2006 Ford Mustang FR500GT
The King of All Mustangs. We're the first to test Ford's new FR500GT.
BY STEVEN COLE SMITH, PHOTOGRAPHY BY KEVIN WING
CAR & DRIVER
2006 Ford Mustang FR500GT
Highs: Big power, great sequential transmission, startlingly easy to drive fast.
Lows: Wonky pedals, numb brakes, you can find a faster car for $225,000.
The Verdict: All the sound and fury of a race car, ‘cause it is. Buy now, or for $1 million at Barrett-Jackson in 2020.
With its Pep Boys–inspired rear wing, fancy stick-on graphics, and a growlingly means-business exhaust note, the King of All Mustangs does not just show up — it sort of presents itself. Its appearance should be accompanied by a “ta-da!”
Such as, “Ta-da! There it is rounding Turn Three!” And “Ta-da! Now it’s coming into the pits!”
Ford would like to sell you one. “Ta-da! Thanks for your $225,000! Please enjoy your new full-race, 550-hp Mustang.”
Your first question is, of course, “Can I drive it on the street?” The answer: If you live in Hazzard County, maybe.
The list of available-to-the-public hot Mustangs, already lengthy with efforts by Ford’s own SVT and tuners such as Shelby, Roush, Steeda, and Saleen, grows by one with the pending addition of the King of All Mustangs, which comes from an unlikely source: Ford’s own racing division, which turned to Multimatic Motorsports, a Canadian performance company, to complete the project. The naturally aspirated engine comes from Roush-Yates, the NASCAR boys. The inspiration and the initial investment come from Dan Davis, director of Ford Racing Technology.
As befits the fastest, most powerful Ford Mustang ever to be sold by the company, almost everything on the car that doesn’t make it go faster has been eliminated. That carbon-fiber and aluminum rear wing — 15 possible positions — is there for a reason, as is the carbon-fiber front splitter. They help hold the car down at top speed, which, we learned, is 172 mph, engine screaming at the 7200-rpm redline in sixth. Geared for top speed, this is certainly an over-200-mph car. As it is, performance numbers are pretty respectable for a car built not for acceleration but for road-course racing: 0 to 60 mph comes in 3.9 seconds, the quarter-mile in 12.1 seconds at 123 mph. The skidpad number is 1.15 g, with a full tank of 100 octane.
Typically, an automaker’s motive for building a car like this is slightly masturbatory, conceived, then achieved, with little more of a long-term goal than making yourself feel good while showing off. Not so with the King of All Mustangs: Ford, which is expected to lose upwards of $5 billion this year, really isn’t in a position to engage too much in self-gratification. Dan Davis figures he can build two of these cars a week and already has orders for them, despite minimal publicity.
The car’s formal name is the FR500GT. Insiders refer to it as the “Man Racer.” The $125,000, 420-hp FR500C Mustang, having just wrapped up it its second year racing in the Grand-Am Cup Series, was originally called the Boy Racer by Ford executives. So this new Mustang, with 130 more horses, has been referred to as the Man Racer.
In every sense, it’s a step up from the FR500C, but that program has been an excellent template for what Ford hopes to do with the Man Racer. The Boy Racer won at Daytona in 2005, its first race. The car was delivered to its owners just three days before the 200-mile race. That program, says Davis, “proved that we can build a turn-key race car that can win and not cost a fortune. And it proved we can make money at it.”
So what Davis wants to do now is make money on another, all-new racing series that, at first anyway, would feature FR500GT spec cars. Several sanctioning bodies are interested, but Davis’s first choice would be to have the Champ Car World Series sanction it and run the races on Saturday afternoons in conjunction with Champ Car’s Sunday shows in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. Looking at the 2007 Champ Car schedule, that would be 13 possible races. Since Ford is the engine supplier for Champ Car, it makes sense, and Davis says the owners and management of the open-wheel series “are really enthusiastic about it.” It’s too late for a full 2007 series — at present, only three cars exist — but Davis would like to start the series midway through 2007.
Race driver Scott Maxwell, class winner at the 2006 12 Hours of Sebring and a 24 Hours of Le Mans veteran, did most of the development work on the FR500GT Man Racer, as well as the Multimatic-built FR500C Boy Racer that preceded it. The FR500GT “is just more of everything — more power, more aerodynamics, more tire grip.” With the Boy Racer, he says, “the fastest way to drive it is to stay really smooth. But with the Man Racer, you can really toss it around. It’s forgiving. You can get away with a lot. And it’s a blast to drive.”
Speaking of driving it, any advice? “You’ll be comfortable almost immediately. It’s surprising how quickly you can raise your limits in the car.”
