Building your own GT40 replica and working as an engineer on the Ford GT program, then going to Le Mans to celebrate Ford winning the race 50 years after its historic 1-2-3 finish might sound like a dream to an automotive aficionado, but for Ryan Schmidt, it’s a reality.
A childhood passion for cars led Schmidt to pursue an education in mechanical engineering. After graduating with that degree from Southern Illinois University, he signed on with Ford in 2013, and in July 2015, joined the Ford GT program. Schmidt’s role was full vehicle testing – planning, reviewing reports, supporting testing and marketing events, and vehicle durability testing oversight. Now, as an end-of-line quality auditor, he inspects Ford GTs as they roll off the assembly line.
“I was massive into the GT40 when I was younger,” says Schmidt. “And when I started here, I didn’t think they would bring back the Ford GT. For it to come out is amazing.”
In high school, Schmidt worked with his dad to construct a GT40 replica in their garage. Race Car Replicas in Fraser, Michigan, provided the car’s body and chassis, but father and son designed other key components themselves, including the fuel and cooling systems.
They set out to build the replica as close to original as possible, and the powertrain features all of the same parts as the 1966 race car. A 347-cubic-inch small-block Ford engine with original-style Weslake valve covers, Mahle pistons and SCAT crankshaft give it 500 horsepower. The car’s speed can be attributed to its light weight; curb weight comes in under 2,500 pounds.
“It’s one of those projects that is never fully completed,” says Schmidt. “There’s always something you can do to make it better.”
It all started in the garage for Schmidt. He and his dad also constructed a 1966 Shelby Cobra 427 replica, and in college he spent every spare minute restoring a donor Mustang to modify it into a driveable 1965 Shelby GT350 clone. This lifelong appreciation for designing and building cars – particularly classic Ford performance cars – has provided Schmidt with an expertise he brings to his engineering role with Ford.
And he knows the GT40 project was a special moment spent with his dad. Years later, when the world-renowned 24 Hours of Le Mans featuring Ford’s fleet of four brand-new GTs fell on Father’s Day, Schmidt bought a pair of plane and racing tickets. Together, he and his dad watched as Ford GT racked up a historic win, nearly 10 years after they completed their GT40.