Looking for new galaxies
Ford 427 is America's sexiest sedan ... if they build it
By NATALIE NEFF/AutoWeek
Never mind the historical imprecisions—that the ’60s 427 big blocks were V8s and actually displaced 425 cubic inches (then again, some Fords known as 7-Litres used the 428, which measured 427 cid). Call the math another creative reinterpretation in a car designed to reinterpret rather than re-create.
By all accounts, the 427 is Ford’s latest effort to forge a future by exploiting its past, this time relying less on visual cues than on an idea.
“The whole point is the big American sedan lived through the 427s, or the big block,” says Mays, Ford Motor Company’s vice president of design. “And so I think the 427, because of the NASCAR tie, because of the history, was the right choice. That’s where the meaning of the entire vehicle comes from, through the engine.”
Americans used to love tooling around in unabashed power and style—and still do. That love of the big, powerful and stylish remains in our collective psyche, evidenced by the abundance of classic car cruises overflowing with oversized Detroit iron even as today’s once-small cars get bigger every generation. It is evident further and more palpably by our obsession with the sport/utility vehicle. The psychologically astute might call it transference.
Mays wants to draw Americans’ attention back from those wanderings, back to what made large, rear-drive, big-engined cars the quintessential American ride. If his latest baby, the 427, can’t do it, nothing can.
THE 427 CONCEPT STARTED LIFE as a Lincoln LS, more specifically, the DEW platform on which the LS rides. Ford modified it by stretching the wheelbase up front to make room for that immense powerplant, itself one of only two V10s Ford built by modifying 4.6-liter dohc V8s, slapping on an extra pair of cylinders, increasing the bore by 3.6 mm and stroke by 6.6 mm (both started at 91.4 mm). This means, of course, a unique crankshaft, pistons and con-rods. The heads are based on the Mustang Cobra R design. (Mays says the other V10 is under the hood of an as-yet undisclosed Mustang. Feasibility testing, perhaps?)
The result: 590 horsepower at 6500 rpm and 509 lb-ft of torque at 5500 rpm. Ford won’t say what the car will do on the street, but you know it has got to fly.
Thing is, that idea of the quintessential American sedan has more to it than power. Its essence lies in what many find difficult to describe—yet understand when they see it. It’s visceral.
“That’s why we tapped a British designer to do it,” says Mays, laughing. Joe Baker has four years on the job at Ford, the last three with Ford’s Brand Imaging Group in Irvine, California. He says he “grew up in the middle of nowhere in the English countryside.” Just 30 years old, he has little firsthand knowledge of the 1960s or ’70s, let alone American cars of that vintage.
That big V10 from which the 427 takes its name may use a lot of aluminum, but otherwise, inside and out the car has little decorative need for it.
“The only times I ever used to see them is with the guys on the [military] bases,” says Baker. “They used to have these rallies on the local showgrounds. I used to see them cruising around, but they looked so out of place in England. They’re appropriate for the context they live in, but if you take them to the English countryside, they just look crazy.”
His feel for the American car grew, however, with exposure. “My attitude really changed when I started coming to America on holiday. My folks used to bring my sisters and me over quite regularly when I was in my teenage years. So that was really when I first started realizing these cars are actually pretty good, especially when you see them in their natural environment. Some of them look fantastic.
“But most of my influences come from film. Especially Scorsese films. When I was designing this car, I used to watch Mean Streets quite a lot, and there are various scenes where you see American cars cruising around. You could argue that it’s not an accurate portrayal of America, but at the same time it’s quite an emotive one.”
Baker latched onto the mid-’60s Galaxie 500. “When I looked at the Galaxie, I thought [the grille] was such a clear and obvious signature that I always felt it was a shame Ford moved away from that. It’s not complicated; it’s just a simple sculptural motif. In a way, the Galaxie was such an iconic Ford sedan that Ford hasn’t really managed to repeat it successfully. I just felt we would try to reclaim ground we lost after those cars.”
