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How to put a Mustang on the Empire State building

  1. George has lost a bolt. Which, in the grand scheme of life, love, and the universe doesn’t sound like an unmitigated disaster. But it sort of is.

    Because George is building a Ford Mustang GT convertible on the 82nd floor of the Empire State Building. Outside. In 60mph winds. At 5:00am. And it has to be finished in two hours. Oh, and if he can’t find this damn bolt, the closest spare is 610 miles away in Detroit.

    See, George’s conundrum is Ford’s fault. For the launch of the 2014 Mustang convertible, the company decided to reenact a publicity stunt from 1964, which broadly involved the same thing – get Mustang, chop into bits, put in lifts, reassemble 82 floors up. And as head of Ford’s Design and Fabrication division, George – Mr Samulski to you – is in charge.

    And as TG joins the Ford team on top of this iconic finger of bricks, hopelessly in the way, we can’t help but notice things are a bit fraught. So based on what we’ve learned so far, we’ve assembled a handy ten-point guide to Building Mustangs On Top Of Large Buildings in case George, Ford, or you want to repeat the performance. 

  2. Buy a tape measure

    Three numbers will rule your Mustang-on-the-Empire-State endeavours. 36, 56, and 84. They’re the dimensions of the building’s smallest lift in inches.

    The reason they’re so important is because the 82nd floor is 373.1 meters up, and the balcony of the skyscraper’s only a few meters deep and bordered with tall fencing, so you can’t just drop a car off with a helicopter. Instead, you have to chop up your Mustang so no single component is too big for the lift, carry the bits up by hand, and rebuild it on the roof. Which is precisely what Ford did…

  3. Build a lift

    To make sure the chopped up car fitted, George built a full-size wooden mock-up of the lift. Then he gave Ford’s Computer Aided Design team – which was busy converting Mustangs so the steering wheel’s on the right side (it’s coming to Blighty, y’see) – a 1:25th toy model of one, pinched from the company’s stand at the Detroit motor show.

    They did some maths and worked out where to slice it so it’d fit in the lift. It couldn’t have any cut lines that’d be obvious from the outside either, else it’d shatter the illusion that it flew there powered by nothing but its own all-American awesomeness.

  4. Get some Mustang convertibles

    Pray silence for the two Mustangs sacrificed for this project. But don’t worry, they were doomed anyway. Well, one was.

    The first Mustang shell was taken from the factory line, and chopped up into the six pieces designed by the CAD team to check everything fitted in the mocked-up lift.

    The second was a craftsmanship buck, which is a rough body that the engineers use to work out how to package stuff like drivetrains and window motors. After sorting out the wonky panel gaps and surface imperfections, it was painted to show-car standard in Ford Triple Yellow before going under the knife.

  5. Build some trolleys

    Because the Mustang didn’t have to run or drive, but had to look like it ran and drove, the shells needed stuff like a full interior and working lights. Luckily, the CAD team worked out a way to splice the major components into 25 lumps – including a collapsible subframe - that’d fit in the lift. But they were delicate, variously featuring fresh paint, glassware, and rippable leather.

    To make sure they were transported with as little risk, and as quickly, as possible, Ford built bespoke trolleys to protect the parts and squeeze perfectly in the lift.

  6. Buy really sturdy cutting discs

    After the trolleys were built and the car was painted, the Ford team set about slicing the shell into those six pieces. But the new Mustang’s built using Boron steel – a sort of ultra-hardcore metal, developed so the company can use less material and keep the car lightweight without compromising rigidity.

    Turns out that it’s also extremely difficult to cut. Despite using hardcore drill bits and cutting discs, George reckoned he got through at least two times more of them than he expected when chopping up the bodyshells.

  7. Practice. Preferably more than once

    Because the project was only given the official thumbs-up six weeks before the big build, the Ford team, and partners DST Industries (the same people that put the ’64 Mustang convertible there 50 years ago) got just one dry run at the factory in Dearborn, Michigan.

    During the build, they noticed that windscreens could be a bit… smashy. Luckily, it was one of the few parts that could be brought as a spare, so two extras were packed. Despite Top Gear’s best efforts, neither had to be used.

  8. Don’t eat a big breakfast

    As well as size tolerances, Ford had to make sure it didn’t overload each of the three lifts it used to transport the bits to the 82nd floor. The first freight lift wasn’t too much of an issue, but the two that followed were designed for ordinary people. Well-fed American people, but people nonetheless.

    Each of the trolleys had to be weighed - If the people riding with them were too enthusiastic at the breakfast buffet, the consequences could’ve been disastrous.

  9. Be quick with a spanner

    There wasn’t a great deal of time to turn the boxes of bits into a full-blown Mustang. See, the observation deck’s open to the public from 8am to 2am, which left the crew just six hours to get everything built on the deck.

    A job made rather more uncomfortable by snow storms, 60mph winds, and an inch of solid ice on the floor. When it’s your turn, we humbly recommend high summer.

  10. Get some important men in suits

    Nothing says something important and automotive is happening like men in suits standing next to a car. So, like Ford, you may wish to recruit Bill Ford Jr., the company’s executive chairman and grandson of company founder, Henry.

    He revealed Frankenstang at 8:00am, which remained on the observation deck all day before being put back in its box and sent home to Dearborn.

  11. Never let Top Gear touch anything. Ever

    This project came with its own menu of potential disasters. Each part, save for the wheels, tyres, windscreen, and seats, were built for this very singular purpose. Drop one, and it’s resolutely not available anywhere else apart from George’s brain. Which would be preoccupied with swearing and throwing spanners at your head.

    Naturally, we dropped one. As consummate professionals, we ran away and hoped nobody would notice. Sorry, Ford.

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