25 May 2017

Ford’s new GT is not only an American supercar, but also a Canadian one

As Ford rolls out the new GT to eager customers, you can’t help but consider just how lucky all of those new owners are. And by “all,” we mean “few.”

Hewn from carbon fibre and powered by a mighty twin-turbo V-6 heart, the GT has already earned its title as a world-beater with a class win at the 2016 24 Hours of Le Mans. Its design is brain-melting—a tapered shape with huge air-gulping buttresses and a chassis that instantly hunkers low to the ground when put in track mode, as if it’s ready to spring forward and disembowel its rivals. Dearborn should be proud, but there is a caveat. The GT is not only an American supercar, but also a Canadian one.

Ford Canada has a long and unusual history, one that runs parallel to our neighbours south of the border. It is not a Ford subsidiary, but its own company, founded in 1904 by one Gordon McGregor. McGregor saw the promise in the cars Henry Ford had created, and he gathered together a consortium of shareholders interested in investing in distribution and manufacturing.

Canada being a member of the British Commonwealth, it was profitable for Ford Canada to ship cars to far-flung corners of the Empire like India and Australia. The first Model Cs were produced in fall of 1904, with initial exports headed for Calcutta.

The differences between an American-made Model T and a Canadian-made one are immediately obvious to the trained eye. Because Canada sold into both right-hand-drive and left-hand-drive markets, the company built all of its cars with two doors. Depending on which side the handbrake was mounted, one of the doors became useless, but it was simpler to mass-produce the bodies with twin doors.

There were other oddities as well. Ford Australia was originally a subsidiary of Ford Canada, and when demand Down Under became such that a factory made sense, the company simply copied plans for the Canadian facility. Thus, the first Ford factories in Australia ended up with roofs designed for shedding snow. It shouldn’t surprise you to learn that it doesn’t snow very much in desert-covered Australia.

Ford produced all sorts of unique and interesting models for the Canadian market (like the maple-leaf-festooned Mercury Frontenac), most of which were designed around the country’s appetite for small cars. Blame the trend on a national mania for thrift, perhaps formed through Scottish heritage, or on the fact that harsh winters tended to chew through sheet metal. Whatever the case, Canadians liked their cars cheap and cheerful.

To the contrary, the Ford GT—assembled in Markham, Ont.—it is neither inexpensive nor easy going. Instead, it is a costly technological tour-de-force that places Ford’s Ecoboost turbocharging technology at the heart of a highly advanced composite body. Yes, there are echoes of past Can-Am cross-border cooperation here, but the GT’s construction is something completely different—most notably due to its partnership with Multimatic, a large OEM supplier that Ford Performance Chief Engineer Jamal Hameedi said has “very specialized experience working with carbon fibre, as well as significant racing experience.”

Multimatic’s expertise in racing Ford products stretches to 1992, when it entered a pair of Taurus SHOs in the Firestone Firehawk endurance racing series, winning its class and placing second in the manufacturer’s championship, just 60 points behind Ford.

Previously, Multimatic worked with Ford Canada developing dampers for the 2005-2006 Ford GT, and assisted Ford Performance on the Shelby Mustang. “They’ve also been very successful with their Mustang racing programs,” Hameedi said. “They’re a pretty diverse supplier.”

Multimatic’s expertise with composite materials is literally the backbone of Ford-Multimatic performance. (And Ford isn’t the only OEM to tap Multimatic for its know-how. Previously the company made carbon-fibre tubs for the million-dollar Aston Martin 177 and currently builds the bare chassis for Aston Martin’s outrageous Vulcan track car.) Add highly-adaptable spool-valve damping technology and experience preparing vehicles for racing, and the Canadian firm was a perfect fit for Ford’s high-performance halo vehicle.

But Multimatic isn’t just a Canadian subcontractor with a checklist. Part of the reason the Ford GT feels like such a special and unique project is that the depth of the Blue Oval’s engineering knowledge overlaps with Multimatic’s focus on honing machines to a razor’s edge.

With only 1,000 examples planned over four years and a rigorous application process to get on the waiting list, keys to a Ford GT aren’t easy to come by. Anyone who scores a set should feel fortunate.

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