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Kar Kraft

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If you were an automotive engineer with an interest in motorsport in the ’60s, one of the most exciting places to be was Kar Kraft, in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn. The Kar Kraft facility saw the design and development of the bulk of the Ford Motor Company’s racing projects.



In 1963 Ford had announced an all-out attack on Ferrari’s supremacy at Le Mans. But by the end of the 1964 racing season, Ford’s GT40s had not finished a race. Although fast, they were in desperate need of some durability, especially in regard to the small-block Indy V8 and the after-market Colotti transaxle combination that initially powered them. The GT40 had been built and developed by Roy Lunn (Ford’s Special Vehicles chief), John Wyer (former Aston Martin director) and Eric Broadley (Lola cars designer), from their Ford Advanced Vehicles base in the UK. Lunn was responsible to the Ford corporation for the program, and Broadley’s independent spirit caused the pair to clash considerably, with Wyer in the middle trying to build bridges.



(Wyer, Broadley and Lunn)


Ultimately, Lunn was in charge and he recommended that Wyer be left alone to manage production of the chassis, and that the racing program be brought back to the US, under the wing of Ford’s motorsport manager Jacque Passino. Lunn already had a design and development team in mind, a group of bright young minds at Ford headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan. These guys had started working together on the original Mustang I concept car and had done the initial GT40 design work.




But the Mustang I program had been a success because these men had short-cut the Ford corporate systems to get things done quickly. The GT40 program was too big to hide any short-cuts, so Lunn got permission to set up an operation outside the Dearborn headquarters, but paid for and staffed by Ford. One man who worked there was Don Eichstadt, a former GM engineer.


Don Eichstadt – “It was decided that Ford needed an outside facility like the one in England - Ford Advanced Vehicles - that had done the GT40. This was done for flexibility outside the main Ford system. Ed Hull, Chuck Mountain and Nick Hartman knew each other as local SCCA sports car racers. Nick Hartman started Kar Kraft in the upstairs of his father¹s machine shop in Dearborn. In the beginning, the designers and mechanics were moonlighting from Ford Research (with management’s permission).”


The first job given to these men was the adaption of the GT40 chassis and systems to take a bigger engine, the NASCAR-proven 427 (7 litres). With gearbox specialist Pete Weismann now onboard, they came up with the Kar Kraft transaxle, stuffed with heavy-duty Top Loader gearsets. This beefed-up version of the GT40 would be known as the MkII.


After a short stay at the Hartman workshop on Telegraph Rd, Kar Kraft moved to the 10611 Haggerty Street address in Dearborn where a team of around four engineers, four designers and ten mechanics and fabricators worked for the next six years to make Ford products winners.


Crucially, they formed the link between race teams such as Shelby American and the various divisions back at Ford. In this way, the race cars got input from the Ford departments that looked after engines, gearboxes, suspension, aerodynamics, computers and electronics.


Eichstadt – “Kar Kraft was told to put the 427 engine into a GT as a test project. This was a rush job as they only had 6 months before the Le Mans race! It was first tested at Dearborn Proving Ground and then later in the week at Michigan Proving Ground. Phil Remington and Ken Miles (from Shelby) came to Michigan. Miles got the car up to 210 mph. It was decided to race this car at Le Mans in 1965. A second car was rushed to completion. One of the cars set a qualifying record. Both cars led the early part of the race but neither car finished!”



The MkII had speed to burn, so Kar Kraft took the various components and initiated programs to make them last. A special workshop dynamometer ran the engine and transaxle as a unit under a Le Mans simulation. The target durability time was 48 hours and they got to 45 hours before stopping. Everything on the car was improved, retested and finally, it was judged ready for Le Mans - the final result was a 1-2-3 victory in 1966.


Simultaneously, Kar Kraft was designing the next Le Mans car, the MkIV.



Eichstadt: - “The forerunner of the Mk IV was the J-Car. It was originally designed with an almost horizontal tail section and an innovative aluminum honeycomb chassis. The J-Car was more complicated to build than the Mk I & II GTs which had a steel chassis with the suspension brackets part of the chassis or welded on. The build of the J-Car chassis involved fabricating the suspension brackets, heat treating and machining the brackets, and installing the brackets on the chassis with adhesive and rivets. Then the chassis was taken back to Brunswick in Muskegon for the bonding of the brackets to the honeycomb chassis in an auto-clave (a big oven). The J-Car went to the 1966 Le Mans test, but the decision was made to go with the known but heavier Mk II and make it stronger and faster. After the 1967 Daytona disaster with all of the broken transmissions, it was decided to take the J-Car and work on it.”



(Turning the J Car into a MkIV)


Eichstadt - “Phil Remington from Shelby, along with 2 of his sheet metal men and 2 clay modelers from Ford Styling came over to help revise the J-Car as time was very short. They and some of Kar Kraft personnel reworked the front end of the vehicle on an existing vehicle while Ed Hull redesigned the tail section. The plan was to revise the body but they could not redo the centre section which was already being built in quantity in California. Testing the new body shape in the Dearborn wind tunnel indicated less drag. After testing at the Arizona Proving Grounds and Daytona, the single vehicle was taken to Sebring 12 Hour.”


