|And the news is...|
24th October, 2000
What it took to `Australian-ise the Mustang
Re-engineering of the Ford Mustang to right hand drive has proven to be the most complex manufacturing process undertaken by Tickford in Australia.
Tooling costs alone were more than three times those for the XR Falcon program.
The process involves the manufacture of 150 major new components and 200 minor components such as brackets, as well as the modification of a further 50 existing parts. More than 250 documented process are involved.
"We basically had to develop an entire engineering and manufacturing process. In the end, that is what sets us apart from traditional conversion operations. This is a defined production process, rather than a cut and weld conversion," said Tickford managing director, David Flint.
"As this is a premium, low-volume product, we were also mindful of keeping the focus of the program squarely on the customer. Apart from the simple mechanical process, it was an exercise in ergonomics, styling and listening to the customer."
The process involved extensive use of Computer Aided Design to produce unique components, as well as the manufacture of templates to ensure that each vehicle was modified to identical specifications.
The total investment in the two-year program was about $4 million.
Nine physical prototypes were built, including one crash vehicle and one durability vehicle. Several virtual prototypes were also engineered, incorporating data from the US Mustang development program.
About 25 engineers worked on the initial project, with six others joining for the launch phase. Twelve production personnel carry out the modification work.
Each vehicle takes 55 man-hours.
American muscle meets Aussie ingenuity
"For us, it was the best of both worlds. We could be right on top of the development and add a personal, Tickford flavour, while making use of the vast resources of Ford in the States," said Mr Flint.
"That assistance was particularly helpful in terms of testing engineering concepts and running crash data. We were able to crunch the numbers on the Cray computers in the States and move forward with confidence that the engineering solutions we had put in place were fundamentally sound."
The program did, however, produce a number of challenges. One of those was the manufacture of the instrument panel. The panel fascia was designed in Australia by Tickford but manufactured in the United States.
"Because of the low volumes involved it didnt make economic sense for the Ford plant that produces the Mustang to do the Australian instrument panel. There arent many economies of scale with 250 units a year," said Mr Flint.
The solution was to use the US supplier that had produced the prototype instrument panels during the original Mustang development program.
"We found that the deal made economic sense to them and it gave us the added advantage of having the IP produced by a small boutique operation," he said.
The vehicles tail lamps and head lamps are Japanese specification, which are closer to meeting Australian design rules with the head lamp beam oriented to right hand drive.
The rear tail lamps are further modified in Australia to meet design rules, while the head lamps are supplemented by a set of high beam lamps.
This process involves the first change to the Mustangs sheet metal.
The front bumper cover is removed and cut to allow the new lamps to be fitted, while the steel beam is also removed and the lamps attached to it by brackets. Two new bezels are fitted over the lamps.
New side indicator lamps are also fitted in Australia.
Another modification carried out in the States involves the seats, with the electric drivers seat installed on the right hand side on the line in Detroit.
Other US modifications include the installment of an Australian ADR-compliant windscreen, seatbelts and a Japanese-spec exhaust to meet local noise requirements.
The Tickford touch
Inside the car, the seats, instrument panel, carpet and sound deadening material are removed to allow for the necessary modifications to the firewall.
CAD-generated templates are used to ensure accuracy in the gaps cut in the firewall for the pedals and steering column.
The gaps in the left hand side of the firewall are covered by panels which are bolted and riveted. A structural adhesive and bonding material is also applied to reinforce the structural integrity of the panel.
The firewall was extensively tested using CAD tools prior to the final physical crash testing.
The Domino Effect
The air-conditioning and heating system has to be moved to the left hand side of the car, which requires a major reworking of the system by a third party supplier in Australia.
Under the bonnet, hoses and wiring that serve the air-conditioning system are re-routed to accommodate its new position.
The instrument panel also needs to be disassembled, with the instrument cluster, air ducts, controls and air registers all re-positioned. The passengers airbag also is repositioned and tested.
Other cabin items that require modification include the power window switches and their bezels, the power side mirror controls and the mirrors themselves, the sunvisors (for ADR purposes) and the seatbelt and child restraint anchors.
Once installed on the prototypes, the anchors were subjected to stringent safety testing.
The instrument panel fascia was designed by Tickford to be a mirror image of the US standard instrument panel.
"The fact that we designed the IP ourselves allowed us the luxury of being able to finesse the vehicle more as we assembled it. We also added more sound deadening material," said Mr Flint.
The carpet requires minor modifications, while all three pedals are Australian designs.
"Weve recognised that often one of the areas that suffers in a conversion is driver comfort, so we have designed the pedals specifically for this car," he said.
The central gearbox tunnel is also modified to allow for a footrest for the driver.
"The left footwell in the US Mustang is larger than the right to improve driver comfort, so we have had to modify the right hand side," he said.
The engine and gearbox in the US-spec Mustang are offset slightly to the right to accommodate the bigger driver footwell, which means more modifications for Tickford.
In order to move the engine and gearbox to the right, the vehicles cross member is modified, with brackets repositioned to retain necessary clearances in the engine bay.
The steering column itself is untouched, but a new steering rack is sourced from Germany and modified in Australia.
The sump also requires modifications to allow for sufficient clearance from the new steering rack, while the master cylinder and booster are moved and hydraulic lines are re-routed.
Once the engine is installed, the vehicles driveline is re-balanced to take into account the re-positioning of the engine and gearbox. A wheel alignment is also carried out.
The car is quality tested by Tickford engineers at each step of the modification process, before moving to the Broadmeadows Assembly Plant for a final squeak and rattle test.
A drive test and an "eye of the customer" quality review is then conducted before the vehicle is signed off and delivered to the customer.
"The process has been complex and challenging, but we believe that the final product sets a new standard in terms of low-volume right hand drive conversions," said Mr Flint.