Join Date: Mar 2001
First Drive: Giugiaro Ford Mustang Concept (Motor Trend)
First Drive: Giugiaro Ford Mustang Concept (Motor Trend)
Italy's most famous father-son design team reinterprets an American icon - And we drive the stunning result
It's no surprise, given his profession, that Fabrizio Giugiaro grades new-car designs the way a mountaineer might rate peaks (for him, the Bentley Continental GT and the VW Phaeton merit 8000-meter admiration). But when he first gazed upon the redesigned-for-2005 Ford Mustang, 'the most beautiful Mustang I'd seen in decades," the 41-year-old son of legendary auto designer Giorgetto Giugiaro knew immediately he'd found a new Everest. He had to climb it.
"I remember talking with J Mays [Ford chief creative officer] at the 2005 Detroit auto show," recalls the younger Giugiaro, now styling director of Italdesign Giugiaro SpA, the Turin-based company his father founded in 1968. "I said, 'I want to do my next concept car for Ford,' and J -- whom I've known for a long time --said, 'Great. You can base it on any Ford model you want.' Well, right away I said, 'I want the new Mustang!' And J, he sort of paused for a moment and replied, 'Um, for that one I'll have to check.'" Giugiaro chuckles at the memory. "Of course, soon after he came back to me and said, 'Okay.'"
From that initial discussion in Detroit arose the sensuous machine you see here, star of last November's Los Angeles auto show (where it made its world debut), scene-stealer at Detroit in January and currently headed to Switzerland, where its European coming-out party will take place at the Geneva motor show mid-March.
Before Giugiaro's baby departed for the land of chocolate and Rolexes, though, Motor Trend nabbed this one-of-a-kind, multi-million-dollar ponycar for an exclusive drive - that's right, it's a fully functioning automobile - on the road course at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Fabrizio Guigiaro even jetted in from Italy to brief us (and clock a few tire-smoking laps himself).
At this point, you might reasonably ask why a designer who admires a car's look would want to change it. Well, for one thing, tweaking Mustangs runs in the Giugiaro family. In 1965, father Giorgetto created a Mustang concept while working at design house Bertone (see story this issue). But for son Fabrizio, the 2005 Mustang's arresting lines and hallowed profile represented a challenge he couldn't ignore. "It was a very delicate proposition," he admits, "but it was also necessary for us to do so. I wanted to show that we could make a new design - not better, but different - while still representing the icon, maintaining the Mustang's identity. Also, it's important for the business of Italdesign to show that we can create concepts that are real, working cars, not just fantasies. I've driven this Mustang Concept all around Turin - my father and I drive all our prototypes." Noticing our aren't-you-afraid-of-a-fender-bender? raised eyebrows, Giugiaro shrugs his shoulders. "After all, they are cars."
The Mustang Concept developed over an unusually long gestation period, Giugiaro acknowledges - partly because work on the project was interrupted when Giorgetto Giugiaro diverted much of Italdesign's resources to create his Ferrari 612-based GG50 concept car, unveiled in 2005 to celebrate the master's 50th anniversary in the car-design biz (and, yes, father and son regularly drive the GG50 around Turin). With the Ferrari one-off completed, though, Fabrizio again turned up the heat on his Mustang. "I made some early sketches, some too retro and some too far out. I'd started with a three-box design [hood, greenhouse, trunk], but that ended up looking too normal. So I made a modification, basically a two-box-and-a-half shape, like a fastback. I immediately went with that direction. Also, my Mustang is smaller, lower, wider - more like a Corvette. When I built my first model, though, I thought it was too small in the rear end. My father ended up working with me quite a bit on the rear design."
Giugiaro's final Mustang Concept, completed in September 2006, is immediately recognizable as a Mustang - a testament to Giugiaro's commitment to "honoring the icon." Yet side by side with its production-car muse, the Mustang Concept radiates an altogether different vibe. The tape tells the objective story: The show car is more than two inches shorter overall, two inches lower, and more than four inches wider at its maximum (the bodywork swells dramatically from front to rear). But the numbers don't convey the Mustang Concept's Italian sleekness and flair - the drawn-bow tension of its stretched hood and clipped tail, the brawn of its 20-inch rims and inflated wheel arches, the rakish, arrowlike LED taillights (arranged in three vertical bars that recall the original Mustang's), and - most conspicuous - the dramatic glass roof that flows in a single, uninterrupted arc from hoodline to rear deck. "Because this s a concept car, it has to be more sporty, more extreme," Giugiaro says of the glass, "but within limits." The roof's curved panel, produced by Solutia in Detroit, is made out of a special crystal that filters out 100 percent of UVA rays. "I was worried the cockpit would get hot,' Giugiaro says, 'but I've driven it on warm sunny days, and it is not a problem at all." (Giugiaro admits the fixed door windows made of polycarbonate, are poor at blocking solar radiation; he may replace them with glass before the Geneva reveal.)
