In 2002, Cadillac wanted to reinvent its image with a visually stunning concept car sporting a huge engine at the 2003 Detroit auto show.
Leading up to the event, Ford heard rumors about what would turn out to be the 1,000-hp Cadillac Sixteen. Ford figured that its rival was going big with the concept's engine, but it didn't know how far Cadillac would go.
Ford, ready to debut its 427 concept sedan at the same show, thought Cadillac would use a V-12 engine. So in a pre-emptive response, Ford decided to have concept car manufacturer Special Projects Inc., which was building the 427, drop a V-10 into the car at the last minute.
But little did Ford know that through all of its second-guessing around Caddy's project, the Sixteen and 427 were neighbors in the Special Projects compound.
Special Projects, a master of secrecy like any company that wants to survive in the business, had built both vehicles.
The Sixteen "was in the room right next to theirs, but nobody knew. Nobody had a clue because of security here," recalled Terry Steller, general manager of Special Projects, as machines working on another secret job hummed in the background at the suburban Detroit compound.
Protecting the secrets of industry rivals while simultaneously working with them to outshine one another can be a peculiar position. But for concept car wizards such as Special Projects, American Specialty Cars and Aria Group, it's business as usual.
Many consumers probably know little about the companies, which is how concept craftsmen prefer to operate -- under the radar, in the shadows.
"All those great guys who stood behind The Miracles, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder and Diana Ross, they helped make the Motown sound. We do that for the global auto industry," said Brian Baker, vice president of design for American Specialty Cars in suburban Detroit, which has built concepts such as the Chrysler 300C-based ASC Helios convertible unveiled at the 2005 Detroit auto show. "We're happy to be the studio players."
In 1965, Heinz Prechter founded American Sunroof Co., which introduced sunroofs to American consumers. The company later became ASC Inc., and today it's American Specialty Cars.