show

  • January 2002 - Chris Theodore instructs Coletti to reopen a feasibility study

  • February 2002 -Bill Ford announces GT40 concept will go into production

  • March 2002 - Steering team meets for first time

  • July 2002 - "Dream Team" unveiled

photos: Ford Motor Corp.


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