The story of the Ford GT90 - the 720 horsepower hypercar that should’ve been

30w ago

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Through the piercing Detroit winter of January 2015, during the North American International Auto Show, Ford dared to show warmth towards a future of change for their new and turbocharged GT supercar. But while it may have melted the chains of tradition, it would do little to thaw the frozen embittered hearts of purists. Their conviction of how the GT "should" be was sacrosanct, and Ford's Twin-Turbo V6 crime was automatically considered unforgivable - especially when the criminal engine had the effrontery to display the word "ecoboost" upon it. Unbeknown to them in their clouded rage, the supercar unveiled in 2015 wasn't the first Ford GT to feature turbocharging – for that honour goes to the GT90.  

Instantly recognisable to any driving sim players of the 00's, the GT90 was Ford's potential entry into the hypercar domain in the 90’s. The exotic glitterati of the time stood as many formidable adversaries, with cars like the Ferrari F40, Jaguar XJ220, Lamborghini Diablo, Bugatti EB110, and McLaren F1 being the gladiators that stood between Ford and ultimate glory. Sadly however, the wildly styled GT90 never came to be – despite harbouring enough potential to blast the establishment of the time into the lonely realms of insignificance. This is the story of one of history's most revered concepts.  

The Ford GT90 story starts in 1994. The head of Ford's SVT Special Vehicle Team John Coletti assembles a small team to build a hypercar to bring the spirit of the original GT40 into the highly competitive 1990's. Instead of taking the many years it would require to meticulously manufacturer every single component from the ground up, Ford reached into their parts bin, where they found all the critical things they'd need.  

As Ford owned Jaguar at the time, they took the suspension and 5-speed manual gearbox from a Jaguar XJ220, and mirrored the XJ220's chassis architecture while lengthening it by 12 inches. Having found the underpinnings from a fellow hypercar, you may imagine that Ford also chose an engine that came from a car with similar performance credentials. Quite astonishingly though, when reaching into their parts bin, their hand picked out an engine that you’d normally find lurking under the hood of a Lincoln Town Car.

What they did next however was set about turning the big lazy lump into a steroid enhanced athlete. For a start, they took the 4.6L V8 and chopped off two cylinders. Then, they took another 4.6L Town Car V8 and did exactly the same. After this, they took a variety of the components from the two decapitated engines, threw them into a V12 block with a the same 90.2mm bore as the old V8. Thanks to a common crank however, the stroke was reduced from 90mm to 77.3mm, resulting in a final displacement for the V12 of 5927cc. And then finally, as a means of garnishing the 12 cylinders with that little extra slice of oomph, they added 4 turbochargers!

The result of Quad-Turbocharging the V12 meant 720bhp and 660lb-ft of torque would be sent to the rear wheels, despite the turbos only pushing a relatively low 11.8lbs-of-boost. Such a power output would see the GT90 have a near 100 horsepower and 180lb-ft advantage over its main production rival, the McLaren F1. Dressed in futuristically styled carbon fibre, the GT90 weighed in at 3199lbs (1451kg), which made it around a third of a tonne heavier than the F1. But with that said, the quoted performance figures from Ford lead you to believe that the sheer power of the GT90 easily expunged the weight deficit.

0-60mph was said to take just 3.1 seconds, with 0-100mph happening in just 6.2. But in the top speed obsessed world of the 90’s, acceleration played second fiddle in a car's appeal to its V-Max. For the GT90, the top speed was said to be a Veyron-matching 253mph! Plainly, if these figures held any truth, the GT90 would be the premier hypercar of its era.

With all that fury ready and raring to pounce, the heat that shot out of the exhaust melted the body panels around it. To solve this problem, Ford simply used the same sort of heat-restitent ceramic tiles that NASA used to stop the Space Shuttle from burning up when re-entering Earth’s atmosphere. I don’t know about anyone else, but I could do with a few of those for after a curry!

After spending 6 months and $3,000,000 building it, the GT90 was unveiled to the world at the 1995 Detroit Auto Show. Snatching every last ounce of breath out of the lungs of everyone present with its whacky aesthetics and insane performance figures, people were quick to ask the all important question: will there be a production version? While Ford never gave a direct answer, they entertained the possibility so greatly as to say that a production version would cost around $150,000 - which was a mere fraction of what other manufacturers were asking for comparable machines.

Ford also allowed certain respected members of the press to have some seat time, further garnering expectation. That said, in the hands of the press, the infamous 4 turbochargers were spinning away inactive thanks to jammed open wastegates, meaning the car was producing just 400 horsepower. The reason Ford did this was because they’d cut a few engineering corners in getting the car ready for Detroit, meaning that some components simply weren't capable of withstanding the kind of forces the 4 turbochargers could subject upon them. But this mattered little to the press, as did the mad experimental doors that required the touch of a yellow triangle near the roof to open. Surely, these niggles were merely intrinsic to its concept car DNA and wouldn’t follow the car on its transition into production.

Year after year went by after the GT90’s unveiling, with McLaren still sitting pretty atop of the production car pecking order. Anticipation for the GT90’s release had dwindled into nothingness; all people were waiting for was confirmation of the car’s stillbirth from Ford. And indeed, eventually, Ford confirmed to the world: the GT90 wasn’t going to happen!

Their reasoning for withdrawing the possibility of a production GT90 completely contradicted what they’d originally said upon its unveiling. For now, they were adamant that the GT90 was only ever a rolling testbed for future technologies, and a way of debuting their long defunct New Edge design philosophy. If that was always the case however, it should’ve been made clear from the car’s initial inception, rather than allowing people to taste the sweet possibility that a Quad-Turbo V12 hypercar with over 700 horsepower and a top speed in excess of 250mph would one day be available for a relatively inexpensive price.

Surrounding the GT90 today is the constant reverberation of those most haunting of words, “what if”. For if it had been allowed to unleash its full potential, and if it had proved itself to be the real deal, it would’ve spiced up the already exciting hypercar world of the 1990’s even more. Perhaps the vision of how epic that could’ve been is heightened by the wish that it happened. But either way, the GT90 sits amongst an elite class of concept cars that should’ve seen the production line.

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Written by: Angelo Uccello

Twitter: @AngeloUccello

Tribe: Speed Machines

Facebook: Speed Machines - DriveTribe

Photo credits: Ford

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