You can see the Galaxie emotion reflected in the 427. Its grille stretches from one end of the nose to the other, a series of substantial horizontal structures drawing the eye across the front and away from the body’s height (it’s a tall body). Both the headlights and taillights mount high in the corners, defining them in a design practice Baker feels makes traditional American sedans look bigger. You can tell immediately something large lurks beneath the hood, as the length of the front end is exaggerated to the verge of caricature. No superfluous creases or cladding interrupt the sweeping flow of the car’s flanks.
The rear carries some of the theme of the front, with its rounded-square (“squircle,” Baker calls the shape) taillights and a single horizontal steel accent above the bumper along the lip of the decklid. A hint of tailpipe peeks out in two thin rectangles at the bottom corners of the bumper.
The 427 fits nicely alongside the 2005 Mustang and the Forty-Nine concept shown at Detroit in 2001, which Ford has hinted might make it into production in some form. All share a similar design feel—with slab sides, simple geometric details and strong proportions—though quite unintentionally.
“It’s funny, the very first sketches and the very first scale [of the 427] were done before the Forty-Nine was released, and I hadn’t seen it, so I was kind of taken aback when I saw the Forty-Nine because we were thinking along the same lines. I’m glad people are drawing comparisons to that car because hopefully we’re setting up sort of a family feel.”
Baker also designed the interior. Rather than slathering it with typical concept car billet aluminum, he swathed almost every surface in a rich, dark leather with contrasting stitching. The squircle theme repeats on the door panels, shifter knob and instrument panel, the most vintage-looking piece on the car, where a large tach and speedometer sit behind clear lenses in a double-squircle pod. It’s a compelling design overall, striking in boldness and simplicity.
And it is undeniably American.
But how does a Briton, three years in this country and with barely a memory of the ’70s—not to mention the ’60s or the cars of that era—know what that means? And what compels him to try to design one himself?
“I think American cars aren’t attempting to use a generic kind of world style that, certainly, the Japanese do quite well,” says Baker. “[The 427 is] something you could put next to a German car, an English car, a Japanese car and say, ‘Okay, I know where that’s coming from, that’s American.’ And secondly, good American designs for me have an incredible pureness about them. Quite simply, some of the best car design that’s ever been done has come from America.
“And really I was kind of keen, having come to America, on doing a very American car, because I felt that’s what was lacking from any of the Big Three’s lineup. I just needed to do a very simple, pure American sedan.”
The bigger question, perhaps, is why 427? Simply, because it was the coolest name they could think of. Besides, Ford 500 was already taken. Sort of.
“The original name [Baker’s Brand Imaging Team] had on this car was the Ford 500,” says Mays. “We liked the name so much we felt we should apply it to our big sedan about to be released in 2004.” Ford will use the name in production next year.
“Before we took it away from the team, we asked them to go back and come up with something else,” explains Mays.
“I said, ‘Look, we can’t have this great modern iteration of a fabulous ’60s vehicle without an emotional hook.’ The 427 was the most powerful [engine of that era] and the racing engine in NASCAR. So that pretty much sealed it for Joe, and there was nothing going to stop him from calling this the 427.”
INTERESTING THAT THE 427 STARTED life as the 500, especially since it seems the two cars—the car that stole the 500 moniker and this show car—would occupy the same slot in the Ford lineup. That is, if the 427 ever makes it into production.
“Well, it’s a concept at the moment,” says Mays, “but keep in mind the 500 is a front-drive/all-wheel-drive vehicle, [and] the 427 is a rear-drive vehicle. If we ever broke down and decided to consider something like this, it would live quite comfortably because it would be a totally different take on what a sedan is. [The 500] is a D-sized car with an E-sized interior. The 427 is closer to a Lincoln LS than anything else. I think those two concepts can coexist inside of one brand. We understand the huge volume, the middle of the market, lies in these front-drive sedans. But the heart and soul of the brand lives in something like this car.”
Baker concurs. “Partly what I was trying to do with the car was almost an iconic flagship for Ford. Icon cars don’t have to be the largest or most powerful vehicle in a lineup. It’s more about making a pure statement about what a company’s about. I hope the 427 is going to do that. It’s about saying, ‘Listen, we’re 100 years old and we’re not going to apologize for it.’ This is really what we’re about.”
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.....