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Design Review: Ford GR-1 Concept (2004-2005)

A modern reinterpretation of the Shelby Daytona that will go into production 16 years after its debut... but not by Ford

Concept cars are a beautiful thing for automotive enthusiasts. Even though it's highly unlikely anyone will get the chance of driving or owning them, these vehicles express the wildest dreams of car designers, free from the restrictions associated with mass production, platform sharing and cost-cutting.

The Ford GR-1 Concept of 2004 is a similar case, so we are going to talk about it before it goes in limited production, 16 long years after its original debut (more on that later).

The GR-1 Concept was revealed as a clay model at Pebble Beach in August 2004, followed by a running prototype at the 2005 North American International Auto Show. The car was stylistically inspired by the Shelby Daytona Coupe, built by Caroll Shelby for the 1964 and 1965 World Sportscar Championship.

Mechanically, the GR-1 was closely related to the Shelby Cobra open top concept car presented a year earlier at the 2004 North American International Auto Show, as a tribute to the original AC Cobra (1961). Both prototypes were based on an aluminium chassis derived from the Ford GT (2005), however it was heavily modified to accommodate the different layout (front-engined instead of mid-engined) with a significantly shortened wheelbase.

Under that long sloping bonnet lurked a monstrous naturally aspirated, aluminium 6.4-litre V10 producing 451kW of power and 679Nm of torque. Power was transmitted to the rear wheels through a rear-mounted Ricardo six speed manual gearbox with the help of a limited slip differential. According to Ford, the running prototype could accelerate from 0-97 km/h in 3.9 seconds while top speed exceeded the 300km/h mark. Suspension was also derived from the Ford GT (2005) offering a sporty ride.

The first sketch of the GR-1 was created by George Saridakis and it was so interesting and expressive that Ford’s head of design J Mays quickly decided to move on to the clay model phase.

The proportions of the GR-1 were similar to the original Shelby Daytona Coupe of 1964, with a long bonnet, a low roofline, a short wheelbase (2540 mm) and the characteristic tail with a negative angle. However, the shape was modernised with a steeply angled windscreen and narrow side windows.

Details like the side air inlets, the bulge on the bonnet and the driver’s position right in front of the rear axle were also nods to the original. Note how the side window line drops in order to form a thinner waist and then raises again towards the circular fuel cap.

The body panels folded on a single character line running around the car from the front bumper, all the way to the integrated rear spoiler, creating beautiful reflections on the polished surfaces.

While the static fibreglass prototype of 2004 was painted silver with grey stripes, the 2005 concept featured a polished aluminium body with mirror-like finish.

At the front, the GR-1 couldn’t be mistaken for anything other than a Ford sports car. The large and simple central intake on the front bumper looked like an open mouth, and on each side two circular openings with integrated slits housed the fog lights.

The headlights were mounted on the front fenders, sitting slightly higher than the bonnet. The shape of the almost vertically angled glass cover of the headlights was interrupted by the front bumper and in combination with the steep angle of the A-pillars emphasised the vehicle’s short and aerodynamic silhouette.

The rear end is undoubtedly the most striking angle of the GR-1. The negative angle of the tail, the dark openings housing the hidden tail-lights and the centrally located quad exhaust pipes gave it a menacing look.

The muscular rear fenders faded into the rear shoulders, with the rear quarter panels extending towards the back, enhancing the prototype’s wide stance. Two beautiful lines starting from the A-pillars defined the curve of the roofline and the shape of the rear window, coming closer towards the back in order to form the raised central part of the tail.

The extra wide tyres and the rear diffuser integrated into the rear bumper complemented the minimal and yet futuristic design of the back view.

Inside, the Ford GR-1 featured a simple layout, with a traditional analogue instrument cluster behind the sporty three-spoke steering wheel. The slim centre console, housed a circular screen, two circular knobs for the climate controls, the gearshift lever and the handbrake. The fixed seats inspired by racing featured shells from carbon-fibre and Alcantara upholstery.

The polygonal shapes with rounded corners found on the dashboard combined with the cool colour combination of the upholstery, brought a sci-fi look to the cabin which would still look relevant now, if it wasn’t for the huge screens that dominate the automotive industry today.

So, what happened next?

After the launch of the GR-1 prototype, rumours swirled that Ford was considering it as a possible successor to the Ford GT. However, the fact that the Ford GT (2005) didn’t meet the sales targets among other factors, led to the demise of the project.

In August 2011, the original, fibreglass model of the GR-1 - a static model of the exterior without running gear - was auctioned for charity by RM Sotheby’s in Monterey, selling for US$82,500 (around A$79,117 at the time).

In January 2019, an automotive company from the United States made a surprising announcement that after striking a deal with Ford, it will put the GR-1 concept car into limited production. Superformance is a well known manufacturer of replica kit cars and continuation models of the Ford GT40, Shelby Daytona and Shelby Cobra, based in Irvine, California. The company’s CEO, Lance Stander, announced that together with Shelby American, they are planning to build fully-electric and petrol versions of the GR-1.

The final product is expected in two years, and will feature an aluminium (polished or painted) or carbon fiber body, designed to be as close as possible to the concept car. As for performance, there are rumors that it might get the supercharged 5,2 liter V8 from the Mustang Shelby GT500 which is good for 566 kW of power and 850 Nm of torque.

Verdict

The Ford GR-1 concept is a great piece of design which successfully translates the essence of the classic front-engined rear-wheel-drive Shelby Daytona into the 21st century. Its futuristic and yet nostalgic styling communicates the character of the car which needs a powerful engine to justify the brutality of the rear end.

Styling-wise the concept car still looks completely relevant today. The fact it was ahead of its time can be easily proven if you compare it with the preceding Shelby Cobra (2004) which, although it remains cool, its looks are kind of dated next to the sleek bodywork of the GR-1.

The GR-1 was conceived as a fast premium Grand Tourer, distancing itself from the racecar status of its predecessor. That means having received the green light for production, it would rival cars like the Porsche 911, Mercedes-AMG GT, Jaguar F-Type and Aston Martin Vantage.

Ford’s decision to not put the car in production can be interpreted as a difficulty to find a place for a modern Daytona in its sports car range amongst the more exotic GT and the Mustang muscle car. Having said that, we were really excited to learn Superformance is working on a limited production run, and we can’t wait to see and drive the GR-1 on the road, even if we have had to wait 16 years after its debut.

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