A Dream (car) Come True

Here?s what some Ford retirees are doing with their time.

Ford men form a team to create one-of-a-kind automobile

Sunday, January 29, 2006
News Business Reporter
Ann Arbor News

When Gene Dickirson flipped the switch on the GDT Speedster, the engine growled, and he smiled.

The topless, torchflame-red car is his - his car in a way that few other people can ever say a car belongs to them. He and a group of eight friends, engineers, stylists and designers created it.

There are almost 2,000 unique parts designed and engineered by the G(ene) D(ickirson) T(eam). Every inch of the car corresponds to full-scale engineering drawings scribed on vellum sheets. There's even a clay model in the basement of Dickirson's Plymouth home.

The car, the result of 13,000 hours of work over almost six years, will be auctioned off in March from the Web site www.gdtspeedster.com. Profits will be split among the team based on the number of hours each member invested. It's expected to fetch several hundred thousand dollars.

Copies of the drawings, the clay model and a service manual will be sold along with the car.

"I would think no more than 100 to 200 cars like this have been built since the very beginning, a hundred years ago,'' said the 63-year-old Dickirson. "There have been scratch-built cars, but just a handful for sure. And very, very few like this that have been engineered by a team of professionals.''

Right time, right place

Building a car like the GDT Speedster is the kind of endeavor that would be almost impossible to pull off anywhere but in southeast Michigan. Its creation is a testament to the intellectual and physical infrastructure here.

Only southern California has enough engineers and machine shops to compete with this area. And even there it would be hard to pull together a team like Dickirson's.

Larry Conger, owner of Digital Design Inc. of Howell and one of the team members, said that in this area, "You are only one person away from everybody you need.''

Conger, a "surfacer,'' turned the models and drawings into precision guides that are used to create molds. The molds are used to make the car's skin and interiors. He was drawn into the project by the thrill of participating in an achievement in which he was unrestrained by a client's desires.

"You rarely get the opportunity to create something that is all yours 100 percent,'' he said. "I got to do what I wanted to do. It's kind of like the culmination of everything you did in your career.''

Conger, like the other men who participated, has something that surprisingly isn't all that common among auto engineers and designers: They love cars.

The guy who designs a door hinge doesn't necessarily care what the rest of the car looks like. It's a job.

Dickirson, and his friend and collaborator Chuck Carlson, designed heating and air-conditioning systems for Ford Motor Co. Only an engineer can see the sex appeal in a climate control system.

But they love cars.

"Ever since I've been a little boy, I dreamed of designing and building a car,'' Dickirson said. "Typically, you work on door knobs, radios and, in my case, heating and air conditioners. It's simply unheard of for an engineer to do a complete vehicle.''

Building the team

When they retired and Dickirson asked Carlson, 62, if he was interested in building a car, he jumped at it.

"It's probably the most fun I've ever had working on cars,'' he said.

Check out the car including a video at: http://www.gdtspeedster.com/