In the era of the original Acura NSX, the Lotus Esprit, the DeLorean, and even the Pontiac Fierro, wedged, mid-engined sports cars were bursting onto the scene. Some of which (Acura, Lotus) took the fight directly to Ferrari. Others (DeLorean, Fierro), failed to really take off. As for Ford Motor Company, there was an incredible mid-engined sports car in the works that would have been a retrolicious predecessor to the mighty Ford GT supercar we see today. Internally, it was called the Ford GN34, and it almost happened.
Based on some new intel thanks to ex-Ford employee Steve Saxty and his book “Secret Fords, Volume Two”, we learn the particulars of what could have been, and what was, with the Ford GN34 program.
Early Design And Engineering
It began as just an idea from some of Ford’s top brass as they wanted a sports car to rival the mid-engine Ferrari 328 and Honda’s developing NSX but also wanted it to be affordable enough for the average person to buy. That being the case, part of the Ford GN34 market strategy was to kill off the iconic Ford Mustang, which didn’t carry the same prestige as it does today, and slot this mid-engined sports car in its place. Can you imagine?
As for its looks, Ford also thought that designing the vehicle outside of the United States would ultimately make the GN34 perceived as more exotic than just a Corvette rival, they wanted it to be more “special.” So, they phoned up Italdesign (founded by the legendary Giorgetto Giugiaro – who designed the original Lotus Esprit), whom pitched Ford the Maya concept, pictured below.
Upon searching far and wide for an engineering partner, Roush Engineering eventually rose to the top, coming up with an actual prototype based on the DeTomaso Pantera. Under the hood, the Ford GN34 was supposed to utilize a Yamaha built SHO V6 engine, which was actually used in the 1989-1991 Ford Taurus SHO. Yup, just as the Ford GT utilizes a EcoBoost today, Ford was tinkering with boosted V6 engines over 30 years ago.
Yet Ford didn’t seem too keen on the Italdesign proposal anymore, so they continued to shop around for design houses, eventually landing on equally Italian Ghia. Except Ghia was actually a Ford subsidiary, and the design mock up they presented scored just as high as Ferraris did in the customer research clinics. It’s the red one below. Maybe it’s just the color, but you can see the Ferrari (and second-gen Esprit if we’re honest) themes applied here.
The End Of The Ford GN34 Program
The decision to approve or deny the Ford GN34 program climaxed at a meeting in California where presentations were made on the mid-engined sports car, with the legendary Bob Lutz in the room. Yes, Lutz was a Ford executive, as well.
Maximum Bob decided it would be better to develop a four-door vehicle based on the Ford Bronco II, and call it an SUV. His thinking was it was more practical and easier to sell to existing Ford customers. With this decision, the GN34 program went stillborn, and resources were allocated to this new SUV program, while the Ford Mustang stayed alive.
This vehicle became known as the Ford Explorer.
Where is the Ford GN34 today? If you want to see it, the mid-engined sports car is at the Roush Museum in Livonia, Michigan.