After the late 70s energy crunch, increasing safety and emission requirements and rising fuel cost, Ford turned to its profitable European operations for the way forward. Walter Hayes moved from the UK to Dearborn to run the company’s public relations.
Hayes understood that small cars were not understood in North America. He felt that a racing program based on the small Ford 4-cylinder engine should be used to demonstrate that handling and balanced performance provide a more interesting driving experience than straight-line speed.
In September of 1980 Walter Hayes transferred Michael Kranefuss from Ford of Germany to Michigan to run Special Vehicles Operation (SVO). SVO had three assignments; first, develop and race cars in multiple North American series. The second was to develop competition parts for customer purchase. Last the division was to design and build high-performance road cars.
SVO setup offices in Allen Park, not far from Ford’s world headquarters in Dearborn. Michigan. The group was starting from ground zero. When Ford exited racing in the early seventies they had gotten rid of everything. By 1983 there would be over thirty engineers all hired from within Ford on staff. While the group was building up, Kranefuss had Zakspeed ship one of its Capris from Germany to the states. The German tuning firm had build cars for both Division 1 and 2 in the Deutsche Rennsport Meisterschaft (DRM) series. The team had won the DRM championship for Ford.
The Zakspeed car and entered in the IMSA GTX class by Bill Scott and Tom Milner. The GTX car was a stopgap project until Ford could build a competitive car. The car, equipped with a 1.7-liter four-cylinder engine, had been re-bodied to look like a Mustang and was driven by German Klaus Ludwig. The team won its class at the 1981 Sears Point and Brainard IMSA races.
Klaus Ludwig (left) and Erich Zakowski of Zakspeed
During 1982 Zakspeed-Roush entered selected IMSA races. The only success being a repeat of Ludwig’s win at Sears Point. SVO was hiring staff and creating plans for the successor to the Zakspeed car. The team was creating a high-perfomrance version of the Mustang road car powered by a turbocharged four-cylinder engine. At the end of 1982 SVO was prepared to announce Ford’s Performance Equipment Program (PEP).
The intention of PEP was to follow the profitable European Rally/Sport program that Kranefuss had created. PEP would first introduce high-performance parts to the racing teams and then make them available to the public. Chevrolet has been successful in racing through the manufacturing and supply of competitive equipment. PEP was Ford’s attempt to emulate their competitor’s success.
SVO first reported to Hayes’s public relations department. This was similar to the Total Performance program of the sixties. While very successful, Total Performance was budgeted and managed as a public relations and advertising program. For the Mustang GTP program, Ford was soon to establish an upper-level management committee to oversee SVO activities. Although he was a racer, Kranefuss understood that racing should be viewed by Ford, not by management getting excited about racing, but what racing can do for the company.
Ford’s racing program would support the company’s marketing efforts and because Ford produced front-engine cars the new GTP car would be required to have a front-engine. Kranefuss would ultimately regret the decision, but at the time the decision was made to go with a front engine car.
Bob Riley was selected to design the Ford Mustang GTP. Riley’s resume included working on NASA Saturn rocket project and A’J’ Foyt’s Coyote. The design objective was to create a car that generated as much downforce as possible.
Ford’s marketing department wanted a close tie-in with the SVO Mustang street car and assigned Bruce Young, to create the Mustang street car identity. The tie-in to a production car was not important to Riley and none of Young’s concept was used in the GTP car. When the car did compete it generated significant crowd interest and met Ford’s objectives without the visual connection to the SVO street car.
At the GTP car’s introduction Ford chairman Philip Caldwell talked about how the car’s technology would help Ford move forward as a world class car manufacture. Kranefuss acknowledged that having the introduced the car made the entire program a bit more special and visible within the company.
Ford acknowledged that the front engine placement was marketing driven. It was anticipated that this would increase the tie-in with the road cars. Although the Mustang GTP is a front-engine car, this is only in reference to its being positioned in front of the driver. The engine is entirely behind the centerline of the front wheels. Designer Riley discovered that it provided an aerodynamic advantage. He was able to include a ground-effect tunnel the entire width of the area between the rear wheels. Initial wind tunnel results indicated more down force than an Indycar. The results were close to the recently banded full-skirt Formula One cars.
Kranefuss was determined to use as many in-house resources as possible in the design of the Mustang GTP car. Unlike other car manufactures that contract with a specialty manufacture, Ford wanted to demonstrate its abilities and technologies. When Chevrolet announced its GTP car, it was a re-bodied Lola T600 GTP car.
Ford Aerospace and Communications Corporation (FACC) assisted with the design of the carbonfiber chassis. FACC fabrication technicians at its Palo Alto, California facility built the monocoque. Harold Hillesland, FACC senior staff scientist, worked with Riley to determine the loads that would impact the car. Using FACC’s CAD system they added Riley’s torsional-stiffness requirements and the location of load inputs.
The result of this space-age work was a massive-looking chassis made of carbon-fiber honeycomb panels bonded with special adhesives. At the back of the chassis above the fuel cell the material is relatively thin. However where the suspension is mounted there are multiple layers of carbon-fiber. The design took FACC three months to complete.
Front Chassis Surrounding the Zakspeed Engine
Protofab was responsible for mounting the bits to the chassis and John Mills made the bodywork. Other Ford divisions were also involved with the car. The glass division created a windshield that was half the thickness of a standard windshield. Zakspeed supplied the four-cylinder engine. Zakspeed operated out of Roush’s race shop in Lavonia, Michigan.
Zakspeed Developed Ford Engine
Based on extensive wind tunnel testing, Don Kopka from Ford’s Design Staff was instrumental in creating the body shape. Ford’s Glass Technical Center built the low-distortion high-strength windshield.
Early testing was positive although further development was required. Excessive heat was an issue. Additional insulation was required to protect the composite panels.
After alterations the cars were entered in the Road America 500 mile race. Zakspeed driver, Ludwig partnered Tim Coconis with Geoff Brabham and Bobby Rahal driving the second car. Surprisingly the cars finished first and third. The Ludwig/Coconis car won, assisted by the rain, which allowed the engines to run with less stress.
Ford Publicizing Race Success
The drivers complained of the heat and the engine was weak. Chassis development would be hampered because it was difficult to keep the car running long enough. Unfortunately there was little budget to spend on development.
The car was campaigned in the 1984 IMSA season. The best results were a fifth place by Ludwig at Sears Point. In mid-season the motor capacity was increased from 1.7 to 2.1 liters. This didn’t help and the car would retire for various reasons, There was fuel injection failure, engine mounting bolts shearing, and throttle linkage failures.
At the end of the season the car’s career was over. The car wasn’t doomed for its innovation, but for the lack of engine power and reliability. Regardless of the lack of racing success, the car did succeed in attracting the racing fans and media attention, which. after all, was the marketing aim of the program.
Engine – Turbocharged and intercooled four-cylinder in-line
Turbocharger – AirResearch TO4
Transmisson – Hewland VG 5-speed
Wheelbase – 105.0 in
Front Track – 64.0 in
Rear Track – 61.0 in
Overall Length – 189.0 in
Overall Width – 78.0 in
Overall Height – 42.0 in
Ground Clearance – 2.5 in
Weight – 1880 lbs