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Ford Offers Mass-Produced Carbon Fiber Wheels for Shelby GT350R Mustang

Ford Performance recently developed ultra high-performance, carbon-fiber wheels as standard equipment on the Shelby® GT350R.
Photo courtesy of Ford.

DEARBORN, Mich.—With a little help from Space Shuttle technology, Ford has helped reinvent the wheel.

Ford Performance recently developed ultra high-performance, carbon-fiber wheels as standard equipment on the most track-ready, street legal Mustang ever—the Shelby® GT350R.

A Ceramic plasma arc spray on the front wheels—the same process used on the original Space Shuttle main engine turbine blades—provides thermal protection from brake heat.

These first-of-a-kind wheels deliver unprecedented chassis performance, massive weight savings, and improved driving dynamics, according to company representatives. Ford worked with Australian carbon fiber wheel provider, Carbon Revolution, on the Shelby wheels.

In early testing with benchmark vehicles, prototype wheels showed significant potential—improving suspension response times, chassis dynamics, steering feel, and ride quality. When the decision was made to pursue this technology for use in a production vehicle, the engineering team was challenged to develop a wheel that met Ford’s strict standards for durability, quality, craftsmanship, and premium finish.

Among sports car enthusiasts, carbon fiber wheels are on the short list of dream components for high-performance vehicles. Lowering overall curb weight, in general, is beneficial to a car’s dynamics, but a reduction in unsprung weight (those components not supported by the suspension) can have a significant impact on handling and performance. Less unsprung weight helps vehicles start, stop, and turn faster by reducing wheel rotational inertia, dramatically improving response time to driver input. Lower unsprung weight also translates to suspension components not having to work so hard to keep the tires in contact with the road over undulating or broken surfaces.

A common misconception of carbon fiber is that while it’s strong, it’s also a brittle material. Some formulations may have this characteristic, but carbon fiber’s durability is a feature of the type of resin and design intent of the part. The wheels of Shelby GT350R are designed to be stiff, light, and resilient.

One of the most severe tests for wheels in the Ford development process involved striking a curb at speed—a test that, without proper design, can cause serious wheel and tire damage. Because of the light weight, advanced construction methods, and resins in the wheels, along with the highly-developed MagneRide dampers, the suspension was able to react so fast that the driver wasn’t sure the test had been carried out correctly, and ran it twice to be sure. The suspension response was fast enough to greatly diminish the severity of the impact—that’s the power of minimizing unsprung weight.

By cutting the weight of each wheel nearly in half compared to an equivalent aluminum wheel (18 pounds versus 33 pounds), handling and acceleration performance see serious benefits. The wheels also provide a reduction in rotational inertia of more than 40 percent, which positively impacts acceleration and braking performance. The wheels are so light, the springs and MagneRide dampers had to be recalibrated because the suspension can respond considerably faster to road inputs.

“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, in a press release. “The carbon fiber wheels reduce vehicle weight by 60 pounds compared to aluminum, yet are stiffer for better steering response. We believe this is a game changer for the industry — a great example of improved performance through

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