The Ford GT's engineers must harbor secret ambitions to build 40-ft. (12-m.) racing yachts with radical rig designs and dodgy keels.
How else to explain that a unique fuel-tank technology called “ship-in-a-bottle” makes its maiden voyage on Ford Motor Co.'s ultimate halo car?
So named because it encloses the vehicle's fuel-delivery system within a cigar-shaped, blow-molded plastic fuel tank, ship-in-a-bottle (SIB) technology is the creation of U.K.-based TI Automotive. But the GT program nearly sailed without it.
“Originally, we were going to use a Kevlar bladder with an aluminum housing,” says John Coletti, director of Ford's Special Vehicle Team programs.
“When they come to you with ideas, these suppliers, you have to look at 'em. Sometimes you say, ‘Are you ready for prime time?’ In other words, is it production-feasible?” Ford plans to build 1,000 GTs annually for an unspecified number of years.
TI Automotive convinced skeptical Coletti and Ford its ship indeed had come in. Compared with the bladder system, Coletti says, SIB “just blew that price away.”
But neither he, nor TI Automotive, divulges price comparisons.
The mandate for GT: Remain true to the GT40 Henry Ford II used at Le Mans — from 1966 through 1969 — to take the wind out of Enzo Ferrari's sails.
The product team for the all-new GT wanted stiffness. Ford says its 500-hp, mid-engine, rear-drive 2-seater is 40% more rigid than the current Ferrari 360 Modena, thanks to a “backbone” that runs longitudinally beneath its aluminum spaceframe.
This construction creates a tunnel that not only affords the safest possible fuel tank placement, but the opportunity to retain the fuel-filler opening on the front fender — just like the original car. (The filler opening itself is unique, featuring a hinged cover instead of a screw-on cap.)
Smooth sailing from here? No. The team wanted maximum fuel tank volume, but it couldn't make the tunnel very large because it would compromise interior space.
“The shifter sits on top of it,” Huibert Mees, supervisor-Ford GT chassis systems, tells Ward's. “You don't want the shifter to feel like ratfink.”
So TI Automotive charted its own course based on the potent design philosophy: Get everything for free. Which is the essence of SIB technology.
By putting components inside, the tank can be enlarged to use space previously needed for external components. Mounted on a stainless-steel carrier inside the plastic tank are the fuel-delivery system's working components — two turbine pumps, three jet pumps, sensors, valves, etc. This design saves space and manufacturing steps.
“The carriers are internally attached during the blow-molding process. There are no secondary operations required,” says Jim Osborne, TI Automotive's manager-fuel systems development group.
The carrier also serves as an additional baffle. “With the dynamics that this vehicle's going to go through with the 3.8-second acceleration, 0-to-60 (97 km/h), the fuel dynamic sloshing back and forth is going to be, we feel, fairly aggressive,” Osborne says, claiming the tank's distinctive shape helps GT achieve those numbers.
How? It allows for the incorporation of a shear plate to seal the car's underbody as a hedge against drag. SIB technology also minimizes pesky evaporative emissions.
“In a standard fuel tank, I've got to punch holes to weld on my rollover valves and other components,” Osborne says. “Now, since everything is internalized, basically you can manufacture a tank that has only one or two holes: One for servicing the fuel-delivery unit and a filler inlet.”
Will we see SIB on other vehicles? Sources tell Ward's to expect an application on Land Rover's '04 Discovery.
The GT program, Mees adds, “just all fell into place.” If it falls apart, however, expect someone to walk the plank.
— with Bill Visnic