DETROIT — For 14 months, Ford Motor Co. managed to conceal a 600-hp secret in an unassuming basement storage room.
Just a small number of employees had keys — actual metal keys were used, rather than Ford’s standard-issue electronic ID cards — and much of the work happened at night. When the team of six designers, who couldn’t tell family and friends what they were doing, needed to see their creation in natural light or from more than a few feet away, they surreptitiously hauled it outside on weekends when no one else was around.
The project was given a code-name: Phoenix. And until last month, when it rose from the bowels of Ford’s Product Development Center to steal the Detroit auto show, not a single photo of the 2016 Ford GT got out.
“A lot of people probably knew something was going on, but no one actually knew” what the project was, Moray Callum, Ford’s global design chief, said in an interview. “This was probably a once-in-a-lifetime chance to get to do a vehicle like this. I’m still pinching myself that we’re actually doing it.”
The secrecy helped Ford make an even bigger splash with its $200,000-plus supercar, and it kept competitors — including Acura, which unveiled the production version of its NSX supercar hours after the GT — guessing.
But Callum said there was another reason Ford kept the project quiet, even within the company: To get it ready in time for the 2015 Detroit show, decisions had to be made quickly, without the bureaucracy that can bog down a new-vehicle program.
“Usually, we like to encourage, especially on important programs, wide input from around the world,” he said. “But on this one, we sort of realized both in terms of time and the element of keeping it quiet that we probably had to change the process here, so we picked a small group of designers.”
Ford started work on the GT in late 2013, which means the project began well before Alan Mulally stepped down as CEO last summer. But it was Mulally’s successor, Mark Fields, who was COO at the time, and Raj Nair, Ford’s product development chief, who primarily pushed the project forward.
The idea was to revive the GT in celebration of Ford’s historic win with the GT40 in the 1966 24 Hours of LeMans race, when Henry Ford II fulfilled his promise to beat Ferrari. Ford’s grandson, Henry Ford III, became involved in the latest GT project, in a new role as global marketing manager for Ford Performance.
“We really felt, it’s the 50th anniversary. We have to do something,” Nair said in a video promoting the “Forza Motorsport 6” Xbox video game, which will feature the GT on its cover.
“This car is so special to so many different people and it has such an important legacy that we just couldn’t resist doing another version,” Henry Ford III said in the video.
Demand for the previous GT, which was discontinued in 2006, factored into the decision, Nair said. That car was priced starting at $150,000, but many now sell for twice that, which is unusual for a model only a decade out of production.
Last fall, a GT sold for $475,000 at a Mecum Auctions sale in Chicago. In the last six weeks, six 2005 GTs sold on eBay for $189,500 to $299,000.
The new GT became an immediate sensation when the wraps finally came off. It won this year’s EyesOn Design Award for the auto show’s best production vehicle and was Autoweek‘s pick for Best in Show (“Others Considered: None”). Car and Driver called it the show’s “smash hit.”
But because of the way the car was developed, Callum said, the designers were nervous leading up to the show and now feel relieved.
With such a small team, “you don’t actually get to bounce opinions off people,” he said. “We were on tenterhooks ourselves until the first people saw it.”