Evan J. Smith
July 23, 2015
Photos By: Ford Motor Company

If there’s one single tool that helps drivers bang gears on time, it’s a shift light. Mustang and Ford owners have been installing them for years on drag cars and even road race machines to take advantage of peak power by not over revving or under revving. A shift light also helps driver keep their heads-up while driving, and not looking down at the tachometer. Ford Motor Company understands the importance of maximizing power, and driving with your eye on the road, so it installed a custom-designed adjustable shift light for the new 2015 Shelby GT350.

As Ford stated, “Shift lights allow drivers to concentrate on the road in front of them rather than watching a tachometer. However, most shift lights either obscure the forward field of view or are located low in the instrument cluster where the driver must look down to see it.” Ford also mentioned that the shift light system was developed by “reimagining existing hardware, and it is standard on the Shelby GT350 and the GT350R models.

The technical name for the Ford Mustang Shelby GT350 shift light is the Performance Shift Light Indicator — but it is more than just any old shift light. The GT350 version, which we hope will migrate into the EcoBoost Mustang and the Mustang GT, is actually a heads-up display that can is controlled or “tuned” through the driver information center in the gauge cluster.

With this system, drivers have the ability to set shift points, adjust light intensity, select from three different modes, or turn the feature off entirely. The modes include Tach, Track or Drag and they affect the way in which the actual lights come on. Here’s how they work: In Tach mode the row of amber LED lights light up sequentially from left to right as the rpm climbs. In Track mode the lights converge to a center point and when they do the entire row flashes, and in Drag mode the row flashes all at once. The shift light intensity can be adjusted from 10 percent to 100 percent and it can be activated from 3,000 rpm to 8,200 rpm. “Given the conditions of a drag race, we found drivers wanted maximum simplicity in a performance shift light,” said Mike Makled, electrical engineer for Shelby programs.

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Innovation through lateral thinking

Dreaming up innovative performance features is one of the fun parts of Makled’s job, and inspiration struck one day on the road. “Mike Makled was driving his Ford Taurus SHO when he came to a quick stop in traffic and the car’s collision warning with brake support system flashed its red LED heads-up display,” said our source at Ford. “The system bounces upward projected light against the reflective inner surface of the windshield so the driver can see it as a warning of impending danger. This got him thinking.”

“I thought, ‘Wait a minute, why don’t we use that technology for our shift light on the GT350?’” said Makled. “With a few tweaks, it could have a big effect on high-performance driving.”

Makled, along with a supplier to Ford, developed a prototype with special circuitry, amber LEDs, and his own operating software, which he put in his personal car. Once he dialed it in, he had management take a look. ‘They loved it,” he stated, and they called it a “brilliant reimagining of existing technology.”

With the go-ahead to make it happen, Makled gave the project to Ford Corporate Graduate Zac Nelson for development and release. According to Ford, “Nelson worked with OpenXC to quickly build a working prototype for driver testing and feedback.” Makled and Nelson continued to help develop the shift light, along with the heads-up display supplier. Ultimately, they dialed-in the system and had is ready for the new Shelby GT350 and Shelby GT350R.

“All of our drivers love this feature,” boasts Makled. “They can’t believe how much it reduces the distraction of having to look away to a tach or a shift light in the cluster.”