Although the reintroduction of the Ford GT supercar and its class win at last year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans – 50 years after the Blue Oval first swept the endurance race in 1966 – seems perfectly, absolutely appropriate, the GT’s recent history wasn’t nearly so predestined as one might think.
In fact, as Ford Executive VP and Chief Technical Officer Raj Nair just revealed at the 2017 SAE World Congress Experience, Ford’s Le Mans effort wasn’t originally going to fall on a new Ford GT at all, but on the Ford Mustang pony car.
“It was all good learning, but it turns out not to be the right fit. Ultimately, Mustang does not need Le Mans to be a global car,” said Mr. Nair, according to Automotive News. After launching a program (codenamed “Project Silver”) to investigate transforming the Ford Mustang for endurance racing, company brass backed out over concerns about cost, aerodynamics, and the sense that Le Mans doesn’t align with the Mustang’s sensibilities. Each Mustang Le Mans racer would have cost upwards of $250k in modifications.
“To be candid, I still wanted to do it,” said Nair. “I was actually a little bit mad… in fact, I was really mad.”
Nair felt that by pulling the plug on the Mustang program, Ford was “underestimating the importance of the 50th anniversary” of its 1966 Le Mans win. So, starting in late-2013, he created a team of fewer than a dozen people to design a brand-new Ford GT in secret, without the approval of Executive Chairman Bill Ford, then-COO Mark Fields, or then-CEO Alan Mulally.
Incidentally, the former two individuals just took delivery of the first two road-going Ford GT examples produced.
“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,” Mr. Nair said. Eventually, Automotive News reports, he took each of the executives who had rejected the Mustang Le Mans program to see the Ford GT his team was developing, and convinced them to back the project.
And the rest, as they say, is history.