Steve Turner
Former Editor, 5.0 Mustang & Super Fords
July 1, 2000
Photos By: Dale Amy

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P31424_large Ford_Mustang_FR500 Front_Passenger_SideP31427_large Ford_Mustang_FR500 Driver_Side
Less obvious than the radical FR500 bodywork is the unique double-A-arm front suspension. According to Ford Racing's Jay O'Connell, this short-long-arm suspension allowed for lengthening the Mustang wheelbase from 103.1 to 106.3 inches, which helped with weight distribution, while also providing for more consistent handling. According to Jay, "...The car understeers less when braking and entering turns and oversteers less when exiting turns."
P31431_large Ford_Mustang_FR500 Interior
At first glance, the FR500 interior doesn't seem that far from the showroom floor. The standard '99 Mustang dark charcoal interior is accented with two-tone leather seats with added bolstering, a white-face instrument cluster, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and a JBL sound system. What doesn't hit you right away is this cozy cockpit is inside a powerful, track-worthy Mustang. About the only thing the Ford Racing guys are going to tweak inside the car is the lateral support of the seats.
P31433_large Ford_Mustang_FR500 Gauges
Notice anything new here? No, not the de rigueur white-face gauges. Check out the tach and speedo. They’re on opposite sides from what you’re used to seeing in a Fox Mustang. The speedometer and tachometer gauges are also set up for an optimistic 200 mph and 9,000 rpm, respectively, considering the car’s projected top speed of 175 mph and fuel shut-off at 7,200 rpm. Of course, they do look cool.
P31434_large Ford_Mustang_FR500 Passenger_SideP31435_large Ford_Mustang_FR500 Engine
This is what we've all been waiting for--a 5.0 modular engine. Called a spray-bore engine, the 5.0's aluminum block receives a sprayed-in, ferrous-metal liner. According to Ford Racing's Andy Schwartz, in addition to being lighter and less expensive than a separate liner, "The specific advantage (of the spray-bore technology) for our situation is it allows us a larger bore that otherwise would not be feasible due to the close bore spacing. It allows us to achieve the increased displacement." The obvious benefit of the extra cubes is more torque and more horsepower, but Andy says the real goal was to improve the car's driveability via more midrange torque, which is a challenge on the high-strung Four-Valve engines.
P31437_large Ford_Mustang_FR500 Rear_Driver_SideP31439_large Ford_Mustang_FR500 Front_Passenger_Side
While it is likely Ford Racing will reproduce the FR500 bodywork for those wanting to replicate its look, the parts will not, however, be made of carbon fiber like the real FRs. According to Ford Racing's Tom Berkery, most of the FR500 bodywork will likely be produced for standard-wheelbase Mustangs in urethane, while some parts like the hood, deck lid, and C-pillar moldings would likely be made in fiberglass. Look for the body parts to be available by summer. If you're anxious, you can check out parts for availability updates.
P31440_large Ford_Mustang_FR500 Engine
Another significant part of the torque puzzle is the FR500's unique, variable-geometry intake manifold. Constructed of lightweight magnesium, the three-piece intake improves torque by varying the intake's runner length. "The variable-geometry intakes work in such a manner that there's a short direct stack and a long branch runner that intersect it. These are divided by a secondary throttle plate," Andy Schwartz explains. "With the secondary throttle plate in one position, the engine is running off the long runner, and when you change the position of that plate it runs off the short runner."
P31441_large Ford_Mustang_FR500 Interior_Dashboard
Take a close look at this setup if you've got a '94-or-newer Mustang, as JBL will likely be marketing this Mustang-specific FR500 stereo system to you in the future. It's far more than a loud sound system, though. It packs CD and CD-ROM playing capabilities along with the requisite AM/FM tuner. It also sports a Becker TrafficPro voice-activated navigation system, so you'll never have a hard time finding the racetrack.
P31442_large Ford_Mustang_FR500 Undercarriage_Muffler
How's this for different? The FR500's unique exhaust system begins in a traditional H-pipe, runs through two mufflers and into an X-pipe. That's right, the X-pipe is after the mufflers. According to Ford Racing's Hank Dertian, the benefits of the late X are two-fold: It better reduces noise and exhaust backpressure--the latter due to a reduction in bends to get exhaust routed around the complex independent rear suspension. The good news, as with most parts on the FR500, is the aftermarket company that created the system will be offering it for '99-and-later Cobras, as well as developing new systems for pushrod 5.0s.
P31444_large Ford_Mustang_FR500 Front_Passenger_SideP31445_large Ford_Mustang_FR500 Trunk
At the beck and call of the dash-mounted parametric equalizer, these two JBL amplifiers feed the unique three-speaker sound system. One amp is JBL's P80.4 stereo amp, which powers twin 504GTi two-way midrange speakers. The other amp, a JBL BP600.1, is a 600-watt mono unit firing the 10-inch GT1041 subwoofer. In all the excitement of driving the car on the track, turning the stereo on never occurred to us, but the Ford Racing guys tell us it packs quite an aural punch.
Driving the prototype FR500 was exciting enough, but the highlight of the day was a ride-along with Winston Cup racer Rusty Wallace. Though it's always cool to ride along with a celebrity driver, it's even more exciting to experience a factory-tuned hot rod under the control of a skilled professional. Without breaking sweat, he pushed the car harder than we ever could, which was pretty far in the well-balanced, powerful FR500. Thanks, Rusty.
P31449_large Ford_Mustang_FR500 Front_Driver_Side
This is the Ford Racing Technology team that brought the FR500 from the drawing board to the SEMA show in about seven months. From left to right are Tim DeRonne, Andy Schwartz, Hank Dertian, Tom Berkery, Lee Hampkins, John Giles, Dan Davis, and Jay O'Connell. "...Part of our success criteria was whether this type of project was going to re-energize our engineering staff at Ford Racing Technology, and that clearly has happened," Dan Davis says. "These people are proud of this car and the work they have done. And now we have all sorts of other people calling us from the outside wanting to work with us. It's been a huge success."
Jay O'Connell recently worked on the Lincoln LS, before he joined the FR500 program. Both have SLA front suspensions, but they differ considerably. "The Lincoln has a tall spindle, with the upper control arm located above the front tire," he says, "while the FR500 has a short spindle with the upper arm located inside the front wheel rim." Suspension buffs might be interested to know the FR500 SLA decreases "...kingpin inclination from 18 degrees (stock) to 12 degrees, while increasing caster from 4 degrees (stock) to 7 degrees," according to Jay.
P31451_large Ford_Mustang_FR500 Wheel
Carved from billet magnesium, these striking, lightweight wheels contribute to the FR500's superb 50/50 front-to-rear weight distribution. Measuring 18x9 inches in front and 18x10 in the rear, these prototype wheels provide ample room for the 14-inch (front) and 13-inch (rear) Brembos. Ford Racing is considering production of the wheels in forged aluminum or magnesium. Clamped by four-piston calipers, the massive front rotors are 1.25 inches thick and are vented, crossdrilled, and cooled by ducting from the front fascia. In back, the vented, 1.1-inch rotors are grabbed by Lincoln LS single-piston calipers. All that hardware is still mastered by the stock four-channel Antilock Braking System.

