Cars

Going Behind The Scenes At Ford

I got my own personal tour, not just of the Ford archives in Dearborn, just outside of Detroit, but of all things Mustang. This is What It’s Like to spend a day in Dearborn with full press access.

World Headquarters

I land after midnight in Detroit, wake up the next morning, and go out to the car. I have been in Detroit for nearly eight hours, but I haven’t been mugged or murdered, and the car hasn’t been stolen. This isn’t what I expected. I feel like Jeremy Clarkson owes me an apology.

I arrive at Ford World Headquarters about 45 minutes before my first meeting, so I start looking around the car Ford gave me for the day.

2014 V6 Mustang with the track pack. Bonus: Tic Tacs. Nice. 

Eventually, my escort arrives, and I get to explore a massive exhibit celebrating Mustang that Ford set up. It featured the first production prototype used by Edsel Ford. Yeah, that Edsel. Pretty boss signature, no?

We round a corner, and it’s like I’m sucked into the glossy magazines of my youth. Sitting across from a 1995 Cobra R, this legendary and infamous 10 Liter Boss was built with over 855 hp, ostensibly so engineers could “test the brakes.”

There’s Mustang Pinball, and a pool table made from fiberglass and actual Mustang bumpers and trim.

Randomly, there’s also the oldest surviving Ford. I’d be afraid to drive it, not for fear of wrecking it, but for fear of my own safety. Times have changed.

Meeting The Mustang’s Designer

I'm greeted by a new tour guide, who whisks me down a corridor that looks like the business end of every Bond villain’s lair. In a thick Italian accent, my tour guide explains that I’m not allowed through most of the locked doors along this corridor.

Never in my life have I wanted so badly to pull a Sean Connery and just disappear into one of those rooms to see what’s going on. I’m certain there’d be a bald man with a cat watching CNBC while looking at the initial sketches of the 2020 Mustang. Or maybe something cooler.

Footprints on the ground tell you where to walk, but it’s clear that no one follows them. Every 30 feet or so, there’s a photo of a concept car from yesteryear. I immediately recognize the Ford Shelby GR-1

We finally reach our destination.

There’s a scale model of a 2015 Mustang behind me. These guys are adamant it was done 100% by hand, which is amazing, given how perfect it is. I pull out my camera, half expecting someone to say “What in the hell are you doing?”

I snap a bunch of pictures, cognizant of all the models of all the cars and trucks over the decades that have been photographed in this very room, and I feel an awesome wave wash over me as I soak up the history of the space.

Lunch: An Intermission

I’m joined by the guy who heads up Mustang interiors, and another guy who possesses an unhealthy obsession with instrument panels and A/C vents. It's like they're talking in their own special language, and it takes me a minute to catch on. They mention a 2015 Performance Orange GT with a track pack that’s sitting in the basement, and how it’s got newly refined gauges that nobody's seen yet. I simply have to go sit in it before I leave, they tell me.

I later learned that there was no way in hell a journalist would be allowed to see this GT with a camera in hand. This made me sad. 

The Archives

I have this image in my head of Ford’s archives in a secret bunker, miles below ground. Or at least in a sub-basement, or maybe a dedicated floor that no one ever goes to. Actually, they’re in an unassuming, one-story office park several miles away from HQ. It’s exactly the kind of place where you’d go to chat about your car insurance, get your eyes checked, or have a root canal.

We get buzzed in and are greeted by the Archive Manager. He points out that the building is kind of old, and that in 2007 there was a frozen pipe that burst, destroying much of the data that accompanies the photos, but that the photos themselves are fine.

We start talking about some of the Mustang memorabilia strewn around, and before long he takes me to another room where there’s set of drawers marked “Ghia.”

It turns out that every drawing ever made by the legendary Italian design house is inside the Ford archives, having been flown over after Ford bought the company. I hold some of them in my hands, which is about as close to Indiana Jones holding the Holy Grail that I'll ever get. You can’t take them past the door, since the licensing is a legal nightmare, and involves tracking down people at just about every carmaker you can think of. (Don't worry, we're working on that.)

They’re in the process of digitizing a ton of archive photos, so we sit down at a computer to start going over thousands upon thousands of images from Mustang’s past. It really does feel like I’m at CIA headquarters, looking at all these shots, not really sure what I’m looking for, but confident that I’ll know it when I see it.

He stops every so often to relate riveting stories about certain photos, occasionally making it absolutely clear that they’re not for publication. It was like hearing the human side of the company, from an insider who had been at the company longer than I’d been alive.

I could get used to this.


Aaron Miller is the Rides editor for Supercompressor. He grew up around Mustangs and has owned his fair share, though he doesn't have one currently. Follow him to more vehicular adventures on Twitter.