Jim McCraw
October 16, 2012
Photos By: Courtesy of Ford Motor Company

On the heels of the '93 Cobra, Coletti and his new group built the one-off Mustang Boss 429 for the 30th anniversary celebration of the Mustang, held at Charlotte Motor Speedway on April 17, 1994. The car was created with permission from legendary designer Larry Shinoda to use the SN-95 Shinoda stripe and body kit on the car, and an original Boss 429 engine borrowed from Jack Roush's original mint Boss 429. That engine was pulled out after the Charlotte event in favor of an Alan Root 604-inch Boss 429. Coletti says, "That was one badass car!"

The successor to that car was the Ford GT90 in 1995, a concept car built on a Jaguar XJ 220 mid-engine chassis with a quad-turbocharged, 90-degree, 6.0-liter V-12 engine made up from three modular V-8 engines. On the production front, SVT put together the '95 Cobra R for road racing, this time with a 351 V-8 instead of the 302 and a big fuel cell instead of a small fuel tank, to be more competitive for road racing against the Camaro. Coletti made a deal with the Windsor engine plant manager, Sy Ducharme, to build all the engines over a single shift on next to no notice from parts kits stored in a warehouse down the street, and have them delivered across the border to the Dearborn Mustang plant for installation in the cars.

Likewise, with a wink and a nod from the assistant plant manager, the entire run of 250 white Cobra Rs was built during a week while the plant manager was on vacation in Puerto Rico. The plant manager is said to have remarked, "Ok, I built them, now get them the hell out of here before (plant manager) Callaway comes back!" They were whisked away to MascoTech for final assembly (a fiberglass hood), inspection and delivery. The first 250 racers who faxed in copies of their racing licenses got the cars.

Then Ford executive Dave Velliky conspired with Coletti to do an all-carbon-fiber, rear-engined concept car called Indigo, a topless rear-engine roadster designed by Ford of Europe designer Claude Lobo, with a Reynard chassis, a V-12 engine based on the American 3.0-liter Duratec V-6 engine, and a six-speed transaxle. While the concept received rave reviews, the engine went on to power Aston Martin road cars. For the New York International Auto Show in 1997, Coletti and his team dreamed up the Mustang Super Stallion, with a Lysholm- supercharged 5.4-liter DOHC four-valve engine designed to run on either alcohol or gasoline, with a variable-boost feature making 400 hp on gasoline or 500 hp on alcohol. It was that engine that led directly to the 550hp engine used for the Petunia project--the Ford GT.

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A little-known fact about the Ford GT program is that, early on, a 6.3-liter four-valve naturally aspirated V-10 engine capable of 600 hp and 8,000 rpm was considered, because there was some doubt about the long-term health of the aluminum B-8 block under the duress of supercharging. A Mustang V-10 prototype was built, but in the end, the engine was 50mm too long to fit in the rear engine bay and work with the transaxle and axles. Another one that got away in 1997 was the SVT Thunderbird, the five-seat coupe prototype powered by a 4.6 four-valve, supercharged engine. There was only one prototype built, and Coletti drove it on the Hot Rod Power Tour to stir up interest, but the Thunderbird coupe had come to the end of its life. The SVT Ranger supercharged V-8 compact pickup prototype didn't survive beyond the Power Tour, either.

For the third-generation Cobra R in 2000, the naturally-aspirated 5.4-liter engine--rated at 385 hp using "the most expensive intake manifold in the history of the planet," a huge plenum with ram tubes on the inside--was introduced, with Recaro seats, a front splitter, rear wing, IRS, and so on, resulting in a potential purchase price over $54,000, substantially more than the previous R versions. Lockheed wind tunnel testing confirmed the need for a big rear wing for high-speed stability. Ford designer Darrell Behmer, who would go on to become the Mustang's chief designer, was drafted by Coletti to do a complete car design, and came up with the final design over a single weekend, a process that normally takes six months. Coletti says, "There was science behind the spoiler and the rear wing, which we needed for a 185-mph car, but it had to look good, too." When Bob Rewey was asked what to take off the car to reduce the price, he said, "Nothing!" So SVT built 300 very expensive 185-mph Cobra Rs.

SVT and Carroll Shelby started discussions in 1997 about future cooperation, and in '01, Ford, under CEO Jacque Nasser, tried to buy Shelby American Automobile Company outright. That didn't happen, but the groundwork had been laid for working with Shelby on future high-performance Mustangs, and that led to the new Shelby GT500, which replaced the SVT Cobra. In 2001, the Petunia program became official as the fastest, most complex, most expensive Ford product ever built--with an all-aluminum chassis, aluminum engine and transaxle, and aluminum body. The target car for performance was the Ferrari 360 Modena. Coletti says, "I put a purchase order in for a Ferrari 360 Modena at a time when Ford was losing $1.8 billion a year. So I got a call from the CFO, and after I explained what we were doing and that we could sell the car for what we paid for it, he said okay. We beat the s--t out of that car."

Roush did the engine development. Romeo Engine built the engines. The cars were partially assembled by Saleen in Troy, Michigan, and finished at the Carlite glass warehouse behind the Lincoln/Thunderbird plant in Wixom by union workers. From program approval to first customer, delivery took only 26 months, a record for any Ford product program. Coletti had his team build up three cars for the Ford centennial celebrations--one red, one white, and one blue--a full year ahead of schedule.

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