After embarrassing myself in front of famed Winston Cup racer Rusty Wallace while making my first-ever, slow-poke trip around Road Atlanta, he jumps in the silver FR500 to show me how it's really done. We were running around the track quickly but easily at first. Soon Rusty picked up the pace. He hurtled the FR500 around the track in the way only skilled and confident drivers can do--dancing on the edge of traction and inertia. Rusty doesn't chat with me as some big guns do, he simply works the car around like a professional.

Then we get a glimpse of the black FR500 chugging down Road Atlanta ahead of us. As if there were any more to be had, Rusty begins pushing her a bit harder. Though he and CART driver, "Mad" Max Papis, turned similar lap times in the two cars, Max was putting the scare into his passenger with the black 4.6-powered FR500, which was down about 20 hp.

Nonetheless, Rusty was closing in and the Ford Racing guys in the pits were shaking their heads. This is just what they didn't want. Two racers out there racing. The silver FR500 was their pretty photo car, which had only been put in commission after the white FR500 ate a clutch. Ford Racing director Dan Davis didn't want to see the silver car trade any paint.

Meanwhile, I'm strapped in the passenger seat next to Rusty. We close in on Max. Coming down the long straight on the course, Max brakes a bit earlier than Rusty thought he might, so we get up-close-and-personal before making the sharp left. Coming up around the turn onto the front straight Rusty is right on his tail, but he'd had his fun. He backed off, made a cool-down lap and brought us back into the pits, where I rolled out with an ear-to-ear grin on my face.

He didn't pass, so it wasn't racing, right Dan?

What it was was our ultra-rare chance to sit in on Ford Racing's development drive of the FR500 prototypes. Ford Racing brought in three FR500 prototypes: the familiar silver SEMA car, a white FR with a incumbent mod 5.0, and a black FR with an FR500-spec 4.6. Additionally, the crew had driven in a C5 Corvette and a Viper. The Corvette had long been the yardstick for the FR500 project, and since Ford Racing engineers felt confident they'd out-measured Chevy's C5, they wanted to try the next domestic bully, the Dodge Viper. There was also a standard '99 Cobra on hand. Alas, it felt like a V-6 grocery getter compared to the other hardware assaulting the track.