As we know, the MkIV won at Sebring and also won at Le Mans. After the race, the FIA changed the rules, so that no engine larger than 5 litres was to be eligible for next year’s Le Mans. That eliminated US cars like the MkIV and the Chaparral Chevrolet straight away. All of Ford’s circuit racing expertise was now idle, so Kar Kraft was set to work on the emerging Trans Am series, helping Shelby American prepare Mustangs for the 1968 season. They also redesigned AJ Foyt’s Coyote Indy cars and worked on various other Ford special vehicles including Can Am cars and a prototype of a Corvette beater called the Mach2. Based on a Mustang floor pan, the Mach2 had a mid-mounted engine, an independent rear suspension and a fibreglass body. It was at about this time that a young and broke Allan Moffat came to do testing at Kar Kraft.


Allan Moffat:- “I was sitting in the Ford cafeteria with Peter Quenet, when Roy Lunn came over and said ‘Hi – what’re you doing?’, and I said ‘Starving to death.’ So he said why don’t I go and work for Kar Kraft. It was really one of those very fortuitous, fateful lunch meetings that happen to people from time to time. I worked right through Christmas, but their first cheque didn’t arrive until March. It was for $5000, and I think it went straight to American Express.”




(The Mach2)


Allan worked on the Mach2, the ’68 Trans Am Mustang developments and a new project, the ’69 Trans Am Mustangs. This time Ford went for the jugular, and the new car saw the full weight of Kar Kraft’s expertise employed. Lee Dykstra was the engineer in charge of the Trans Am project and his team received two donor Mustangs from the Ford plant. These were stripped down to removed weight and rebuilt with subtle (and illegal) body modifications and race suspensions and drivetrains. These two cars were delivered to Shelby American and Bud Moore Engineering as prototypes, followed by six more that followed shortly after. Kar Kraft also built a special one-off Grand Am (Speedway) competition Mustang for the legendary Smokey Yunick.


Lee Dykstra – “I was attending the General Motors Institute and working for Cadillac. There were three of us who built race cars at night for our fifth-year thesis, three cars in three years. We did a car that raced at Mosport in the pre-Can-Am days with the McLaren and the Chaparral. At one point we managed to run fifth in a home-built front-engined car with a Cadillac engine. We were actually faster than the open Ford GT car, and we got an invitation from Roy Lunn of Ford to join Kar Kraft. I went to Kar Kraft just as they were doing the Ford GT Mark IV.”


After the Mustangs were built by the race teams, Kar Kraft assisted them with engineering advice and testing of new developments. Below is a photo of Kar Kraft engineers working with the Shelby American and Goodyear guys at Michigan International Speedway in 1969.




Below is picture of a 1970 season car being tested by Kar Kraft in the Lockheed wind tunnel in Georgia. The mechanics wore goggles and coats so that they can remain in the wind tunnel and make modifications to the car without having to bring the 10m diameter fan to a complete stop.




Ford also received so many enquiries from privateers about building racing Mustangs that they took the unusual step to commission Kar Kraft to prepare a book to describe how to turn a street Mustang into a full spec. Trans Am racer. Detailed drawings were prepared, special parts commissioned and the ‘Boss 302 Chassis Modifications’ and ‘Boss 302 Engine Modifications’ manuals were made available over the counter at Ford dealerships.



Another program for Kar Kraft was the 429 Boss Mustang road car, aimed at young drag racers. Not only did Kar Kraft engineer and build the prototype, but they also handled the Federal motor vehicle approvals. As the car was to be a small production run, Kar Kraft undertook the assembly of these road cars, opening another workshop at Brighton, Michigan.



One of the last projects at Kar Kraft was the Presidential armoured Lincoln limousine, to replace the previous Lincoln built in 1961. Naturally such a one-off build was an assignment that suited Kar Kraft, but a lot of engineering thought went into its design. The weight of the armour changed the dynamics of the car and the Kar Kraft guys fitted the chassis with F350 truck suspension and brakes. Although it totalled nearly three tonnes, everything was tuned to the new weight, so the ride behaviour was not too different from a normal Lincoln.


Eichstadt:- “It was started in 1970 and delivered to the White House around August, 1972 for President Nixon. The entire project was done in secret as the government wanted to make a big publicity splash when it was turned over to them. The weight, cost and thickness of the armour and the thickness of the bullet resistant glass was to be kept confidential. Rather than plating the stretched Lincoln body as was done in the past, the body structure for this vehicle was made out of hundreds of pieces of armour welded together and the Lincoln sheet metal was fastened to the armour. The armour structure was designed so that it fit under the Lincoln body shape including the roof which was raised. Kar Kraft was responsible for the design, build and test, and Ford continued service on the vehicle for 14 years until it was replaced by a new version in 1986.”




