A bunch of college students stuffing a Ford GT space frame in a Ford Five Hundred body shell - and throwing in some sheetmetal from a Ford F-150 Flareside for good measure - sounds like a recipe for a Frankenstein with a blue-oval badge.
It is, instead, a dramatic combination of Ford GT design cues in the body shell of a Ford Five Hundred sedan, and an engineering feat of converting a front-engine, front-wheel-drive sedan into a mid-engine, rear-wheel drive supercar. The car was designed and built by the students and staff of Washtenaw Community College, and makes its debut at the Autorama Custom Car show in Detroit today.
"Washtenaw Community College was looking for a challenging project for their Custom Cars & Concepts students," says John Heider, Medium/Large Car Vehicle Dynamics manager, "something beyond a simple body kit and some engine upgrades. So we challenged the college to make a four-door Ford GT, without compromising its supercar performance."
Washtenaw Community College Custom Cars & Concepts program
Washtenaw Community College’s Custom Cars & Concepts program is geared to providing invaluable hands-on experience for students that aspire to build one-off, custom projects from hot rods to concept cars.
"Our number one priority is to train students in the real world," says Gary Sobbry, advisor and instructor for WCC’s Custom Cars & Concepts program "Our auto-body program trains students for working in collision shops and body repair. Our Custom Cars & Concepts program trains students who dream of working in custom-car shops."
The Ford Five Hundred GT-R is by far the most outrageous project the class has attempted – which is saying something. Other projects include fabricating and painting the fiberglass body shell of a 1000-hp Chevrolet Camaro funny car, a Dodge Magnum wagon featured on MTV’s Cribs, and a twin-turbo, Mustang convertible that won Ford’s prestigious 2005 Specialty Equipment Manufacturer’s Association (SEMA) design award.
For Sobbry, these projects have a direct benefit for Custom Cars & Concepts graduates.
"First, these projects provide real-world, hands-on training for students that would be almost impossible to get," he says. "With this project, we’re doing things that have never been done before. The Five Hundred GT-R will be an impressive addition to any graduates’ resume."
Torching a Ford GT in the name of education
"We set out to create the baddest sedan on the streets," says Sobbry. "It had to drive like a Ford GT, and it had to look like a Ford GT."
As such, the design by Adam Hubers and Phil Davie – both recent Custom Cars & Concepts graduates – integrates many Ford GT design elements into the Ford Five Hundred body shell.
For the project, Ford sent two engineering prototypes – both destined to be scrapped – to Washtenaw Community College. For Sobbry, taking a cutting wheel to the Ford Five Hundred was difficult. Hitting the Ford GT with a cutting torch was a whole different proposition:
"Here’s this beautiful $150,000 supercar in the garage, and we’re about to destroy it," says Sobbry. "Making the first cut was really tough."
The CCC team eventually dissected both the Ford GT and Five Hundred to create the Five Hundred GT-R. For example, the front end features a modified Five Hundred front fascia, with larger air intakes to feed the Ford GT cooling pack immediately behind the front bumper. The radiators are vented through the fiberglass Ford GT hood panel, which is inlaid in the original Five Hundred aluminum hood.
The paint scheme is borrowed from the Ford GT, with Ford Blue offset by white Le Mans stripes on the hood and trunk, and white rocker-panel stripes with "Ford Five Hundred GT-R" script.
The profile features a stock Five Hundred roof line and greenhouse. The front doors are essentially stock, while the rear doors flare out five inches. Custom fabricated rear quarter panels – constructed from sheetmetal off a Ford F-150 Flareside bed – complete the wide-body kit. The flared wheel arches wrap stock Ford GT wheels and tires: 18 X 9.0-inch front wheels with 235/45ZR18 tires; and 19 X 11.5-inch rear wheels with 315/40ZR19.
According to Sobbry, air flow presented the biggest design challenge for the project. "The goal was not to build a show queen, but a functional car capable of more than 150 miles per hour. So, we knew that air supply to the engine, and venting engine heat would be our biggest concerns."
To meet the required 1,000 cubic feet of air per minute needed to produce 550 horsepower, the team replaced the rear quarter windows with custom air scoops that feed into the 5.4-liter V-8’s air intakes. To help vent engine heat out of the cabin, heat extractors inspired by those on the Ford GT clamshell are incorporated into the rear deck.
Complete Ford GT powertrain replaces the Five Hundred’s rear seats
For the engine swap, Custom Cars & Concepts chopped the roof structure and front-suspension bulkhead off of the Ford GT aluminum space frame. Then, the complete drivetrain, rear suspension, and rear frame members were stuffed into the cutout Five Hundred body shell.
Like on the Ford GT, the radiator packs are installed just behind the front bumper. The Five Hundred front suspension and steering system were retained with modified geometry to function with the GT rear suspension.
The only engineering work that Custom Cars & Concepts did not tackle was the wiring. To complete the project, Ford technicians spliced the Ford GT powertrain and instrument modules into the Five Hundred’s existing wiring harness.
What’s next for Custom Cars & Concepts? They are working on a 1951 Ford pickup for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Powered by a 390-horsepower, supercharged Ford V-8, naturally.
Five Hundred GT-R driver training program
What’s next for the Five Hundred GT-R? After its debut at the Autorama custom car show in Detroit, the Five Hundred GT-R will continue to be used for education, this time by Ford’s Vehicle Dynamics engineers.
To enhance safety for vehicle evaluation engineers, Ford recently instituted a driver training and certification program. The elite Tier 4 certified drivers in Ford Vehicle Dynamics are the only engineers permitted to perform certain extreme handling evaluations on Ford vehicles, from the Ford Focus to F-650. Tier 4 drivers, for example, are the only drivers permitted to test the Ford GT at speeds in excess of 200 mph.
"It’s imperative that our drivers maintain the highest levels of vehicle control," says Heider. "The performance levels of the Five Hundred GT-R make it an ideal training tool for new Tier 4 drivers, and for honing the skills of existing drivers."
For Heider, it’s a fitting use for the audacious project car:
"The quality of their work is too impressive to let the Five Hundred GT-R sit idle on a show stand. Our engineering team has been very impressed by the tremendous skill and talent the Custom Cars & Concepts students have shown. They clearly have a passion for cars, which never wavered through many late nights, design changes and unexpected challenges."