5.0 Mustang & Super Fords
Dream Factories: Ford Mustang Shelby GT 500 Production, Start to Finish
We followed the GT 500 from its start on the Romeo Engine Niche Line to its finish at the Auto Alliance International assembly plant--and tried not to drool
Horse Sense: The latest Shelbys seem as though they're limited-production cars, and dealers aren't shy about charging more for them because of it. But when you consider that Ford plans to produce around 9,000 each year for two to three years, those numbers aren't small. Especially when the original line of Shelby Mustangs, which ended in 1970, only resulted in a total volume of 14,559 units, according to Ford.
By now it's been verbally beaten into you that the latest Mustangs are the best ever built. If you've driven any of the Mustangs leading up to the S197, it's hard to argue that the latest car is a fine example of the breed. You might wonder what makes them so good. Part of the reason is that the assembly of the cars was moved from the historic-thus ancient--Dearborn Assembly Plant to the state-of-the-art Auto Alliance International plant in Flat Rock, Michigan.
If you aren't familiar with AAI, as it's called, this plant operates as a joint venture between Ford and its longtime partner, Mazda. What that means is that the two companies not only share space and build cars in the same building, but they're also able to use the same assembly-line techniques, improving efficiency and quality. Add in robots and plenty of high-tech procedures, and you get an amazing car for an attainable price.
The engine assembly has long been performed at the Romeo Engine Assembly Plant in Romeo, Michigan. We thought it only natural that seeing an '07 Shelby GT 500 come to life would begin with the engine. If you're new to this scene, the engines from the cars formerly known as Mustang Cobras have been assembled on the Romeo Engine Niche Line inside the Romeo plant. This is where two-man teams assemble the engines we all lust after, and it's where we began our tour.
After watching a security video, our tour guide led us through the plant past football fields of Three-Valve cylinder heads whirring down the assembly line. We exited the building and crossed to an adjoining structure that acted as a storage area during the Romeo plant's previous life as a tractor assembly factory. As we entered the Niche Engine Assembly Line, we were greeted by a row of engine examples produced there--the Ford GT, the Terminator, '96-'98 Cobra, and, yes, the GT 500. It was like being granted access to the James Bond Q workshop. We were assigned to follow a couple of engine builders as they began creating a GT 500, engine first.
It was an awesome journey, one we suggest you take with us in the accompanying photos and captions. Suffice it to say, if you buy a GT 500, we think you'll be happy with the results.
The Romeo process begins with pallets of fresh cast-iron 5.4 blocks that have passed through an exhaustive inspection process, ensuring measurements are within spec and the surfaces are free of imperfections. Each team of builders gives the blocks a quick visual inspection. If you look closely, you can see they're identified as "Condor" blocks. During the GT 500's development dating back to when it was simply the next SVT Cobra, the project's internal code name was Condor; it wasn't just something we made up for our Cobra vs. GT 500 story ("Condor vs. Terminator," Feb. '07, p. 40).
No pressure washer and brake cleaner at Romeo--each 5.4 block and crank are thoroughly washed in this high-tech washing machine, which washes the parts, then quickly dries them under compressed air and vacuum. The crank rides in a protective fixture for the cleaning ride.
Each pair of assembly associates is married to the engine via fastidious record keeping of the entire process. The team we followed down the Niche Line was Gary Marston and Jeff Hamblin. Each block and pair of cylinder heads are coded, noted, and added to a database that follows the whole powertrain. Once at AAI--we'll get to that assembly plant in due time--the powertrain is attached to a Shelby VIN. The reason for all this tracking is to ensure quality, and if there's ever a quality issue, Ford can track it back to the engine builders. As you can imagine, there's a lot of pride on the Niche Line, so if there ever were a problem, the other teams might give the offenders a hard time. Peer pressure is a wonderful quality motivator.