2017 Ford GT: The Unbearable Lightness of Moving

Well, it wasn’t all that long ago that we met the next-generation 2017 Ford GT at the 2016 Detroit Auto Show in January, 2015. It was an unexpected surprise unveil. The initial story wasn’t that surprising; lots of power, audacious styling and exotic materials.

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To be honest, we’ve heard that song many, many times in the supercar canon. But what was really intriguing was our most recent trip to Ford Performance’s Silicon Valley research institute where we got a look at this car from a somewhat different angle and perspective that you just might find quite interesting. We learned that less truly is more when it comes to the all-new 2017 Ford GT.

Let’s face it, we heard about light-weight technology in the auto industry all the time. But for most car buyers, it doesn’t really print. But in reality, light weight is all about what a vehicle is all about. Better performance, better fuel efficiency (which leads directly to lower emissions) and better handling dynamics in every direction the car goes.

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Committed to this ethic is the coming 2017 Ford GT. A rumored 630 horsepower from a 3.5L twin-turbo Ford EcoBoost engine mounted in the middle with an aluminum subframe behind a carbon-fiber center tub driving the rear wheels. To be honest, that same architecture has been done before and you can buy a 700 horsepower Dodge Challenger for $70,000. So what’s really going on here?

It’s how the new Ford GT will seek super-high performance by burdening itself less; lighter weight and less overall envelope – the car’s physical outline. That, my friends, is the essential story of this car.

The 2017 Ford GT is so underweight it’s over the top!

We spoke to Raj Nair, Chief Technology Officer at Ford about just that.

Q. This is such a big effort. We’ve got a car in the 2017 Ford GT with such incredible performance but with less weight, less bulk.

A. Right. Our performance at Ford is now a lot about efficiency. If you look at our new F150 with an all-aluminum body, we took more than 700 lbs out of that truck alone. And what’s interesting is that all the performance attributes of a specific vehicle get so much better when you simply take weight out. You improve gas mileage, you can soften up the suspension, the ride gets better, and more. So it all feeds naturally on itself.

Q. Many of the individual parts we see here on this car have a lot of carbon-reinforced plastic, things that before were so exotic and used in very limited volumes. Is Ford seeing this is a high-volume technique to use these parts in affordable cars?

A. Well, we can certainly use performance vehicles like the new Ford GT to prove out some interesting technologies that we’ve had questions about for a long time. Iterate the designs, take those findings and bring them to high-volume mainstream manufacturing. That absolutely is our goal here.

Q. So what used to be “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday” is now “Lightweight on Sunday, sell on Monday” right?

A. Absolutely true! For the engineer it’s “Win on Sunday and mainstream on Monday.”

Next, we spoke with Chris Svensson, Design Director at Ford.

Q. How important is it to use carbon fiber instead of aluminum?

A. Carbon fiber is much lighter and it’s stronger. As a designer, what it does is gives me greater flexibility and freedom to create unique forms that I couldn’t create in steel and aluminum.

Q. The flying buttresses are one that you’ve pointed out as an example of just that. Why couldn’t you have made those same, exact flying buttresses out of aluminum? We hear all the time that “we couldn’t have done that in metal.”

A. Steel or aluminum needs to be pressed. You have a die and it needs pressed. With that you have maximum draw depth and you have a radius; that becomes very restrictive based on your maximum depth of draw. Essentially the metal would eventually tear or be too thin. A tool die just restricts the overall design process immensely.

Q. What I notice about this car is that it gets real narrow, real fast.

A. There are two key components in creating the ultimate performance car. One is lightweight. Second is aerodynamics. In that regard, the 2017 Ford GT has a really tapered cabin; it’s very narrow. That allows us to manage the airflow much better than on a traditional full-volume car.

Q. So the tapering at the cabin helps the wind see less car.

A. Certainly. With a normal car we’d fill out the space at the glass with more car. It’s a whole foot on either side of the car that we’re not having to push through the air. We’re managing the airflow to direct it straight into the aero device or the rear spoiler. So we hear so much of lightweight of product but it’s also very much a matter of light footprint!

Q. The rage in supercars has been hybrid. Take for example the Porsche 918Ferrari LaFerrari, Mclaren P1, etc. But to stay light and lean, Ford skipped the added electric motor, big battery and the inverter that would have meant weight and volume to put somewhere. Less under the skin means less skin to move through the air.

A. The main reason we chose the EcoBoost engine is that it’s quite compact. And amazingly, it’s one of Ford’s mainstream engines. Yes, it’s considerably more exotic but the foundation of this car is essentially the same technology that you’ll find in an F150. This engine allows us to shrinkwrap the body of the car around the engine and also produces very high power; over 600 horsepower and yet at the same time is fuel-efficient. This engine is “only” six cylinders. An eight-cylinder engine with two additional cylinders adds mass, weight and fuel consumption that just aren’t necessary.

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Q. What’s in the rear pods above the wheels?

A. There’s an intercooler radiator and vented grill in the front of the pod. The cooled air feeds up and through the buttress and into the air intake of the engine. The air is exhausted through the middle of the tail light lenses. These engineering ideas created great aesthetic design possibilities. It’s a beautiful-looking thing but is also very clear and innovative. That perfect balance between looks and at the same time delivering a very clever solution is what we were gunning for on this 2017 Ford GT.

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Lightweight technologies do have some hurdles, don’t they? They tend to be exotic in terms of rapid workflow and production, they tend to be more expensive right now and let’s face it, the auto industry is one that is know for inertia; doing things the way it’s always done things. Still the GT’s wholesale lightweighting approach is a leading-edge approach. It’s increasingly what will happen to mainstream cars like their Mustang and F150 pickup trucks. Lightweight is no longer limited to cars in the stratosphere like the Ford GT. It makes every motion a car accomplishes better and with less energy expended.

All the specs and details of the 2017 Ford GT including performance numbers and price are what we’re craving to hear but the car won’t go into production until later in 2016 and won’t arrive until a model 2017. One thing you can bet your bottom dollar on is that they will all be spoken for before every setting foot on Ford dealership showrooms.

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