We all love a good David vs. Goliath story — Ford vs. Ferrari (in 1966, or the 2019 movie version), Steve Jobs vs. Microsoft, Harry Potter vs. Voldemort. Not many, however, feature David going up against two Goliaths.
Meet Jason Castriota, the global brand director for Ford’s battery electric vehicles.
He and the Ford team just launched the company’s first ground-up, all-new electric crossover, the Mustang Mach-E. It’s a clever, tech-loaded and reasonably priced new entrant (from $36,400 after the $7,500 federal electric vehicle tax credit) to the bustling EV scene. Ford chose to unveil it last month here in Southern California — the largest EV market in the country — in the same space that Elon Musk unveiled his Cybertruck a few nights later.
So his Goliath No 1: Winning against myriad competitors to bring to market an EV that appeals — and steals sales from — the Teslas and Audis of the world, among others. Then there’s the job of persuading buyers to give up their gas-powered cars for a plug-in existence.
For a car company, let alone an executive, that is a high bar. Then there’s Castriota’s Goliath No. 2: hypercars with four-digit horsepower figures and seven-digit price tags.
Before joining Ford in 2016, Castriota spent the better part of his career dreaming up some of the most innovative concept and hypercars on the planet — for example, the 2006 Ferrari P4/5, which he did in conjunction with Pininfarina, the legendary Italian design house that has crafted countless Ferraris over the decades, among other nearly priceless cars. The P4/5 was built as a one-off for film producer, financier and car collector James Glickenhaus.
“Working with Jason was very enjoyable,” says Glickenhaus. “He was able to interpret what I wanted to do — an homage to my Ferrari P3/4, which won 24 Hours of Daytona [in 1967] — yet still keep it from being a replica. It helped launch all the special projects that Ferrari has since done.”
Another Castriota masterpiece: the 2005 Maserati Birdcage 75th concept, a futuristic reimagining of the Italian marque’s iconic Tipo 61, produced between 1959 and 1961. And on the production-car side, he oversaw the still-in-showrooms Maserati GranTurismo. And the Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano, and so on. Getting the picture?
Castriota’s latest hypercar project, finished before he joined Ford, is the SSC Tuatara. The two-seater has aerospace-inspired engineering, a fighter-jet-like teardrop canopy and a custom-built twin-turbo, 1,750-horsepower V8 engine. (The name comes from a New Zealand reptile that a study has shown to have the fastest-evolving DNA of any living organism.)
Wait: EVs carrying the Mustang name sound reasonably able to compete on a global stage. But million-dollar bullets — why?
There has never been a time when so many seven-figure sports cars have been on the market — from McLaren, Aston Martin, Ferrari and Mercedes-AMG to boutique makers such as Koenigsegg, Pagani and Rimac. SoCal, with its wealth and weather, is a key market.
The SSC Tuatara wants to stand apart by breaking the near-mythical 300-mph mark, which no production road car had ever done until last August, when Bugatti hit 304.77 mph in a heavily modified version of its $2.9 million Chiron. The SSC team will begin top-speed testing in early 2020 at an undisclosed U.S. location, with the hope of besting Bugatti.
If SSC succeeds, it would be the second time the Richland, Wash. based start-up will have beaten Bugatti at the top-speed game. In 2007, the company’s first sports car, the Ultimate Aero, achieved 256.14 mph, breaking the 253.81-mph record Bugatti had set in its previous supercar, the Veyron. (In so doing, SSC also created, in partnership with Guinness World Records, a new testing standard of averaging two high-speed runs within a set time window on the same road.)
Achieving three-digit speeds—with 300 mph being merely the latest barrier broken but certainly not the last—is not for the faint of heart, as any hyper car maker will tell you. First, the cost of the additional horsepower needed to go that fast only gets more expensive the higher you go. Then there’s the incredible balancing act between a car’s weight, its relative slipperiness through the air, heat management, durability and drivability. “Each of those factors presents its own unique challenges and solutions,” explains Castriota. “The right fix for one may cause an issue for another—and you still need to deliver it all in a form that is also visually desirable and comfortable to use.”
The $1.625 million (base) Tuatara, whose bespoke engine is made here in SoCal, is the passion project of Jerod Shelby, an engineer and medical-device company cofounder who has been working on putting his vision for a high-performance sports car into reality for two decades. “Bringing Jason onto the Tuatara project was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made,” says Shelby. “He accomplished a remarkable feat by penning a striking design with an unmatched aerodynamics package.”
Castriota states it more succinctly. “From an aerodynamic standpoint, we are far superior to all other hypercars,” he says. “Some parts of a car such as the Tuatara are subjective, like design. Aero is most definitely not.”
What makes the Tuatara’s ability to cut through the air so different? “The Tuatara’s exterior form is already more aero-efficient than any of our competitors’, but it’s our internal aerodynamics and heat management where we believe we made leaps and bounds over everyone else,” Castriota says. “That’s had a huge domino effect. We were able to reduce the size of the engine, and we need considerably less horsepower than we have to achieve 300-mph-plus speeds.”
“Jason has always been ahead of the curve in terms of his aerodynamic solutions,” says Winston Goodfellow, Italian car expert, author and longtime Pebble Beach judge. “He’s a bit like Elon Musk: He can assess a billion variables, quickly break them down, and look five steps ahead.”
To quantify such a talent, it’s important to go back to when Castriota began sketching cars at age 5: “My father was very passionate about Italian cars — Ferraris in particular — so many of my bonding experiences with him revolved around going to car shows and watching F1,” he remembers.
His car-sketching hobby quickly turned into a full-blown passion. “It’s Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000-hour rule; as a child, I would spend massive chunks of time every day studying car design,” says Castriota.
Fast-forward to his 20s. Castriota graduated from Emerson College with a film degree and then got accepted at ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, arguably the world’s preeminent transportation design program. He hit the ground running and by his fifth term won a coveted internship with VW/Audi’s Simi Valley design studio.
He then landed an internship with Ford, working under Moray Callum, who today heads the company’s global design efforts. “We quickly saw how talented he was and had him work on a full-size clay model for a production car program, which was very unusual,” says Callum. “Jason always questions the status quo, which is also unusual.”
Both companies offered him jobs, but Castriota instead put his name in the hat for another internship, this time his brass-ring shop, Pininfarina. He got the job, jumped on a plane to Turin and never looked back, putting his education at ArtCenter on pause for his Italian dream.
It took him only five years to become one of Pininfarina’s three chief designers, managing Ferrari and Maserati projects. He had a second role overseeing one-offs and aerodynamic projects.
Castriota eventually set out on his own, creating a consultancy business. During that time, he completed another five ultra-high-end, one-off sports cars for wealthy consignors, most of which the world may never see, due to the extremely private nature of his clients.
Why walk away from the sexy supercar world to go to a mass producer? “I’ve been fortunate to realize my childhood dream and create what are, for most, unattainable exotic cars fueled by my passion,” says Castriota. “By coming to Ford, I’ve fulfilled my other long-term desire — to create vehicles at a more realistic price point that bring out the childhood wonder and excitement that we tend to forget is inside all of us.”