It was billed as Ford vs Ferrari: Round Two, with a new Detroit supercar to take on Maranello’s finest. So what happened to GN34, the secret prototype that could have wowed the world? Steve Saxty, a former Ford product designer and author of Secret Fords, takes you inside the hidden world of the canceled supercar.
The Ford GT40 might have crushed Ferrari on the track in the Sixties, but twenty years later Ferrari and Porsche were winning the sales race for highly profitable sports cars—and Ford had no answer.
Or at least, that was the perceived wisdom. Behind the scenes at Ford, a crack team of product planners and engineers were putting their heads together in response to growing numbers of buyers with money to burn on sports cars and luxury models, which were bursting with profit if you played your cards right.
Since the start of the Eighties, Ford had been pondering how it could enter the sports car market with a Ferrari rival costing Corvette money. By the end of October 1983, some of the brightest brains in the company had pulled together a strategic paper that set out the case for a world-class supercar and tackled the thorny issue of how to circumvent the company’s corporate culture that was tuned to conceptualizing and building mass market, everyday cars. At the time, even the Mustang was limping along on just four cylinders.
The Detroit product planners ran the numbers; there was money to be made and an obvious place to start looking for it. They reached out to Ford’s Special Vehicle Operations group (SVO), the performance division ultimately responsible for the turbocharged Mustang SVO. (The department’s equivalent in the U.K. was the British Special Vehicle Engineering group that created the Capri Injection and Sierra Cosworth.) SVO consisted of a 30-strong team of engineers, planners and marketers led by Mike Kranefuss, Ford’s competitions manager who had successfully campaigned the Cologne Capris against the BMW Batmobiles a few years before moving stateside.
Kranefuss was a racer through and through, unused to making road cars, but after his young team created the highly regarded Mustang SVO, it was clear that they could move far faster than Ford’s huge, but lumbering, engineering team. SVO were perfect for the job; an internationally-minded group of Ford mavericks familiar with the external resources necessary to assemble a Ferrari rival sold at a Corvette or Porsche 944 price.
Kranefuss’s 30-strong team, aided by its 46-year-old Chief Engineer Glen Lyall and abetted by 36-year-old Planning/Program Manager Ronald Muccioli leapt at the chance. “For us it was more than a job and another product, it was our dream.” SVO took on the supercar project, now dubbed GN34.