Ford Mules & Prototypes: GN-34, 2000 Cobra R, S197 Lincoln LS, 2002 Explorer – and my spy photo addiction
Surprisingly very little has been written about the Ford prototype code-named “GN-34“. I looked thru another website earlier this evening that had the entire story wrong… and that needs correction.
Once upon a time… way back when, I was in Dearborn on business (not with Ford). Of course, when in Dearborn, the thing to do is to go past Ford’s proving grounds. The best way to do this (at the time) was to get out of your car and walk past the wall around the proving grounds - and also past the infamous “experimental engines” building. These days, walking by will result in several cameras being trained on you – and a call going out to remove you from the area (Ford security will follow you… hassle you…).
But back in the good old days, you could walk past the entrances to the proving ground – and see *cool* stuff inside (those entrances have since been blocked off)! On one trip, I saw a Mustang go into the proving area with dual exhausts – and Mustangs didn’t have such things back then (I saw them again a few months later at Nelson Ledges during the 24-hour). On another trip I had the catch of a lifetime. As I walked by, suddenly a gate opened and a black 2-seat sports car shot out. It was black, long, sleek (not unlike a Pantera) and only lightly camouflaged. And the engine sang to high RPM – obviously a V-6 but with an exotic scream.
I didn’t know the name at the time… but I was looking at the Ford “GN-34″ prototype – a Yamaha-powered mid-engined 2-seater. I found out what it was when Autoweek published a picture shortly thereafter of the same prototype. The prototype (and planned production car) was intended to be powered by an enlarged (by rumor 3.8 liters) SHO engine with 5 valves (a Yamaha specialty), and used a 5-speed transmission (probably the one in the future SHO Taurus). Ford wanted to build this car – and even tried to find a way for it to be built less expensively in France. Unfortunately everything went downhill. Much later I would own a red 1989 SHO – one of the very first off the assembly line (before the car was even released for sale) – with a detuned and down-sized version of this same engine.
My personal encounter with the GN-34 started my long history of “drive-bys” while in Dearborn. I won’t encourage you to do the same, and Ford will certainly not like it. But given enough trips, you will see many things you shouldn’t be seeing.
One of my trips revealed a Taurus SHO with the front end of a Mercury Sable. It took me until the following spring to understand that what I had seen was indeed the next-generation Taurus SHO.
A later trip involved driving around (not past, but around the outside on all 4 sides) the original 1994 Mustang ‘”Team Mustang” development building – the location of which wasn’t exactly a secret. Driving past open doors… revealed lots of 1994 Mustangs! Unfortunately, I never saw a “mule” – a FOX Mustang with an SN-95 front end or other parts. Later, the same building was used to develop the all-new F-150.
How about a Mercury Marauder two years before it came out? Full production trim, right down to the undisguised name in the rear bumper. I pulled up near it – the driver looked over at me – and took off to get away. Revealing a nice sounding high performance engine.
A less interesting find was a highly revised Windstar… spotted near a Jack Roush building.
A far more interesting find was a 2000 Cobra R prototype – actually several of them during a period when I was traveling thru Detroit regularly. Both the earlier prototype (built on the earlier SN-95 chassis and with a very different rear wing) and several later prototypes on the late SN-95 body. Including a final prototype driving thru a snow storm!
And there was lots more. How about a ~98-vintage Explorer – with the future 2002 fully-independent suspension underneath? Fully instrumented underneath with every sensor you could imagine. It had already been reported that the Explorer was going to move to an IRS, and this vehicle or one like it had already been photographed. The chance to see it up close and personal was *very* interesting – especially in the ”mule” engineering underneath which adapted the production prototype pieces to a cut-up and re-sectioned older chassis. Even to the point of fabricating the gas filler on the opposite side (with a pop-riveted aluminum plate over the old hole).
One of the easiest finds was a black Expedition with a Lightning front-end and trim. Some Ford execs took it to the airport to pick up some people just as I was coming out to get my rental car. This same vehicle was later photographed and identified as an SVT prototype that didn’t make it into production.
But the best find was a Lincoln LS with a strut-type front suspension. As I reported in an earlier posting, when I saw this (confirming a talk I had with Tom S. of SVT a year earlier, otherwise it might only have been an experiment), my heart sank. This was probably proof that the new Mustang would have a strut front end (although the rear on this engineering car was still independent… that probably didn’t mean anything). And this was in 2002… I didn’t know it but the Mustang program was in trouble and temporarily on hold. When it finally came back it was dumbed down even further (and any platform-mates that may have been planned were gone from the plan).
The LS was in what I called the “mule car junkyard” – in an open lot next to a popular restaurant and watering hole. It was actually sometimes used as spillover parking for the popular chain restaurant – so it was fair game for me to park in there. I used to eat lunch in there myself sometimes – and I heard a number of interesting things being discussed by Ford engineers. Discussions I wanted to join… but of course couldn’t. At that particular time, the lot also included several Aston Martins and some European Fords (Euro Fiestas and Foci were commonplace).
BTW, that lot is no longer used for that purpose… perhaps partly because they noticed me (and certainly lots of other folks) climbing under various cars to look around. Of course it was a public lot… a poor choice on their part.