As you’ll likely recall from the car’s Detroit Auto Show debut back in January, the 2016 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350R set a new precedent by offering lightweight carbon fiber wheels as standard. Together, they contribute to a loss of some 50 pounds – or around 13 pounds per wheel – which, taken alone, is nothing to sneeze at.
But it’s important to note that that’s a 13 pounds reduction in unsprung mass per wheel, a feat which helps to improve suspension response, steering feel, and handling by lowering the rotational inertia of each wheel.
In fact, one of the wheel tests carried out by Ford is one wherein the test driver strikes a hard curb at speed. Ford claims that in this instance, the light, carbon fiber wheels on the Shelby GT350R contributed to such a fast suspension reaction that the driver had to run the test twice to be sure he hadn’t done it wrong.
The carbon fiber wheels on the Ford Mustang Shelby GT350R were manufactured by Australia-based Carbon Revolution, although the development and testing process was a cooperative task, and far from an easy one.
For instance, it was found that extreme braking with the Shelby can generate rotor temperatures exceeding 900 degrees Celsius, according to the automaker. That necessitated the use of a hard ceramic coating in key places around the inside surfaces, applied by a high-tech plasma arc gun – the same material and process as used on the NASA Space Shuttle engine turbine blades. To ensure the best UV and corrosion resistance for the wheels, some brand new, proprietary processes were developed to apply the gorgeous, glossy black finish that you see in the image above.
Manufacture of the Mustang Shelby GT350’s wheels starts off similar to the production of many other single-piece carbon fiber components; fabric sheets woven from strands of carbon are placed in a mold, injected with resin, and heat cured. But we have to imagine it’s not necessarily standard practice to use a CT-scan, producing more than 18,000 x-ray images, in order to ensure that each individual wheel is up to Ford’s unrelenting standards.
Before the 2016 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350R, the only other automaker to offer factory carbon fiber wheels was Koenigsegg. Yes, that Koenigsegg. So when we say that the Shelby’s standard carbon fiber wheels are unprecedented, we truly mean that the availability of such equipment on a car from a major, global automotive brand is utterly without precedent.