While Giugiaro calls the production Mustang "a very simple and nice car," for his design, he wanted more pizzazz than even the all-glass roof could provide. Thus, the Mustang Concept's doors open upward, Lamborghini-style. Crafted in lightweight carbon-fiber - like the rest of the bodywork - the scissor doors even do the Murcielago one better: both raise and lower electrically at the push of dash-mounted buttons.
Critiquing his Mustang's exterior, Giugiaro is refreshingly candid. He's particularly proud of the front wheel arches, which flow smoothly into the one-piece nose clip ("J Mays noticed that right away," Giugiaro says, smiling). "But if I had to do it over again, I'd have cut the platform [the Concept shares the same 107.1-inch wheelbase as the production Mustang] and stretched it a bit. While the car looks right standing still, on the track it seems somewhat short."
If the Mustang Concept's body is American with Italian seasoning, the cockpit is pure Torino. Chrome ringed analog gauges float on a door-to-door expanse of glossy black Plexiglas (when the car is switched on, the dash comes alive with three TV screens fed by cameras that replace the side- and rearview mirrors). A chrome shifter shaped like a connecting rod juts up from the center console. Almost every surface is trimmed in orange or dark-brown horsehide ("For effect, I tell people it's horsehide," Giugiaro says with a laugh. "But really it's cow"). The only familiar element is the Mustang emblem on the steering wheel. "I pushed on the inside," Giugiaro says, "and in Europe I've received some criticism for it. One person called the cabin 'nasty.' For sure it's spectacular. Loud but elegant. I think that's right for the Mustang."
From the driver's seat, the effect is invigorating--the cockpit's shapes and materials have the pulse-raising cool of one of Ken Adam's sets from a 1960s Bond movie.
Particularly stunning, of course, is that unobstructed, fishbowl vista of sky--which in this setting affords a thrilling view of the F-22 Raptors circling for touch-and-goes at adjacent Nellis Air Force Base. Press the dash rocker, and the doors glide down before sealing with a click. There's no ignition key: The engine starts with two pushes of a dash button.
Underneath, the Mustang Concept owes its stripes to Ford Racing, which added an intercooled, twin-scroll supercharger to the standard 4.6-liter V-8. Pressuring the cylinders with 11 psi of boost, the blower bumps output to an estimated 500 horsepower. Also on board is Ford Racing's Mustang GT Handling Pack, which lowers the car and includes stiffer springs and shocks and thick anti-roll bars. Italdesign tacked on big Brembo brakes all around, "purely because they look so good inside the O.Z. Racing wheels," Giugiaro says.Around Las Vegas Speedway, supercharged V-8 roaring, the Mustang Concept feels a lot like a Shelby GT500 -- albeit one wearing a fighter-jet canopy. Show cars --those that move at all -- usually struggle to behave like bona-fide automobiles on the road, but the Mustang Concept functions well enough to toss around the track with confidence. Sure, there are squeaks and shimmies you wouldn't find in a production Mustang, and the glass roof has a few ripples that become bothersome when you're looking for an apex, but overall the Concept is uncompromised: After 30,000 man-hours of development, it's every bit the fast, exceptionally debonair, reality-grounded Mustang Fabrizio Giugiaro intended it to be.
Which leads to yet another obvious question: Is the Mustang Concept a preview of the next production Ford Mustang, due for 2010? "Absolutely not," Fabrizio Giugiaro insists. "I have seen the designs for the new Mustang, and while it is very modern and very lovely, it is not my car." Ultimately, then, Giugiaro's Ford Mustang Concept is a calling card. "At the moment we are not working with any American automakers," Giugiaro says, "but with this Mustang for Ford we have designed an exciting, drivable car that fits with America's unique rules, one that's fully capable of being produced."
Translation: "Hello, Big Three. Have you driven a Giugiaro lately?"