Through its 50-plus year history, the Ford Mustang is not a nameplate that has been renowned for showcasing cutting edge technology. Now a year into the sixth-generation model that debuted last fall, that view of the car is starting to change with debut of the new Shelby GT350R. When deliveries start later this summer, the GT350R will be the first mass-produced car in the world with standard carbon fiber wheels and Australian wheel-maker Carbon Revolution will be supplying the rolling stock.
Carbon Revolution got its start working with university teams competing in the Formula SAE design program and its initial batch of composite wheels debuted in 2004. Over the past decade, it has developed its technology to produce aftermarket carbon fiber wheels to fit a wide variety of high-performance cars as well as low-volume supercars such as the Koenigsegg One:1.
When the engineers at Ford Performance (SVT at the time) decided to try out carbon fiber wheels for the highest performance variant of the new Mustang, they went to the Australian pioneers in the technology. However, before Ford would install these composite wheels as a factory option for street use, the wheels had to meet the same durability standards as more conventional steel and aluminum wheels. That means they had to survive curb scrapes, potholes, and other road hazards. They also had survive exposure to UV rays from the sun, exposure to a variety of chemicals and most importantly the 900 degrees celsius that can be generated by the brakes during extreme track use.
Ford and Carbon Revolution worked together to optimize the resin formulation and construction of the wheels to improve the durability but the base characteristics of a carbon fiber wheel helped as well. The reduced inertia of the lightweight wheels and rapid response of the standard MagneRide dampers help the wheels move out of the way during an impact.
Withstanding the extreme temperatures required some additional materials and manufacturing innovations. While all four wheels are painted black, the fronts have a white ceramic coating on the interior surface of the rims. The ceramic coating is applied to the composite surface using the same ceramic plasma arc process that was originally developed to coat the turbine blades of the original space shuttle main engines. That process was later adapted to apply the steel coating to the cylinder bores of the 2010 Shelby GT500 aluminum block and now the GT350 engine block as well. The ceramic material minimizes heat transfer to the wheel.
Ford Performance saved 60 pounds in total on the GT350R thanks to these new wheels and slashed rotating inertia by 40 percent. Compared to the 33-pound aluminum wheels on the base GT350, the carbon fiber wheels weigh just 18 pounds. While the GT350R is the first production Ford with composite wheels, Ford hasn’t yet confirmed its plans for the new GT and the company showed a lightweight concept version of the Fusion sedan a year ago using similar wheels. Based on the cost of these wheels, it will probably be a decade or more before we see carbon fiber wheels on such mainstream car but it wouldn’t be surprising to see them on other high-performance models in the next few years. I’m looking at you next-gen Z-28.