By on May 31, 2015

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After some success in connection with the Pebble Beach car festivities, the producers of the Auto Moto Film Festival decided to bring the show to Detroit’s Fillmore auditorium for the weekend of the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix. I hope to have something about the festival and the outstanding movies and personalities therein up on TTAC sometime later, but there was actually some automotive news generated at the event.

Well, sorta.

Ford Motor Company’s head of product development coyly avoided denying company plans to campaign the new Ford GT at the 24 hour LeMans race next year. The designer of the previous Ford GT, an homage to the LeMans conquering Ford GT40, also acknowledged he’s been working on a successor to another iconic 1960s sports car.

 

Ford GT designer Camilo Pardo photographic his personal Ford GT

Ford GT designer Camilo Pardo photographing his personal Ford GT

One of the films in the festival is a short titled Fuel Injected about Ford GT designer Camilo Pardo. Pardo’s studio is just down Woodward from the Fillmore and in front of the theater he had parked his personal ’05 GT he drives regularly around his neighborhood in downtown Detroit. It wasn’t the only cool car there. Magnus Walker of air-cooled Porsche fame, who was the subject of another of the festival’s films, brought one of his very cool race inspired 911s. Though Ford Motor Company was not one of the event’s official sponsors, they brought one of the new GTs to join in the automotive celebration, the same gray example that was on display at the Chicago and New York auto shows.

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Chaperoning the new Ford GT was Raj Nair, head of product development for the Dearborn-based automaker, who joined Pardo in taking some questions after Fuel Injected was screened. Nair, who was involved in the development of the 2005 GT, compared that car to the new one. He opened by saying 1966 was a very important year for Ford, mentioning it was the year Ford swept the podium with the GT40 at LeMans, “Kicking Ferrari’s ass.” His remarks mostly centered on the new GT’s technical direction, specifically mentioning it’s Formula One derived pushrod suspension, the car’s aerodynamically shaped styling, its carbon fiber construction and its race developed (in Daytona Prototype) twin turbo V6 engine. What he said about Ferrari in introducing those features piqued my interest about Ford’s full plans for the new GT.

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After the Q&A was over, I privately asked Nair if his remarks about 1966 and LeMans meant that the car would be competing there next year. He replied, “Right now we’re focusing on the production car.” I complimented him on the deflection and he said he’s had some practice with that question. I then pointed out, “Yes, but I noticed that you didn’t say no.” Nair just smiled broadly.

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For his part, Camilo Pardo said before Carroll Shelby died, the two of them were working on a new car. That was in response to the MC asking him about his next car project, which the MC alluded to being some kind of a secret.

Pardo is a bit of a rockstar in the car business and his studio has hosted some of Detroit’s most legendary parties. He may have had something to drink by the time of the Q&A, and he danced around the issue before saying Shelby approached him about doing one more car.

They decided on doing a convertible. Pardo said a major reason was cost, with the greenhouse of a car being one of the more expensive parts to make. Open cars are faster to engineer and besides, convertibles also look good and people like them. They’re “better” in Pardo’s words.

When the MC pressed for more details, Pardo hemmed and hawed a bit before talking about how the original GT40 really wasn’t well known by the general public. Ford only build about 300 GT40s and just a handful of them were built as street cars. I was a kid when they raced and I didn’t see a real GT40 until I was a grandparent. Pardo then said while he was at Ford they did a concept called the GR1, based on GT mechanicals but styled as an homage to Pete Brock’s stunning Shelby Daytona Coupe. Shelby American only built six Daytona Coupes. Hardly anyone outside of car enthusiasts know what they look like. Pardo then said, “But everyone knows the Cobra.”

So, was Carroll Shelby working on a next generation Cobra at the time of his death?

 

2004 Ford Cobra Concept

2004 Ford Cobra Concept

It wasn’t clear if this new car was worked on while Pardo was still employed at Ford, where he worked from 1985 to 2009. Carroll Shelby and Ford had restored their relationship with the production Shelby Mustangs and the ’08 GR1 concept being some of the fruits of that relationship. Another Shelby related Ford concept was something actually called the Cobra, a roadster that was shown in 2004. It’s design was led by Manfred Rumpel, so I doubt that’s what Pardo and the MC were talking about. Pardo’s current relationship with Ford is complicated. When he left Ford it was rumored  he expected to be fired, with higher ups at Ford unhappy about the attention he got over the GT, his ego and his artist’s lifestyle. At the film festival, though, he said Ford graciously invited him to participate in official events concerning the GT and he was cordial with Nair.

Whatever the secret Shelby Pardo car is, I’m sure it will look great if it ever comes to fruition. I think Pardo’s take on the GT40 was an improvement over the original, not an easy thing to do. Doing an homage or retro car well is hard to do. Tom Matano, who styled the original Mazda Miata after the 1960s Lotus Elan, told me how much it constrains a designer.

Another thing that constrains a designer, at least a very successful one, is the need to succeed yet again. Pardo is unquestionably proud of being part of the legacy that started with the GT40 and continues with the latest GT. At the film festival he said designing a car that’s “on that shelf” as the ’05 GT is, obviously makes a career for a car designer. He also said a car designer can be inspired by but can’t dwell on the past. Because of the long lead time for a new design to reach production, Pardo explained, car designers are already living in the future. He joked that sometimes, while he was at Ford when he got off work at 5 p.m., he’d have to remind himself what year it really was.

Photos by Cars In Depth. More pics of the blue Ford GT here, the grey GT here, and more video here.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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