The Ford vs. Ferrari Fight You’ve Never Heard of Has Nothing to Do With the Ford GT

Ford asserted their dominance repeatedly over Ferrari repeatedly in the late 1960s with the Ford GT40. However, the glorious Le Mans wins were not the last time Ford tried to put up a fight with the iconic Italian nameplate. In the 1980s, Ford sought to develop another sports car to duke it out with Italian supercars. Though the project, dubbed GN34, never made its way to production, it’s still quite an interesting story!

Ford’s GN34 concept aimed to give Ferrari performance at Corvette prices

Interior of 1964 Ford GT40 racecar prototype shot through passenger side
Ford GT Concept Car | Ford

According to Hagerty, in the 1980s, Ford had no reasonable answer to the iconic sports cars produced by the likes of Ferrari and Porsche. However, they certainly had no shortage of desire to compete in the market within the company. However, one major setback internally was Ford’s goal of producing mass-produced and easily-attainable cars. After all, Ford’s profit margins have long been via massive sales volume rather than massive profit per sale. Effectively, the exact opposite of the way Porsche and Ferrari operate.

In October 1983, Ford execs outlined the project and plopped it on the table of the Special Vehicle Operations team. The SVO team not only liked the idea, they loved it. SVO leaders Mike Kranefuss and Ronald Muccioli would go on to describe it as their dream build and not just another concept.

In search of an engine to power the Ferrari-fighting mid-engine concept car, Ford engineers ruled out the turbocharged four-cylinder from the European-market Sierra Cosworth for fear it wouldn’t entice shoppers away from the roaring V8 of a Ferrari. After additionally ruling out the option of buying a V8 engine from an external supplier like Porsche, the GN34 team eventually landed on the Yamaha co-developed V6 developed for the Ford Taurus SHO. In the Taurus, it made 220 horsepower, just 30 horsepower shy of a Ferrari 308.

Now it was down to figuring out the body.

Unfortunately, it didn’t quite make it to the production line

With Ford’s inability to produce a mid-engine sports car without a massive initial investment in a production facility and tooling, the GN34 team ventured to Europe.

There, they met up with a company called Italdesign, which had already been developing a mid-engine sports car called the Maya that needed an engine. Considering the GN34 team had one, it worked out quite nicely.

After the Maya’s completion and display, GN34 team members presented their project to the big wigs at Ford, who ultimately shut it down for fear of running over budget, warranties, and a niche customer base cutting into their profits.

Italdesign and the SVO team drew up a few alternatives based on the Ford Sierra in an effort to present cheaper alternatives to their initial planning. Unfortunately, none of them quite did it for the SVO team.

Ultimately, they once again turned their attention to building a mid-engine sports car. A test mule was put in the hands of Formula One World Champion Jackie Stewart. He gave the team positive feedback stating that it not only was competitive in performance with the Ferrari but also in driving comfort. According to testing, the GN34 beat out the rough ride of the Porsche 944 and Corvette.

Meanwhile, Ford execs aware of the GN34 project went around the SVO team and requested design concepts from Ghia and a Detroit-based studio named Advanced Design. Ultimately, Italdesign and Advanced Designs’ work fell short of Ghia, who won the official Ford greenlight for market testing.

The GN34 came second place to an SUV

Red DeTomaso Pantera shot from front driver side for Motor Trend Magazine cover shot
Some GN34 prototypes were based on the Pantera | Bob D’Olivo/The Enthusiast Network via Getty Images

Market research clinics with Ferrari, Porsche, and Corvette owners turning positive results and giving Ford execs hope for sales. Additionally, a handful of concept cars and test mules were built on the chassis of Ford Sierras and DeTomaso Panteras. Ultimately, though, Ford scrapped the project in 1986.

According to Motor Trend, Ford opted to build a “four-door Bronco” instead. That project wound up becoming the Ford Explorer, one of their most successful models to date.

We would have loved to see this beautiful mid-engine Ferrari-killing blue oval sports car come to life. Sadly, you can’t always get what you want. In the eyes of the money-makers, it was just too significant a risk.

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