Suffice it to say the FR500s felt much better than the Corvette, and they were certainly more light on their feet than the brutish Viper, but overcoming the Viper's V-10 torque was not a challenge Ford's 4.6 or 5.0 V-8 was up to. But enough about the competition. The FR500 is a stellar ride in its own right.

From the mid-length headers--which were a compromise of fitment, flow, and catalyst function--the exhaust travels through a 2-1/2-inch H-pipe with high-flow, metal-substrate catalytic converters, 2-1/2-inch mufflers, a 2-1/2-inch X-pipe (more on that later), and 3-1/2-inch tailpipes. The top-secret muffler technology is said to be trick, and the cats deliver half the back pressure for the same emissions. But the real trick is the sound. At idle and off idle, the car sounds robust, like a refined pair of Harleys, but as rpm increases, so does the pitch, and the FR500 roars by like a pair of big superbikes. It's tough to describe, but when you hear it, you'll want your 4.6 sound that way too.

The first thing we noticed about the FR500 is it seemed really soggy on the bottom-end, despite the presence of 4.10 gears out back. It turned out the silver car's variable-geometry manifold wasn't wired up properly. As such, Ford Racing's Andy Schwartz says it likely had the same or less torque than the 4.6-powered FR. Once you get them going, either FR is a willing participant in exhilarating speed. The silver car felt like it had more top-end charge, but we wish we'd gotten to feel its full power as it still pulled strongly from the midrange all the way to 7,000 rpm redline. It felt as though it would keep going, but the question of whether the standard Cobra rods were ready to go there was left unanswered with us behind the wheel.

Controlling the power was easy thanks to the TTC T56 six-speed transmission. According to Ford Racing's Don Walsh, the T56 is the same unit sold in the aftermarket for pushrod 5.0s. It simply features a new intermediate adapter and bellhousing for modular duty. The real trick he says is the 81/2-inch clutch. Sourced from the Ferrari F50, the dual-disc clutch uses a vented floater to shed heat. This clutch provided low pedal effort during our seat time. Don says it's a big part of the FR500's great shifting experience as it needs short travel before it engages and its reduced inertia eases downshifts.

Behind the T56 is a Torsen T2R, which provides a racy 4.5:1 torque bias between the rear wheels thanks to clutch plates and a preload mechanism not found in a standard Torsen. The unit worked seamlessly around the track, but Don says it's a 360 waiting to happen in wet or icy street conditions. The Torsen spins twin 31-spline tubular halfshafts, which feature increased torsional rigidity and weigh 3 pounds less than the standard shafts. All this means the FR500 doesn't wheelhop, and between the beefier shafts and the heavy-duty CV joints they're experimenting with, broken halfshafts are likely a thing of the past at this power level.

Speaking of the power, it was quite easy to control thanks to the weight balance and suspension tuning on the FR500. The car simply feels light on its proverbial feet, and as noted Mustang tuner Kenny Brown, who was also on hand for the drive, said, it didn't really feel like a Mustang. It actually took some getting used to, but it wasn't long before the supple balance and smooth power were expected. Most remarkable about the FR500 was not its neutrality, rather the light spring tuning and shock valving used to get there. This car can really turn mean laps at the track, and make a commuter run through Detroit without beating down your kidneys.

Speaking of commuting through Detroit, we've gathered this car has made quite an impression on some of the decision makers inside Ford. We can only hope it was a positive one, as there is so much viable technology inside the FR500, it deserves to be more than just a parts car for the catalog. From what we can tell, Dan Davis has bigger ideas than parts, too. "...There are still some fairly large hurdles that would have to be cleared before it could happen," he says. "And, the truth is, there is no set blueprint toward achieving that (building FR500s for sale) except to continue to move forward with the development of the car."

Of course, the FR500 may just be the beginning of Ford Racing's parts-car development. "We have a follow-up project already in mind and I think it's something people will learn more about in the near future," Dan says. "But we do have to continually remind ourselves that we're not making FR500s yet, so we have to stay focused on the development of that car as well."

That's the spirit.

Horse Sense: According to Ford Racing's Tim DeRonne, who is charged with calibrating the FR500's EEC-V computer, the computer reads both mass air meters only after an interface combines the two signals and feeds the EEC with the total airflow. The interface box also controls the variable-geometry intake, as the '99 EEC isn't set up to do so. When Ford Racing sells the FR500 intake package, it will likely come with a new EEC-V equipped with a special board to handle the intake and meters.