Rain poured down as we walked briskly toward the side door. Whisked away through the 2.2-million-square-foot facility, all was quiet at 6:30 a.m. It was damp and early, but we were on a mission to capture a historic moment. Crossing through the plant that began creating industrial hardware 55 years ago but blossomed into the home of modular engines way back in 1990, we entered a smaller building on the 268-acre campus.
Since 1996, this hallowed home of factory horsepower has served as the birthplace of many of the most iconic Ford engines to ever spread the shock towers of a Mustang. Where the main plant could crank out as many as 140 engines in an hour, this room is for factory hot-rodding. It is the Romeo Niche Line, where two-person teams of skilled builders utilized computer-aided tools to precisely construct the most powerful engines in the company’s internal combustion lineup.
For one last day, this hallowed hall of horsepower remained open to build the last three Shelby GT500 engines. We trekked to Romeo, Michigan, to witness its historic end.
It is a special place where builders earned their stripes to join the build team. Most are automotive enthusiasts, and all loved being part of something so special. It is probably one of the most unique yet under-publicized aspects of a giant corporation that still manages to create machines with potency and personality.
As we emerged from the cold, damp morning, it felt like home. Having visited this line several times in the past, the scene was familiar, but slightly off. The Niche Line sign was gone from the door. The parts bins weren’t brimming with hardware, and the mood was bittersweet. That’s because, after 26 years, the Niche Line was grinding to a halt.
Knowing this time was coming, we pursued the opportunity to witness its final day, and though it almost didn’t work out due to fluid scheduling, we hopped on a last-minute, late-night flight to arrive on the morning of October 18, 2022, to see the final three 760-horsepower, 5.2-liter Predator V-8 engines constructed before the line closed for good.
This was a sad day for enthusiasts, whether they knew it or not. This line built legendary engines ranging from the 390-horsepower, 4.6-liter Terminator ’03-’04 Cobra engine and the 550-horsepower, 5.4-liter first-gen Ford GT engine to the 662-horsepower, 5.8-liter Trinity engine in the ’13-’14 Shelby GT500 and the current 760-horsepower, 5.2-liter Predator engine powering the latest Shelby GT500. For a time, the men and women behind the machines gained some notoriety, particularly among Shelby enthusiasts, and for a time they even ran a now-defunct website, NicheLineBuilders.com, which sold merchandise adorned with the engine plates that adorn the creations born in this horsepower heaven.