Lost Ford concept cars uncovered

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92 secret ford prototypes ghia alpe front

Unseen prototypes and stalled concepts are a fact of life. We uncover more Fords that never saw the light of day.

Former Ford product designer and planner Steve Saxty published Secret Fords Volume One last year. It covered the design of each European Ford from the early-1970s through to the mid-1980s. His new book picks up the story through to the early-2000s.

The first book clearly impressed Ford, because the design team offered to scan nearly 6000 never-before-seen images for Volume Two. We asked him to share some of their secrets.

GN34 supercar

96 secret ford prototypes gn34 front

Google ‘Ford GN34’ and you will find rumours of this car but no photos. This, though, was Ford’s almost mythical, never-seen challenger to the Honda NSX. It aimed far higher than being merely Ford’s Corvette, despite matching the GM car on price – see it as a Ferrari 328 rival at Porsche 944 money.

The body was designed in Turin by Ford’s Ghia studio in preference over a competing one from the Detroit studio and another by Italdesign. It was sophisticated under the slinky Italian skin, too. The British-designed chassis was powered by the famous Ford-Yamaha SHO V6 through a ZF transaxle and tested on the track – in secret, of course – by Jackie Stewart.

It could have been one of the greats but Ford, quite wisely, saw that the upcoming SUV market would be far more profitable. So instead of this supercar, they invested in making the Explorer. Wise maybe, but we can’t help wondering what could have been…

Project Osprey

95 secret ford prototypes project osprey

Ford enthusiasts get misty-eyed at the thought of a Cosworth-powered Escort or Focus, and this one might have been one of the best.

Back in the early 2000s, Ford planned on a two-tier strategy of fast Focuses – an ST210 and an AWD monster engineered by Prodrive to take on the 224kW Subaru WRX. Cosworth was commissioned to design the 157kW and 224kW engines – at a time when the ST sported a mild 127kW and the turbocharged RS made 164kW. An output of 164kW from Cosworth’s naturally aspirated DOHC Duratec four-cylinder engine would have made it an epic performer, with an even fruitier Focus RS Cosworth above it.

Ghia Alpe

92 secret ford prototypes ghia alpe front

Long ago, before SUVs ruled the earth, there was an emergent category of road-biased 4x4s like the Land Rover Freelander. Then Ford boss Jac Nasser wasn’t going to let Land Rover or competing brands from Japan gobble up market share, so he tasked the Ghia studio with finding a solution.

Their inspiration – if you can’t guess by the colour – was a vehicle of JCB-like, go-anywhere toughness. The Italians made two full-sized clay models and this one was Jac’s favourite. Ghia’s special skill was making one-off, fully drivable prototypes. They carefully picked apart a mid-’90s Escort RS2000 4×4, then rebuilt it as the Alpe and painted it metallic olive rather than JCB yellow. The compact off-roader looked fresh, but murky green wasn’t a good colour for it. It was displayed twice, but after Ford bought Land Rover it was never seen again.

2000s Scorpio

90 secret ford prototypes 2000s scorpio

Mass-market manufacturers had been producing large executive cars for decades. But as the new millennium dawned, the prestige German brands were beginning to dominate the class. Ford had a choice to make: did it launch a replacement Scorpio based on the Mondeo, or a 2+2 coupe spun off the family car? Ford’s German design team was tasked with creating something every bit as graceful as a Mercedes-Benz. They succeeded, too, in a greatest-hits style of German premiumness.

This Scorpio may look the part, but it would have been too expensive an exercise to both lengthen the Mondeo wheelbase and widen out its body. The Mondeo was an excellent car, make no mistake, but using it as a base from which to challenge the E-Class and the BMW 5 Series was a stretch too far.

CE99 Escort

94 secret ford prototypes ce99 escort front

When Ford launched the new Escort in 1991, Autocar and other magazines were unsparing in their criticism of it. Ford was shocked to its core and promised to do more than better; it vowed to make the Focus the absolute best.

Behind the scenes there was a lot of thought about what to do: reskin the Escort or start afresh? One star in Ford’s range was the Puma, designed by Ian Callum, so thoughts turned towards tapping in to that car’s magic. This was one of the 1994 ideas from that programme, codenamed CE99. If the Puma had had a four-door sister, then this would be it.

But when the American arm of Ford joined forces with the Europeans, everyone across Ford’s world decided it was better to start afresh rather than reskin the Escort. This slippery-looking thing was cast aside and the Focus kicked off.

James Attwood

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