Ford is turning to space-age technology in creating the world’s first mass-produced carbon-fibre wheel. It will become standard issue for the Shelby GT350R version of the Mustang.
It may seem like a novelty but there are benefits to be realized primarily in weight reduction (the carbon-fibre wheel weighs just over eight kilograms, compared to an aluminum equivalent’s 15 kg), which is invaluable for any car in terms of fuel economy and ultra-beneficial for a high-performance car in relation to driving dynamics and enjoyment. Prototype testing showed significant improvements in suspension response, chassis dynamics, ride quality and steering feel.
The main benefit is to unsprung weight (the weight of components not supported by the vehicle’s suspension), which helps vehicles start, stop and turn in more quickly, dramatically improving response and making it easier on the suspension to keep the tires on the road surface.
The material has been used before on wheels in the aftermarket and supercar Koenigsegg offers it as an option, but Ford partnered with Carbon Revolution (already the world’s leading carbon-fibre wheel manufacturer) for mass-production of a new standard wheel for the Shelby GT350R that met Ford standards for durability, quality, craftsmanship and finish.
Each moulded wheel undergoes 61 individual checks and logs more than 246,000 data points to ensure conformity to Ford’s exacting standards before it even comes off the machine that makes it. After curing, they are X-rayed from 18,000 angles using a 3D computerized tomography (CT) imaging process. If it passes, it is drilled for valve stem and mounting holes before going off for painting, coating and assembly and delivery to the Flat Rock Assembly Plant.
There’s a common misconception that carbon-fibre is brittle (which is often evident in the broken bodywork after a crash), but the part design and material formulation can make it considerably more durable even in high-stress conditions, such as running into curbs or severe potholes from an impact standpoint, and extreme heat during continuous braking from high speed cornering on a racetrack.
The unsprung weight savings and resulting benefits to driving dynamics and suspension reaction allowed the GT350R to react quickly and help diminish the force of the impact. As for brake heat, which in this car can reach upwards of 900 degrees Celsius, Ford has the inside of the wheels sprayed with a thin, diamond-hard ceramic coating, in a manner similarly to how space vehicles’ turbine blades are coated. The result is a reliable shield for the carbon-fibre resin and a significant reduction in wheel temperatures.
The outside of the wheel is coated in a high-gloss black coating (applied using proprietary processes) that not only looks good but protects them from harsh UV environments, corrosive salts and other road chemicals.
“The GT350R wheels and tires were developed to be the most track-capable parts we’ve ever produced,” said Adam Wirth, chassis supervisor, Ford Performance. “The carbon fiber wheels reduce vehicle weight by 60 pounds (about 27 kg) compared to aluminum, yet are stiffer for better steering response.
“We believe this is a game changer for the industry,” he concluded, “a great example of improved performance through innovation.”