U.S.A.:Hot Rod: Ford 427 show car reveals a glimpse of Detroit’s new direction
By DUTCH MANDEL
Take a look at the Ford 427 concept and ask yourself whether this can be considered the ultimate tuner car. Though it is a clean sheet of computer drafting screen attached to a thick corporate wallet and a bigmuthamotor for a sound so incredibly seductive it makes your legs quake, there is more to 427 than that. Underneath its massive, hydraulically actuated hood, saturated in its every slab-sided molecule, lies the essence of Detroit Big Iron, tuned and polished to a stark cultural glow. If this doesn’t represent an expression of what’s right with America, then little does.
Now think about tuner cars and what they are: automotive expressions of cultural desires. They are high-octane, slammed and chromed cultural images hooked to nitrous bottles.
More often than not, today’s tuners begin as someone else’s canvas; plain-Jane econoboxes or beat-to-hell coupes that metamorphose into radical, brightly hued creatures that embody the owners’ taste as well as the surrounding environment. This is hot rodding.
Ford’s 427 is a tuner with a corporate sugar daddy. It tempted and taunted 2003 Detroit auto show goers with gritty, husky looks that, while penned by a young Briton, represent—in group vice president of design J Mays’ opinion—a design ethic that will be part of future Fords. Maybe it’s better said as a tuner car in reverse: First came the tuned car, and then the docile production variant—a similar design evolution made by another well-known designer, Harley Earl. Remember, it was he who first built California customs and was then hired to style original General Motors product. What goes around comes around.
“This is a rear-wheel-drive performance sedan in a ‘Made-in-Detroit’ vernacular.” Mays says the rough-and-tumble blue-collar mindset exemplified in 427 is something future production Ford cars will embrace. “Henry Ford’s cars were representative of the era and the location in which they were built. They were rugged and durable and quality no-nonsense vehicles people could afford. That was Detroit then, and that is Ford’s Detroit now.”
However, according to Mays, the 427 is deliberately filled with a so-called gangster reality—perhaps adding an even greater patina to the Detroit tuner car scene. “Think of the movie 8 Mile, and you see an urban aspiration among today’s society where 40-year-olds hum along with Eminem songs. The suburbs are the middle of the road—where you don’t want to be. On one polar end lies the rural, cowboy image and on the other the urban ‘gangsta’ image.”
Cultural influences for cars are not new. The 1980s saw the rise of things European—whether they came from BMW, the Japanese or even a Ford Taurus. Rugged outdoorsmen have long been used to identify tough truck designs and users, while the adventure-seeking culture codifies the sport/utility design and market.
“The urban landscape is fantasy and escapism,” Mays says. “The whole idea of telling a great story is to allow your customer to relate emotionally, and you do that either from the exterior or the interior. The car is transportation, yes, but you will buy an auto to get emotion-al gratification. That is why you must infuse emotion into design.”
Now before this 427 drive story wanders too far off course, this next point is important. Do not misunderstand that Mays is trying to turn Ford into the “hip-hop” car company. He is not. Simply, he has identified a muse and it happens to have big chrome wheels, many different video screens, and it rides low. Perhaps this muse is better identified as a don’t-mess-with-me approach to doing things.
When last we wrote about the 427 it was for the January auto show issue. We said it could be America’s sexiest sedan... if Ford decided to build it. Back then we could only let our eyes pore over its hard, black-leather interior, and run our hands over its edges. Since then, with a heap of wheedling and pleading, we secured the only drive of the 427 that Ford has allowed to date.
As this is a concept, its reason for being is about fantasy and less about execution. Though concepts often look great on a show dais, they are not built for the road. Many don’t even have engines that fire, which is not true for 427. Built on a stretched LS platform, the 427-cubic-inch V10 is one of two hand-built engines created in Dearborn. The power on paper is impressive—590 hp at 6500 rpm and 509 lb-ft of torque at 5500. The soul of 427 is the engine; it’s what gives it meaning.
Alas, almost like an all-you-can-eat smorgasbord, our eyes were bigger than our right foot. Call it de-motivation: We were first told the 427 would be limited to a 40-mph drive, but as the test day got closer it dropped to a 25-mph limit on Ford’s secure proving grounds. Visions of smoky burnouts evaporated quickly. Still, we were in for a drive.
Or maybe not. Though the 427 has glass instead of thick plastic, that glass is fixed. There are no window cranks in the door and no vents through which to enjoy a refreshing breath, which becomes evident the minute we crank its thick key. A washing machine starter motor, just like mom heard when turning over her Rambler American, then it whi-whi-whined and coughed and rumbled and—oh, man—made such a sound as to thrill an Amish bishop. Throatier than Limbaugh, more timbre than Luciano, the 427 sat there and belted out a sweet, sweet song. We fiddled at the four-speed manual tranny coupled to a seriously heavy clutch while the scent of 105-octane racing fuel wafted into the cabin, stirred up in a joyous amalgam of perspiration, testosterone and unburned hydrocarbons.
Unfortunately, the sound was not followed by fury.
We found the car’s driveshaft, when engaged, torqued and rubbed on the inside of the transmission tunnel. It proved the 427’s downfall. Yes, we could drive it, but slower still than 25 mph. It was good for low-speed runs up a strip of asphalt and we ached to boot it.
If empty-hearted, we didn’t come away empty-handed. Looking at the sketches of the new 2005 Ford 500 or the 2006 Ford Futura, it is easy to see this 427 carries the new face of Ford cars with three horizontal bars above the bumper. Chances are you’ll see this look among the company’s SUVs as well. Which, in all, is not a bad imprint for a concept tuner car to leave: a beacon as to where Ford needs to go.
But think about this, too. For a decade or more America has abdicated the sedan to its foreign competitors. If you think otherwise, then put a BMW 5 Series or a Honda Accord or an Audi A6 or a Toyota Avalon against a Lumina or Sebring or Taurus. In which buckets would you honestly rather sit?
So the 427 may well be a car tuned so wildly that it spawned a cultural realization among American executives that the time is ripe for a rebirth of the American sedan. While there could be nothing more American than a wide mouth, copious interior space and the Big Iron swagger from Detroit, it’s amazing to think the tuner car has come full circle.
(Photo's)While 427 carries Fords's new "face" with a horizontal bar grille, we'd also like to see some of its other touches make the showroom... like those rounded squares, that beautiful engine.
My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.
My next Ford.....