Shelby GT350 Chassis Deep Dive
The new Mustang is a crowd pleaser, blending retro design touches with the latest performance technology. Shelby versions of Ford’s famous filly promise to deliver even more speed, kicking this hallowed nameplate squarely into the sports-car fray.
The Mustang “defines and represents the heart and soul of the company,” said Dave Pericak, director, Global Ford Performance. The GT350 and its crazed counterpart, the GT350R, should send “a huge message of what Ford’s all about,” he said.
These two models build on the standard car’s already granite foundation and transform it into something more. For drivers that want a weekend race machine, one of these could be your track-day chariot.
The new Shelby Mustangs feature a high-winding V8 with a flat-plane crankshaft and more than 500 horses. They slice through the wind with improved aerodynamics and even feature interior changes to make both aggressive driving and weekday commuting pleasant affairs.
Of course the chassis is critical in delivering maximum performance and Ford engineers have comprehensively revised these cars’ underbody bits to make them turn quicker, handle better and stop in much shorter distances.
Overall the suspension has been totally redesigned to suit the mission of these ‘Stangs. The aluminum front steering knuckles are all new and feature updated hubs that are both lighter and stiffer. The bushings are more rigid, the stabilizer bars are larger in diameter and even the wheel bearings have been replaced by heavy-duty units for enhanced lateral stiffness.
According to Adam Wirth, suspension, wheel and tire supervisor at Ford Performance, 90 percent of the suspension has been altered in some way. Additionally the Shelby cars have a wider front track.
These are all pretty common-sense changes, things car enthusiasts would expect engineers to do to a high-performance model, but they’re hardly the only enhancements made.
Brakes are mission critical when it comes to posting wickedly fast lap times. It’s not just power that gets you around a circuit; being able to slow down quickly and repeatedly is key.
“[This is] the most durable system I’ve ever driven on the track,” said Eric Zinkosky, suspension and vehicle dynamics technical specialist. The new Shelby Mustangs feature brakes that look like top-secret military hardware that was ripped off a fighter jet.
The front rotors are massive, spanning 394 millimeters, which is more than 15.5 inches. The rears are nearly as large at 380 millimeters.
Each rotor is made in two sections. The outer portion is made of iron and pinned in a radial fashion to the hub section, which is fabricated of cast aluminum. This arrangement allows the rotor to expand and contract without distorting; it also protects the wheel bearings from heat. “You only see this on high-end, world-class sports cars,” said Wirth.
The calipers that clamp down on these metal disks are comically large; the fronts brandish six pistons and are about as large as a football. Despite wearing Brembo badging the braking system was essentially designed in house by Ford; it was custom built to their specifications.
Because of the design of this system the rear rotors feature a drum-in-hat parking brake, which is unique to GT350 models and seems a bit archaic, but whatever. All told these are the largest brakes ever installed on a Mustang.
Pressed against those massive rotors are equally impressive rims. The “standard” GT350 rides on lightweight 19-inch cast-aluminum wheels. The fronts are 10.5 inches wide while the rears span 11. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this arrangement until you compare it to what the GT350R rolls on.
These models get cutting-edge wheels made of carbon fiber. In total this move saves about 50 pounds, roughly 13 per rim. And this difference is dramatic; it’s easy to pick up one of these wheels and dandle it about like it’s a bag of pretzels.
This engineering change pays huge dividends. Both unsprung AND rotational mass are significantly reduced, which is doubly beneficial to things like handling, acceleration and ride quality. Also, because of this dramatic weight savings Wirth said the suspension tuning had to be altered since the wheels have so much less mass to cope with.
Protecting the carbon fiber and its bonding resin from heat radiated by the rotors, the inner surfaces of these rims are coated with ceramic. This material is applied using a plasma-spray process, much like the cylinder liners of certain high-performance engines.
Aside from weight savings, carbon-fiber has other benefits compared to aluminum. For starters it doesn’t fatigue. “There is no propagation [of cracks],” said Wirth. If you smack a pothole and split an aluminum rim that fissure will eventually grow and cause an air leak. This isn’t a problem with carbon fiber.
Regarding these wheels Wirth said, “It was two years in the making.” When the GT350R goes on sale Ford will become the first mass-market automaker to introduce carbon-fiber rims. When asked about dollars and cents Wirth said, “It doesn’t cost what an aluminum wheel cost … It’s a lot,” though he would not say how much more.
The GT350R’s tires are also bespoke, specially formulated versions of Michelin’s Pilot Sport Cup 2. These rubbers should be stickier than melted chewing gum.
The new Shelby GT350 Mustangs are the first Ford vehicle in history to feature MaganRide, an electrically adjustable suspension system. It constantly monitors what’s going on with parameters ranging from steering angle and wheel position, to temperature and vehicle position. With all of these data points factored in it can change damping in just 7 milliseconds. Altogether MagnaRide should improve vehicle handling and ultimately driver confidence.
Odds and ends
Beyond these major enhancements the new Shelby cars feature a standard strut-tower brace for even greater body rigidity. Their hoods are lower than a standard Mustang’s for better aerodynamics. They feature carbon-fiber reinforced grille supports that are both lighter and stiffer. Additionally these cars feature symmetrically wound coil springs. Normally these suspension components are all made the same, which can cause slight variations from side to side. By winding the coils in opposite directions ...
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