True. The FR500C Boy Racer is plenty fast, but it still feels like a Mustang, due in part to the restrictive Grand-Am Cup rules that dictate, for example, stock rear brakes. Bound by no such limitations, the Man Racer feels, and performs, more like a double-throwdown tube-frame race car. Had you not known, you’d never have guessed that it started life as a production car. The FR500GT begins as a stock Mustang body and chassis from the plant in Flat Rock, Michigan, and moves to Watson Engineering in Dearborn, where 30 hours are spent welding in a roll cage and another 40 stitch-welding seams, making an already solid car downright tank-like. Then the car moves to Multimatic, near Toronto, for finally assembly and paint.
2006 Ford Mustang FR500GT 5.0-liter V8 engine
The engine in the FR500GT we drove is essentially a Roush-Yates engine from a Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series Daytona Prototype and actually is down 16 horsepower from the 550-hp engine Davis wants for production Man Racers. The $12,000 transmission is a six-speed sequential Hollinger unit used in the Australian Touring Car Series. It works like a motorcycle transmission: Pull the lever rearward for upshifts, press forward to downshift. The clutch isn’t needed to upshift, but you need to lift the throttle. Davis says the unit in the production cars should be capable of foot-to-the-floor shifting. (The Boy Racer, incidentally, uses a conventional six-speed Tremec manual.)
Name-brand stuff abounds: BBS alloy wheels and 18-inch Pirelli P Zero racing slicks that are the same size front and rear for lower cost. Brakes are AP Racing with Performance Friction pads. There’s a Sparco seat with a six-point harness and a removable steering wheel. But a lot of the money in the FR500GT involves stuff you can’t see, Davis says, “anything that might be fragile, that’s where we spent the money: the rear end, the bearings, the full-floating rear axles, the spindles, extra cooling. The idea is that once you buy this car, unless you wad it up, you should be able to get through a racing season with very low maintenance costs.”
Which include the engine. He knows it will be a Ford V-8, naturally aspirated, 550 horsepower, but the rest, he says, may be negotiable. “We have a lot of sources for engines, but I’m leaning toward Roush-Yates because we have a great relationship with them and because they build good stuff. Plus, I think customers would like having that NASCAR pedigree.” Known for making horsepower, team owner and engine builder Robert Yates, who won the 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup championship with driver Dale Jarrett, combined engine shops with the better-known Jack Roush in 2004, and Roush-Yates now supplies engines for eight Nextel Cup teams.
Cost is also a major factor. “I want a driver to be able to make it through the whole season without an engine rebuild,” Davis says. “And when you finally do need one, it shouldn’t cost much more than $20,000.”
So how does the FR500GT feel on the track? Buckled in, you’re fairly low in the car, but visibility at all angles is fine. The dashboard and the digital instrument panel, slightly cobbled together, resemble the Boy Racer setup. Slip the sequential shifter left and up, and that’s neutral. Flip two switches and press the button, and the engine cranks quickly. Vibration is minimal, and the sound is raucous.
Snick the shifter right and back, and that’s first gear. To shift up, just pull the shifter back toward you. To shift down, push it forward. It’s easy, and compared with some sequentials we’ve driven, not at all temperamental.
Pedal placement is a little awkward, and although it may be the hot ticket for easy heel-and-toe, the accelerator and the brake are so close that you have to make a conscious effort to keep your size 11s on the proper pedals. That’s one thing that will be cleaned up for production, as will the tacked-on look of instruments and gauges in this prototype, which still has the air conditioning ducts and controls.
Under way, the FR500GT is a blast. The engine pulls like a mule train up to about 6800 rpm, with a refreshingly broad power band. Aside from uncomfortably numb brakes, the car is, as Scott Maxwell said, imminently tossable. The big Pirelli slicks hang on like Dick Clark, and when they finally do let go — typically the front tires before the rears — they do so gradually and predictably. Grattan Raceway in western Michigan is tight and a bit bumpy, and had this been a race weekend, we’d have softened up the suspension a bit. But as it was, we reached our limits in the FR500GT well before we reached the FR500GT’s limits. Having squeezed into the passenger seat for a ride with Scott Maxwell earlier, though, we found just how effective the brakes are with a professional driver, and how buttoned down the rear suspension is, even with a solid axle.
So will you be seeing the FR500GT, the King of All Mustangs, at a Track Near You in 2007? “The series is ready to go,” Davis says, but he’d like to find a title sponsor to help with marketing, the winner’s circle, timing, and scoring — “all the stuff we’re not that good at.”
FORD MUSTANG FR500GT
VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, 2-passenger, 2-door race car
PRICE AS TESTED: $225,000
ENGINE TYPE: DOHC 32-valve V-8, aluminum block and heads, port fuel injection
Displacement: 302 cu in, 4952cc
Power (SAE net): 534 bhp @ 7100 rpm
Torque (SAE net): 440 lb-ft @ 5300 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed sequential manual
Wheelbase: 107.1 in
Length: 189.6 in
Width: 75.9 in
Height: 51.0 in
Curb weight: 3300 lb