When Ford Motor Co. unveiled the production version of its GT supercar this month, the company hailed the car as the authentic successor to the GT40 race car that won Le Mans glory in the 1960s.
The 2005 GT retains the lines of its ancestor. But it goes beyond that. It would not exist without the extensive use of computer-aided design and engineering tools.
Fred Goodnow, Ford GT design, engineering and launch manager, supervised the development of the first production versions of the car under an incredibly compressed schedule. He says the intensive use of information technology allowed Ford to accelerate a typical from-scratch vehicle development program from more than four years to two.
"We couldn't take 30 months out of the car otherwise," Goodnow says. Ford said that it would build a production version of the GT only 45 days after showing a non-working concept at the 2002 Detroit auto show. What's more, Ford (ford.com) brass ordered production versions to be ready in 16 months - just in time for the company's 100th anniversary party at world headquarters in Dearborn, Mich., beginning June 12.
Making matters even more harrowing for designers and engineers, the clean-sheet development of the GT would have to start with the exterior shape of the concept, a show car that the company says was only 5 percent "production feasible." Normally, a new vehicle is designed from the inside out; the exterior shape accommodates the interior and under-the-skin components. The GT would be designed, for all intents, backward.
The GT team leaned heavily on computer simulation to compress the first nine months of engineering work into about three months, Ford says. The accelerated early schedule meant that engineers would have to do with fewer prototypes, which are helpful for discovering design and assembly problems.