Low Flying: The Motor Trend Ford Flex
Turning Ford's Flex into a black label edition ground-based private jet
Maybe Flex isn't such a bad name after all. Had Ford's big, boxy crossover hit the market under its internal code-name (Hamptons) or the name worn by the concept version at the 2005 Detroit show (Fairlane), it would've come equipped with all manner of notional baggage as to what it should or shouldn't be. As the Flex, it's a cipher, a blank canvas: You can project whatever style or functionality you want onto its coolly restrained yet highly architectural form. So when Ford offered us the chance to create a unique Flex of our own, we jumped at it.
The topline vision for the Motor Trend Flex was "ground-based private jet," providing luxurious transport for two. The exterior would be subtle and elegantly understated; the interior as rich and luxurious as a Gulfstream V. We would've liked a 350-horse EcoBoost V-6 under the hood to give our Flex jetlike lift away from the lights, but the Ford folks politely declined to hand one over, not wishing to steal any thunder from the engine's debut in the Lincoln MKS later this year.
Our start point was a triple-black Flex Limited: AWD, sat-nav, the works. The car was driven straight across the lot at Galpin Ford and straight into the workshop of Galpin Auto Sports, the on-site custom shop created by livewire Galpin V.P. Beau Boeckmann. Galpin and Motor Trend go way back: Located in what was the heart of the booming postwar hot-rod and custom-car scene, Van Nuys-based Galpin, still the world's highest-volume Ford dealer, began selling mildly customized cars in the 1950s. The very first "Galpinized" car, a 1952 Ford with a Lincoln front end and Mercury bumpers, appeared on the cover of the June 1953 issue of Motor Trend.
Later, Galpin did land-office business installing aftermarket sunroofs, kick-started the custom-van craze, and began fitting out 4x4 vehicles with everything from winches and wheels to lights and rollbars. Boeckmann, whose father Bert started at Galpin as a salesman and ended up owning the business in 1968, was merely channeling a long tradition when he hosted the fourth season of MTV's "Pimp My Ride" from the Galpin Auto Sports shop.
First order of business was to completely strip the interior: seats, door panels, roof lining, carpets, consoles, the lot. Then we started measuring. Key to the interior concept was the replacement of the rear two rows with a single pair of reclining seats. Getting the seats to fit in the right place meant cutting the floor where it extended up and over the rear suspension assembly, and lowering it almost two inches.
The other key thought was separating the "passenger cabin" from the "cockpit," visually and functionally. Our initial idea was to build a half-height partition between the B-pillars, like something from a dual-cowl phaeton, to enable the passengers to see through the windscreen, and trim the front part of the cabin in completely different materials to those used in the rear. But as we struggled with trying to package a reasonably sized television/game/Internet monitor for the passengers, we had an epiphany: Why not build a full partition that can house a giant screen and use a forward-facing camera to deliver an even better "down the road" view on demand, just like those takeoff cameras some airlines put on their Boeing 747s?
Once we had decided on a full partition, the rest of the interior concept pretty much fell into place. The "cockpit" was to be left pretty much stock Ford black. The standard woodgrain trim pieces on the dash, doors, and across the top of the steering wheel were removed and repainted high-gloss piano black. The front passenger seat was removed to allow fitment of a large refrigerator, and the construction of a luggage load space. In addition to the down the road camera, a second camera aimed at the driver was installed to allow communication from the rear compartment. A rearview mirror with integral video screen (from the 2009 F-150) was fitted to allow the driver (pilot?) to see the passengers while talking to them.
On the other side of the partition, which also would house a hidden Sony PlayStation 3 gaming unit, wireless Internet and phone processor, DVD player, and the head unit for the custom JL Audio sound system in addition to the massive 40" Sony LCD monitor (all wired together by Mike "Mad Mike" Martin), a new floor was constructed featuring a pair of motorized footrests that scissored into place at the touch of a button. New interior quarter panels were also built. The whole lot-even the roof lining-was then trimmed in a combination of birch, tan, and chocolate-brown leather by Galpin Auto Sports' interior guru Casmann.
We wanted to keep the Flex's exterior pretty much stock, not just because it would enhance the shock value of opening up the doors to reveal the radically reworked interior, but also because Peter Horbury's design team has done a wonderful job of imbuing a highly functional vehicle with an unconventional elegance. However, the sophisticated look of the brushed aluminum panel across the rear end of the Flex drove a key decision: All the exterior chrome pieces-grille, exterior mirror skullcaps, door handles, foglight nacelles, even the trim bead under the windows-would be treated to match. The finishing touches would be ultra-dark limo tint on the rear windows, a set of Claus Ettensberger Signature Edition c858 22-inch wheels fitted with Pirelli tires and Blue Oval badges redone in black.
The Motor Trend Flex made its debut at the 2008 SEMA Show as one of 16 custom Flexes on display, after an amazing last-minute surge by the Galpin crew (just 21 hours before the car was due to ship the interior still looked like an explosion in a computer factory). It will be put to use working a few red carpet events in Los Angeles and will make appearances at selected Motor Trend auto shows and other events around the country in 2009.
Our car's interior is deliberately over the top, although the idea of pitching a Flex with a slightly reworked cabin as a Town Car replacement for livery duty in New York and other cities makes a lot of sense to us, especially as the grizzled, wheezy old Lincoln sedan is finally due to be put out to pasture in 2010. We think our exterior treatment has a lot more potential, however. So do the guys at Galpin Auto Sports: They're seriously considering offering the brushed-aluminum look as one of their custom options for the Flex. Who knows, maybe even Ford might pick up the idea. For a Black Label edition Flex, perhaps?
Click here to watch Motor Trend editor-in-chief Angus MacKenzie as he takes us through the build process of our very own tricked out Ford Flex created buy the guys at Galpin Auto Sports for the 2008 SEMA show.