Those closely following Ford (hopefully here at Motrolix) during the months, weeks, days, and hours leading up to the December 5, 2013 reveal of the 2015 Mustang may remember the intensity: the anticipation, the speculation, the rumors, the leaks, and the spy shots — all were coming in faster than ever before in the time leading up to the car’s official unveiling. And for good measure: the Mustang is the only American car model to be continuously produced for 50 years, while carrying an iconic nameplate that represents one of the only remaining mainstream sports cars on the market. This potent combination makes the all-new sixth-generation Mustang one of the most highly-anticipated cars of the decade. All that is to say that a lot of people were interested in seeing the new pony.
But that didn’t necessarily mean that Ford was ready to share. As it developed the new generation of the Stang, Ford needed to take the car out onto public streets for testing, thereby risking exposing the vehicle to spy photographers, thus staring the cat-and-mouse game that’s so infamous among car fans, spy photographers, and automakers. To note, the term spy photographers isn’t reserved for photography professionals with pro-level cameras and huge lenses hiding outside the typical spots such as development centers and providing grounds; rather, today’s wide proliferation of smartphones with (decent) cameras and Internet connections makes anyone in possession of such a device a potential candidate to capture what a future vehicle will look like. Not that we’d mind.
“Ford designers and engineers spend a lot of time developing new cars, and part of my job is to make sure people don’t see the result until it’s completely ready,” said Dave Pericak, Mustang chief engineer. “Professional spy photographers have been stalking prototype cars for decades, and now, the addition of camera phones has made it even more critical to hide our cars from prying eyes.”
So like every other automaker, Ford needed to conceal its new pony. Enter camouflage.
“Before a single one of these test vehicles is allowed to leave the prototype plant, a camouflage package is developed and must be approved by the design, engineering and test track safety departments,” said Al Wilkinson, Ford camouflage coordinator. “With all of the camo in place, even a good photograph should not give away the design details of the new car.”
Any automotive enthusiast worth his or her salt already knows all the above. But what may be news is that for Ford, initial camouflage development begins with the design team, and is then refined through engineering and safety. Surprisingly, the first camo recommendation for the 2015 Stang was surprisingly minimal in an effort to keep the weight and associated negative aerodynamic effects to a minimum.
“When I saw the first camouflage package the team suggested, I knew it wasn’t good enough to counter the paparazzi, so we went back to the drawing board,” said Pericak. And in doing so, The Blue Oval commenced the second stage of the cat-and-mouse game, this time between itself, fans/enthusiasts, and industry professionals who try to understand more about a vehicle in development from development photos.
wouldn’t have minded would have welcomed Ford to test the new Stang with minimal camo, The Blue Oval decided to create another set of camouflage so as to cover up more of the vehicle. The second attempt covered the entire body with black vinyl, and heavily padded it underneath with foam. But it showed the basic profile of the fastback roofline, something Pericak didn’t want to reveal this early in the model’s development.
After a few more tries, the final camo package came to exist. The team, which prefers to stay away from hard plastics in favor of foam covered with soft vinyl, ended up covering up the fastback profile and the car’s general contours — giving it a shape of a notchback and making it look smaller than it actually was. And while concealing the general proportions of the car with camo is just one aspect with which most enthusiasts are familiar, safety is another element that is often overlooked.
“Safety is as important as security when testing prototypes,” added Wilkinson. “Despite covering the body, we still have to make sure car lights and signals can shine through.”
The camouflage team applies the vinyl panels in a specific sequence to ensure there are no places for air to catch the vinyl and pull it up. This is highly important, since the 2015 Mustang GT can achieve a top speed of 155 MPH. Clearly, having the camo come loose at high speeds can be extremely dangerous to both test drivers and bystanders alike.
But at the end of the day, a camouflaged vehicle can only go so far when it comes to testing a car, and sometimes, it’s necessary to test the vehicle without any camo. The only way to do that is to go out late at night.
But now that Ford has revealed the all-new Mustang to the world, engineers and free to finish the final months of development without worrying about spy photographers, and without using any kind of camouflage… unless they’re testing higher-end models (GT350 and GT500, we’re looking at you).
Here’s a video on the matter, cleverly entitled Hiding in Plain Sight. Kudos to Ford for speaking up about the infamous cat-and-mouse game.