DETROIT – Ford Motor Co.’s celebrated Shelby Cobra concept soon may muscle its way to market, if Phil Martens has anything to do with it.

Ford Motor Co.’s group vice president-North America product creation, tells Society of Automotive Engineers World Congress show-goers the open-air 2-seater, unveiled at the 2004 Detroit auto show, is under serious consideration as part of future product plans.

The addition of such a car would complete Ford’s storied “Performance Trilogy,” which includes the GT supercar and the completely redone ’05 Mustang fastback. (See related story: Ford Completes Performance Trilogy With Shelby Cobra Concept)

“The company hasn’t decided yet if we’re going to produce this car, but I can tell you it has my vote,” he says. “That vehicle is drivable, it’s feasible, we can do it.”

First, however, the styling needs to change: “It doesn’t grab my soul,” Martens insists, quite like the GT does.

Ford’s Shelby Cobra concept is based heavily on GT underpinnings.

“I think we’re going to know we got that program right when you look at it and you have the same emotional grab you do when you look at the Ford GT,” he says. “We’re very proud of the Shelby concept, but we think we can make it more emotionally charged when you look at it and that’s one of the elements we’re stepping forward to do.”

Martens has passed along the suggestion to Ford design chief J Mays that the styling needs “to be as emotional as the GT,” but he is mum when asked what such emotion should look like.

While Ford injects more emotion into the Shelby design, the Shelby concept car sits on the shelf, ready to go into production with Pontiac Solstice-like speed. Martens commends General Motors Corp. for shuttling the Kappa-based Solstice roadster into production with most of the character embodied in the concept. The Solstice represents the way concepts will be done in the future, he says.

“Concept cars, once just far-flung and impractical and non-functional dreams, are now appearing at auto shows in completely engineered forms. Just look at our Ford GT for example, which we were able to take from concept to production stage in just 15 months.”

Martens says that because of the commonality with the GT, the 605-hp Shelby basically is writing its own business case, even while Ford ponders the feasibility for including the 6.4L cast-aluminum V-10 in the final package.

“This is a concept car which uses a large share of production technology supported by hundreds of pages of detailed technical data, and we’ve already worked out such small engineering details as bushing rates and alignment settings for the suspension,” he says.

Ford reportedly is mulling a mid-2006 introduction of the car at a price below $100,000.

Martens credits the integration of Ford’s advanced product creation team with treating the Shelby project as a full-scale engineering exercise, which allowed the company to “move much faster to bring a concept to production.”

Differences between the Shelby concept and the production GT are evident. The Shelby is nearly 2 ft. (61 cm) shorter overall and 7 ins. (18 cm) shorter in wheelbase than the GT. The GT is a mid-engine vehicle carrying a supercharged V-8, whereas the Shelby’s normally aspirated V-10 sits closer to the front end.

But much is the same, starting with such significant carryover as the Ricardo (U.K.) transmission. Martens says that when the Shelby team needed a rear-transmission to establish a near 50/50 weight distribution, it went rummaging through the GT’s parts bin to find exactly what it needed. The commonality makes developing even supercars such as these more cost effective.

The Shelby team also grabbed such items as the bulk of the rear structure from its “trellis-like” aluminum suspension units, the rear rails, the bumper beams, the major cross member, the brakes and the brackets used to mount the transmission to the rear. The center portion of the spaceframe also shares much with GT and the front of the roadster concept is dressed with the same extruded main rails and steering rack. The steering column is based on the one found in the Ford Focus.

“They even assembled the concept car on the prototype GT jigs,” Martens says.

Martens says that in addition to the tangible engineering benefits that would result from doing another supercar, he’s itching to see the Shelby get the green light for another reason: “brand image.”

“Cars, trucks and SUVs are getting so good these days that the connection a driver has to make with the brand is becoming more and more important,” he says.

“We need to find an additional edge to succeed and that edge is brand. We have to find a way to distinguish ourselves and, at Ford, performance is just one of the ways were revitalizing the blue oval.”

jstoll@primediabusiness.com