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Saving Ford’s GT

After winning LeMans in late 1966, engineers from Ford’s Advanced Engine Engineering team wanted to build a 48-valve V12 for the Ford GT Mark 4 and humiliate the man who had so rudely rejected Ford’s offer to buy his company four years earlier, Enzo Ferrari.

After winning LeMans in late 1966, engineers from Ford’s Advanced Engine Engineering team wanted to build a 48-valve V12 for the Ford GT Mark 4 and humiliate the man who had so rudely rejected Ford’s offer to buy his company four years earlier, Enzo Ferrari. Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed, the V12 was turned down, and the 1967 Mark 4 was fitted with a 427-in3 V8 of the type used to win Le Mans in 1966. It won at a record pace.

Today, a new 427 lives at Ford: a V10 built by slicing and dicing the molds for a 4.6-liter V8. “That engine is at the edge of what’s possible with this block,” says John Brune, supervisor, Specialty Engine & Components, Advanced Engine Dept. His partner in crime on this project was Greg Coleman, ably aided and abetted by their now-retired boss Jim Clark. “We started that thing under Clark’s nose,” laughs Coleman, “but we couldn’t hide it forever. The man can count.” Rather than admonish the pair, Clark told them to complete the project before he retired so he could protect the program from the bureaucrats inside the company. Clark also wanted to drive it.

Building a 427 wasn’t the goal of Brune’s and Coleman’s program. The point of their exercise was to produce a V10 much more compact than Ford’s current offerings, one that would provide the option of putting a V10 under the hood of vehicles where the truck V10 wouldn’t fit. “Even though we borrowed the head design from the Mustang Cobra R,” says Brune, “the 427 is nearly the same length as the 5.4-liter V8, and 70 lb lighter.” And it produces 590 hp @ 6,500 rpm, and 509 lb-ft of torque at 5,500 rpm while meeting expected emission standards, something the 1960s-era 427 could never accomplish. It also comes in 351-in3 and 390-in3 displacements—numbers familiar to Ford enthusiasts—and the former can safely spin to a heady 7,500 rpm.

There’s no doubt Ford should produce a vehicle like the 427, either on a stretched Lincoln LS platform, or a body-on-frame architecture that also could support a modern replacement for the Crown Victoria, Grand Marquis and Town Car. But there’s a car that needs this engine much more. That car is the Ford GT.

This mid-engined road racer is saddled with a supercharged version of the bulky 5.4-liter V8, an engine no more suited to a modern supercar than to a Focus. True, it can be found under the hood of a Mustang Cobra, but it’s more at home in the F-150 Lightning pickup truck. And there are a number of reasons the V10 is a better fit (pun intended) for the GT: the accessory drive of the 5.4-liter sits between the passengers behind an unsightly bulge in the rear bulkhead; its center of gravity is significantly higher than the V10’s; it is a porky 120 lb heavier; and the supercharger multiplies torque in a non-linear fashion in a car that needs a level of delicacy to balance it on the cornering knife’s edge. If that’s not enough, it adds heat, cost and complexity while doing little for the GT’s image.

In a narrow view, it probably makes sense to spread the costs of the 5.4 across a number of platforms, but this viewpoint assumes the Ford GT must compete on price with competitors like the Ferrari 360 Modena and new Lamborghini Gallardo. What is conveniently forgotten is that a $10,000-difference matters little in this rarefied atmosphere, especially when the image, pedigree, value and performance measures (much more than 0-60 mph and quarter-mile times) meet or exceed expectations. With the 427, the Ford GT rules. Without it….

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