Titanium 3D printing used to build Le Mans-inspired last hurrah for the Ford GT

Multinational automotive manufacturer Ford has unveiled a new race-inspired model of its iconic Ford GT supercar with performance-enhancing 3D printed components.

With the final Heritage Edition of its historic racer, the Ford GT LM, Ford has sought to blend old with new, building around a shape similar to that of its 2016 Le Mans-winning race car, with modern technologies. Like its series predecessors, the GT LM is powered by a huge 660hp 3.5 liter V6, but it also features several 3D printed elements, including a titanium dual exhaust with a unique cyclonic design. 

“With innovative materials, design and engineering, the Ford GT is unlike any other production supercar,” said Mark Rushbrook, Global Director of Ford Performance Motorsports. “As we close this chapter of the road-going Ford GT, the GT LM Edition gave us a chance to inject even more heart and soul from a podium-finishing race car, furthering the tribute to our 2016 Le Mans win.”

The Ford GT LM super car. Image via Ford.
The Ford GT LM Edition supercar. Image via Ford, Multimatic.

Ford’s advanced manufacturing exploits

Ever since adopting one of the early SLA 3 systems back in the late-1980s, Ford has sought to integrate 3D printing into the R&D and manufacture of its production vehicles. Ahead of Ellen Lee’s AMUG keynote at last year’s event, Ford’s Technical Leader of Additive Manufacturing explained how it now leverages the technology to produce end-use jigs, fixtures and car parts, as well as for wind tunnel testing. 

A significant amount of the firm’s 3D printing activities take place at its Advanced Manufacturing Center (AMC), a complex with SLA, FDM and SLS manufacturing capabilities. Engineers at the facility are primarily tasked with assessing the feasibility of 3D printed parts while working out ways Ford can better utilize the technology, and their efforts continue to be reflected in its road cars. 

Earlier this year, for instance, Ford released CAD files that enable customers to 3D print Maverick pickup truck accessories, such as cup holders or phone mounts for its center console. This was followed by an initiative with HP, in which the company developed a way of recycling 3D printing waste into F-250 parts with improved chemical and moisture resistance. 

Elsewhere in its manufacturing workflow, Ford partnered with Carbon in 2015, to work on DLS 3D printing automotive prototypes, with the longer-term goal of using the technology in end-use production. Since then, the firm has begun deploying autonomous robots to operate 3D printers within its production line, and create parts of the Mustang Shelby GT500.

Ford's 'Javier' autonomous robot. Photo via Ford.
Ford’s ‘Javier’ autonomous production line robot. Photo via Ford.

A tribute to Ford’s Le Mans success

Having taken a 1-2-3 sweep of the 1966 Le Mans podium, following a race-long battle with Ferrari that has since been immortalized in movie form, the Ford GT’s place in automotive history was already secure. However, fifty years later, the Ford GT was at it again, when the third-generation of the supercar was driven to another victory at Circuit de la Sarthe, by Joey Hand, Sebastien Bourdais and Dirk Muller. 

With the last Heritage Edition of its road-going Ford GT, Ford aims to pay tribute to this success, by launching a limited edition vehicle that features several nods to the past, but draws on the technologies of the future. Under the hood, the GT LM packs a twin-turbo EcoBoost engine with a titanium 3D printed dual exhaust, designed to allow this to breathe and deliver up to 550 lb-ft of torque.

As with all twenty GT LM Edition supercars, Ford’s latest is also fitted with a badge made from the ground-up crankshaft of its podium-finishing 2016 car. Using the resulting powder, the firm is said to have developed a bespoke alloy, with which it has 3D printed the vehicle’s instrument panel badge, thus it carries a small part of the car it’s paying tribute to. 

On the inside, the tributes continue with the GT LM’s interior, which can be finished with red or blue trimmings, in homage to the colors of the number 48 race car that won in 2016, while on the performance side, its front splitter, rear diffuser and mirror stalks are made from an advanced material that lightweight the whole package. 

Those willing (and wealthy enough) to buy the GT LM will have to act fast, as it’s set to be ultra-exclusive with only twenty being manufactured. Deliveries of the final model-year Ford GT LM begin this fall, with production wrapping up later this year.

The interior of the Ford GT LM super car. Image via Ford, Multimatic.
The interior of the Ford GT LM Edition supercar. Image via Ford, Multimatic.

As automotive enthusiasts will no doubt be aware, supercars have long been fitted with one-off parts made using exotic materials and even more advanced manufacturing processes. This trend has increasingly seen carmakers turn to additive manufacturing. For example, Aston Martin’s new DBR22 features a 3D printed rear subframe, produced by Czinger 21C developer Divergent Technologies

In June this year, at the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, Brumos Racing also ran a 3D printing-upgraded Porsche. Developed with the Airtech Advanced Materials Group, these updates made it lighter, more aerodynamic and ultimately faster. 

Stratasys, meanwhile, has been named an ‘Official 3D Printing Partner’ of Toyota Racing Development (TRD), Toyota’s in-house tuning division. In its new capacity, the firm is helping TRD develop end-use 3D printed parts for the Toyota GR86, a sub-£30,000 production vehicle that’s set to be raced in the single-make GR Cup.  

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Featured image shows the Ford GT LM Edition supercar. Image via Ford, Multimatic.