It's a weird feeling, knowing that you're about to enter a recently declassified bunker where something huge happened. It's even weirder if you've been there before, right there, not even two years before, and walked right by it without knowing of its existence. But that's how it was for me when I headed back to the Ford HQ in Detroit for the second time.
In 2014, a hand-picked team of some of Ford's top designers and engineers developed the new Ford GT with such strict secrecy, virtually no one outside that team knew anything about the car until it debuted last year. To do it, they procured their own secret lair that's essentially a sub, sub basement, hidden in plain sight within a subterranean compound that amounts to a Cold War-era bunker. Ford granted me access to head down there, and this is what I saw.
Lair is a pretty good word for the place. OK, so it wasn't carved from a volcano, and there's no hidden dock for submarines (to the best of my knowledge). But it's still a relatively normal office building that, like an iceberg, is vastly bigger beneath the surface, and cloaked in the type of security that you'd otherwise expect to find at the Pentagon. It should go without saying that my camera was strictly forbidden, and whenever my phone was out, multiple pairs of eyes were glued to it to ensure I didn't do anything stupid, like try to somehow sneak a shot.
Like I said, I'd been here before. In 2014 I was doing some interviews ahead of the Mustang's 50th anniversary, so I had a cursory familiarity with the building and its long, wide, industrial-looking subterranean corridors, lined with sporadic posters of righteous concept cars from years past.
Yellow safety tape along the floor marks where its safe to walk, lest you get run over by all the guys driving carts presumably laden with car parts and information that nobody else will see for years.
Secure doors -- large enough to fit a full-scale vehicle through -- line the corridor, and plenty of designers are hard at work on the other side of them, working on vehicles that might eventually wind up in your garage. In the back, though, there's a metal door leading to a staircase that descends further into the Earth. It's certainly inconspicuous, and you'd be forgiven -- maybe even thanked? -- for thinking it's just a janitor's closet.
The hallway at the end of that staircase is where things become an amazing mix of creepy, foreign, and indescribably cool.
I'm walking with a couple of Ford's top communications people and Garen Nicoghosian, who managed the exterior design of the Ford GT. The sketch you see above? That's his.
The corridor is now darker, bare concrete, and sloping downhill ever so slightly. I mention it feels like a bunker, and Nicoghosian explains that the building was built during the height of the Cold War. While it's doubtful that it's impervious to a North Korean nuclear attack, there aren't many places you'd rather be if something bad were going down.
This corridor goes on forever. It felt like a quarter mile, and may actually have been. A ways down, there are several employee vehicles parked -- where they came in I haven't a clue -- and a shelf full of brand-new tires to play with. A few people, with their credentials prominently displayed, are going about their business, and all look up, surprised to see a stranger with no photo ID attached to his shirt walking along. It feels almost like a movie, where someone walks into a party and the music stops while everyone sizes up the newcomer.
Finally, we arrive at one last set of metal doors; Nicoghosian taps his entry pass and I'm greeted by a scene that is simultaneously everything and nothing I expected. As I walk into that hallowed room, I'm greeted not by golden rays and singing angels, but a sea of bright, crisp, fluorescent light that forms an odd juxtaposition against the somewhat stale, quite dusty air.
This is the cause of the dust. According to Nicoghosian, it's the oldest still-active 3D mill that Ford owns. It's also where the new GT first started to take physical form.
There are three full-sized styrofoam GTs in a row off on the left, each one just a little different from the other as the team evaluated the car's shape. Past them, there's a wall filled with literally hundreds of sketches of everything from whole cars that clearly wouldn't make the cut, to minute details like mirrors.
It's very obvious that the real magic was right here, as the group became saturated with the car's 1960s and 2005 ancestry and the car came alive on some plane, imploring everyone to do right by its heritage.
Nicoghosian and I wound up chatting for a solid half hour about the finer details of the car before I left. But that's another story for another article.
As I'm walking out, I look around, afraid to blink, lest I miss another secret door that Ford will use for its next super-top-secret project. I don't see any and half-jokingly ask one of my watchful chaperones where the next secret room will be. The response? "Pfft. I have no idea -- I just hope they tell me more than a week before the release next time."
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