The car world winced, but it was all for a good cause. If you haven’t seen the crazy, almost tear-inducing recent photos of the pre-production 2020 Shelby GT500 that Ford Motor Company let the Dearborn Fire Department completely destroy, give it a look. It’s crazy. Yup, we said “let,” as in, Ford willingly gave the firefighters permission to absolutely annihilate the high-dollar Shelby for training purposes.
How badly did they destroy it? Well, they cut the roof and hood completely off, there was plenty of fire retardant sprayed throughout the engine bay and the interior was also torn up. The carbon wheels appear to be intact, and the engine looks like it could be salvaged…but not much else.
According to the fire department’s Facebook post, the department was able to use the GT500 to be “trained on vehicle extrication.” The post continued: “It almost broke our hearts to cut up this 2020 Ford Shelby Cobra GT500 test vehicle. Thank you to Dennis Lark and FoMoCo for the opportunity. Other training included special operations and equipment familiarization.”
Your Car Could Be Cut Too!
For those unaware, in the U.S., if anyone is in a significant enough accident that they can’t be safely removed from their vehicle and are trapped inside, in step the massive metal saws and the Jaws of Life. These menacing tools can mangle a modern car to pieces in minutes, and with surprising precision too. But that precision only comes with operator practice, which leads us to the GT500.
Since the GT500 was a pre-production unit that was already slated to be crushed (more on that later), Ford decided to donate to a good cause. What better cause than for the local firefighters to use for extraction practice? That’s right: in order to ensure the firefighters can safely dismember a car around a trapped occupant without harming them, they must practice. And while most of these dry runs are completed on old cars from the junkyard, it’s good for first responders to practice on more modern variants with stronger steel, crumple zones, and other structural changes that can make safe extractions more difficult. After all, when it comes to saving lives, practice has to make perfect!
Why Ford, WHY?!
Even though this wasn’t any ol’ car, but rather, a six-figure Carbon Fiber Track Pack-equipped 2020 GT500, it wasn’t too special to be immune to the inevitable demise of all pre-production cars — the crusher.
You see, a vehicle with pre-production status means that it isn’t approved for sale by the government. Pre-production variants differ from their production counterparts in that they utilize parts and build-processes that haven’t passed the government emissions, fuel mileage, and safety standards, thus preventing them from ever being registered for use on the road. For these reasons, manufacturers want them crushed so that they never enter the public’s hands and roam the streets emitting more emissions than they should or jeopardizing occupant safety because of components that were ultimately found deficient during testing.
Manufacturers use pre-production vehicles to test things like components, production processes, and many other things ahead of the finished product (sometimes years ahead of the release of the production vehicle).
For example, it could be that the GT500 before you might look stock externally, but beneath the sheetmetal, the Ford team could have been testing different drivetrain components, a hybrid setup, or even a manual transmission setup that ultimately fell short of their design goals and was ultimately dropped from the production car plan. Other times, it’s how the actual chassis was made, as in, it could be lacking additional gussets or structural strength that was added after thorough crash testing. In other words, pre-production vehicles are often half-baked and wear parts that would never make the final cut for production.
Always an Exception to the Rule
While the OEMs are good at destroying pre-production and prototype vehicles in order to hide trade secrets and to keep people safe from partially finished or faulty products, every once in a great while you hear of prototype vehicles or parts seeing the light of day. When they do, it’s a glimpse into a world only the privileged see, and those parts usually garner a hefty price tag from those who want to add said vehicle or part to their large collection. Don’t believe us? Google the prototype S197 IRS that popped up on eBay not so long ago. Yup, Ford was already considering IRS back when the S197 was developed, and a legitimate bolt-in prototype IRS was somehow unearthed in a warehouse of throwaway parts.
We’re never really sure how said components or cars make it to see the light of day, and maybe we don’t want to know, but every now and again we hear of someone stumbling upon something so cool and so rare that we like to call them “unobtainium.”
Different Shades of Pre-production
While all pre-production vehicles share one similarity — their fate for the crusher — the degrees to which they vary from the eventual production vehicle can range from mild to wild.
In some cases, pre-production vehicles are nearly identical to their production siblings; so close in fact, that they’re often loaned to journalists and media outlets for testing purposes ahead of vehicle launches. Sometimes, these nearly identical twins to the production versions are the ones that end up in famous collections or in museums where they will forever sit on display. They look so similar to a production unit that nobody would ever know.
And then there are the older models of vehicles that manufacturers use to stuff prototype engines and drivetrain components into (testing components not due out for five years in a current model year car), and in some cases, into something even more unsuspecting. In fact, some OEMs have been known to stuff upcoming supercar engines into older trucks for testing procedures. For one, the engine bays of trucks tend to be larger and easier to work on, and secondly, an old F-250 lumbering around Michigan isn’t going to garner a second look as it rolls on by, meaning the automotive paparazzi are none the wiser and FoMoCo can go about its testing business unbothered.
If you’re lucky enough to set foot on the proving grounds of an OEM like Ford, don’t be surprised if you see some strange concoctions, like cars well out of production powered by cutting-edge engines or test mules that exist as several generations of car melded into one, for instance.
So the next time you see what looks like an unassuming vehicle with manufacturer plates, don’t automatically judge the book by its cover, because there’s a chance there’s much more to it than meets the eye.