Ford's Design Director Gave Us The Inside Scoop on the New GT

While the entirety of the car world was obsessing over every detail of the utterly fantastic Ford GT that debuted at the Detroit Auto Show, one man sat back, content with the knowledge of a job well done. That man is Chris Svensson.

He holds the official title of "Design Director, The Americas," which ultimately means that any car Ford rolls out this side of the Atlantic goes through him. So yeah, he's kind of a big deal. Just recently, Chris took time out of his hectic NAIAS schedule to chat with me exclusively about the new GT, as well as share some remarkable insights into the car.

How did bringing about a new GT get started?

Just over a year ago, we decided that we wanted to do an ultimate performance vehicle that was a halo for Ford. We wanted it to be a technical tour de force to show a real capability of innovation within the company. The natural thing to do was the GT.

In terms of engineering, materials used, and technology, we really pushed the boundaries of what we could achieve. From an ascetics point of view, we wanted to ensure that it was very obvious the vehicle was a Ford, and because it was the GT, that it paid some homage to the original 1965 car.

Most importantly, we wanted it to be a beautiful, drop dead gorgeous car. Those were the three criteria that we, as a design team, really pushed on to try and achieve the car that you see today.

What's the role of this car for Ford going forward?

It's a sign of our capabilities. It's a rallying call, for us as a company, to say we can achieve the very very best and we can compete at the highest level.

How much of this car is an ode to the 1960s heritage as opposed to some of the heritage from last decade's GT?

Some of the key design elements that we analyzed in the '65 were things we felt were important to modernize. For example, the nostrils in the hood, and the very definitive bone lines on the top of the fenders. The top of the windscreen runs around, becomes part of the side glass and then links into the intake—that's quite reminiscent of the '65 as well.

Then there are certain things in the back, like the circular tail lights, that go along with the '65 element also. The exhausts on the '65 model were always up and in the middle, in a horizontal plane with the tail lamps. It might not be obvious when you first look at these design elements, but when you stand back and analyze it, there’s something very familiar about it, but also something unfamiliar. It's kind of this overlay of a modern, never before seen supercar, over elements that you feel familiar with, that are recognizable as a GT.

When you see the car in the flesh, when you’ve pondered it, it's very obvious that it isn't a Lamborghini, it’s not a Ferrari, and it's not a Porsche. It's very much a Ford and it's quite obvious that it's a Ford. And it's a Ford like you've never seen before.

The GT looks like it starts off as more a direct homage to the traditional shape and then becomes more modern as you make your way to the back.

I think the front is the most familiar view of the car, but you also have detail executions that really take it into a different area. For example, the jewelry-like execution of the headlamps is unlike anything that you get from the competition. It really modernizes the design cues that maybe feel familiar. You're right, the back is probably the most extreme view of the car that's really unlike anything we've seen before. That was deliberate in that it's where most of the functionality occurs as the air transitions across the body. The air goes through the negative space as it's channeled onto the rear spoiler, which is where the functional element of the rear works to create downforce, and give us the performance needed for the goals we set for ourselves.

Is that a little bit of the GT90 that I see in the sides?

No, the product that we really signaled it off of was the original, first generation GT40. We didn't look at any others. I think there's an essence in the thought process behind the first GT40 which was, "let's create a performance car, the ultimate performance car that's going to be better than the competition." The result is they [the original team] created a beautiful vehicle. Something that when you see it on the road, it's a beautiful sculptural element. I think that same essence applies to what we did. We created firstly, the ultimate performance car that would hopefully outperform the competition, but also a beautiful, sculptural, piece of automotive design. It's going to be something quite desirable when you see it on the road. I think a key source of the car in 1965 is the same, it's still an ethos that we have today.

Can you talk about the flying buttresses for a second?

The buttress helps channel the air out of the pod—the element in front of the wheels. Functionally-driven problems delivered unique, specific answers, and I think that's the beauty of the car—its sole purpose is to go fast. Some of the solutions that we’ve come up with, I think, are actually quite aesthetically unique and very appealing, but they deliver on functionality. They're not superfluous, they're not styling for the sake of styling. I think it's a very purposeful car, but still very very sexy at the same time.

We used the channeling of the air through the negative spaces of the car to assist the rear spoiler. It's also a functional element that links the intercooler and air inlet areas to the main part of the engine. The pods hold the intercoolers and engine air intake. Because air is traveling into the intercoolers and it has to exhaust out after it passes through them, we exhaust the air through an air outlet in the middle of the lat.

You chose to go with traditional mirrors on the side as opposed to rear view cameras that might have shaved a couple of points of aerodynamic effect. Was there a reason for that?

Our challenge in this car is all about weight, it's about delivering performance, not necessarily through massive horsepower, but the efficiency with how we treat the technical elements. Adding cameras isn't necessarily a lightweight solution. There were certain elements—like the traditional mirrors—where the benefits are that they're fairly lightweight and it all adds to the performance for the car.

We didn't add things on this car just because they looked cool or they were something that the designers really really wanted. Everything had a reason to be and it was purposeful about going fast. If it didn't assist the story about going fast, then we didn't want it.

The GT350R came out with carbon fiber wheels. Is there some reason that you didn't go in that direction on the GT?

We're just into the development of the carbon fiber wheels. It might be something that we look at in the future for the GT, but we're coming out with the GT350 first with that wheel. And I think achieving that's a remarkable thing. The first OEM manufacturer to have standard carbon fiber wheels on a car is a remarkable thing. I think what we're doing as Ford Motor Company is delivering technology that has innovation through performance. Ultimately, what we develop on these three products will, hopefully, filter down to our mainstream products.

Are there any special points on the interior that deserve to be singled out?

I think the interior has the same mentality as the the exterior. It's very purposeful. It has a fixed seat, so that it can’t adjust forwards and backwards, it sticks to the floor. The backrest is the only the area that articulates. That dictates that the steering, and the pedals have to move fore and aft for the driver. This means that all the peripheral controls that aren’t required to make the car go and stop and turn are on the steering wheel.

We’ve been very aware of the componentry that we have in the interior. It fits the purpose of helping the driver go fast. It has minimal material finishes on the interior, so most of it is exposed carbon fiber. It's a very bare bones design execution. When you sit in the car and all the controls are there in front of you, there's no misunderstanding about what the purpose of the car is.