By that stage, Kar Kraft was long gone. The Kar Kraft Mustangs of Bud Moore had won the 1970 Trans Am title, but Henry Ford II decided to make some cut backs at the end of that year. Ford withdrew from Trans Am racing and the special workshop on Haggerty St was closed. The engineers went back to Ford programs at Dearborn, although many continued to work together, moonlighting on special race projects.


Much of this material comes from the Shelby American Auto Club newsletters:


Mitch Marchi http://www.saac-mcr.com/mag/2005/200503.pdf


Don Eichstadt Pt1 http://www.saac-mcr.com/mag/2006/200602.pdf


Don Eichstadt Pt2 http://www.saac-mcr.com/mag/2006/200603.pdf

Edited by KarKraft

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Found some info on another Kar Kraft engineer, Bob Riley. He's the Riley as in the Riley and Scott Grand Am sports cars:


After graduating from Louisiana State University in 1958 with dual degrees in mechanical and aeronautical engineering, Bob Riley found a place at Chrysler’s Space Division and helped build the Saturn V booster rocket that took Neil Armstrong to the moon. It was during this time that he also built his first road-racing car, vaguely Scarab-like and powered by a Chevy 283 V8.


In 1962 Riley took a job with Ford’s Advanced Concept Group. In 1965 he saw an ad in a Detroit newspaper soliciting for race engineers and went to work for Kar Kraft. He laboured over suspensions and fuel cells for the MkIVs.


“I think we built ten of those cars. It was funny how they were assembled. You know Brunswick, the bowling people? They did the aluminium tubs. I never saw the MkIV race at Le Mans. I was too low on the totem pole to go.”


As Kar Kraft broadened its range of work to help sort out other Ford racing projects, Riley also got to work on Indy cars.


“I remember when we got in Foyt’s Lotus. The bump steer was terrible. We could get rid of it in front but, on the independent rear cars, we didn’t exactly know how to get rid of it.”


After Kar Kraft closed down he went back to Ford Dearborn, but it wasn’t long before he was contacted by AJ Foyt.


“AJ said to me Bob, I’m tired of being burned in Lotuses. The tubs aren’t wide enough for me to get out of fast. So I’ll set you up in an apartment in Houston (Texas), and you build me a car. I don’t care if I get killed in it, but I don’t want to get burned in it, okay? So I did that car, the Coyote, basically in a five-week holiday from Ford.”


Riley’s Coyote design won its first race and evolved over six years, carrying Foyt to his 1975 USAC victory and a later win at Indianapolis.


From the mid 1970’s through the mid 1980’s, Riley designed or assisted in the design of a number of different type of race cars which included Super Vees, John Greenwoood's Corvettes, body kits to turn F5000 cars into Can-Am cars, NASCARs and NHRA funny cars. Beginning in 1984, Riley redefined the tube-framed silhouette road racing chassis (Trans-Am, IMSA GTO), first for Ford, and, from 1990-93, for General Motors.

Edited by KarKraft

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I happened across a treasure-trove of Kar Kraft images. With their captions, they tell quite a story, and show that Kar Kraft was more extensive than most people know.


The images are part of a collection of the family of the late Fran Hernandez. Fran had a life-long association with the Lincoln-Mercury division of Ford, and after his passing last year, they set up a Facebook page in his memory. Australian Ford fans might be familiar with Fran for his foresight in signing Allan Moffat to race V8s in Trans Am.


This first set of images shows that beyond the original Haggerty St premises, there was a network of Kar Kraft facilities working on special projects. The Kar Kraft system proved quicker and more flexible than going through the corporate channel inside the Dearborn works.


Kar Kraft organisation:




Kar Kraft Haggerty St






Kar Kraft Brighton






Kar Kraft Glenmore






Kar Kraft Merriman






Kar Kraft Tireman




Don Eichstadt (Kar Kraft engineer) - “Shelby Racing and Chuck Cantwell operated out of our Paint Shop on Tiremen when they were in the Midwest area. Our Fabrication shop supported them with parts.”


There is still a ‘Kar Kraft’ paint shop at Tireman today!



Edited by KarKraft

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The second set of images shows more of the projects Kar Kraft completed:


The MkIV transmission:




When the Gt40 program closed, they started helping Shelby with the 1968 Trans Am:





And the G7A Can Am car:




As well as various concept cars, like the mid-engined Mach2




A variation of the mid engined concept in a '69 Mustang body




Another variation called the Mach2C




A NASCAR homologation special called the King Cobra:




And even helped Mickey Thompson with his Autolite Special land speed record car:



Edited by KarKraft

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Found this on my travels ........


Pictures are supposed to be out the front of one of the Kar Kraft shops in 1969, might be Haggerty, but it looks like a suburban area






Full Story ....... http://www.theroarin...88-The-Ford-F3L

Quickly read this post before it is deleted or i turn grey again



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back in a time where every car in that pic has class and charm......


Kai smileyhawk.jpg

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Saw this on a Le Mans related Facebook page. It shows what the Ford Engine and Foundry Division were contributing to the efforts at Kar-Kraft in the lead up to Le Mans '66. This thing ran and things broke, were fixed and broke again, until they got it running for 45 continuous hours.


Edited by KarKraft

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