No question, the Ford Mustang is a galloping success. Both the base and GT models are a runaway success, contributing significant revenue to their corporate parent. And now legendary racer, sports car constructor and chili magnate Carroll Shelby is adding some hot tamales to the feed bag. The Shelby Cobra GT500 goes on sale any second now, saddled with a supercharged 5.4-liter V8 good for 500hp. Although there’s little doubt that Shelby’s performance package will be a well-engineered addition to the core car’s strengths, it’s still a case of too much too late.
Let’s Review. For 50 percent more than the MSRP of a Mustang GT, the GT500 buyer gets a supercharger, an intercooler, a race-proven T56 six-speed manual transmission, suspension mods, 18” wheels, wider tires, distinctive spoiler and grill treatments and one whole Hell of a lot of Shelby badging. Oh, and roughly 400 pounds of additional weight, which push this pony car into the Crown Vic weight class. And that’s what I’m talking about: Ford’s decision to add horsepower to the Mustang instead of reducing weight.
It may be a piercing glimpse into the obvious, but Ford could have made a serious performance car out of the Mustang GT simply by shedding weight. In fact, if the 300hp GT lost 700 pounds, it would have the same power-to-weight ratio as the 500hp Shelby GT500. A leaner, meaner, altogether keener Mustang GT would find a willing market, and serve notice to GM and DaimlerChrysler that Ford isn’t going to cede the ponycar market quite yet. There are a number of ways, most of them relatively cheap, to ditch the Mustang’s extra pounds.
Start by eliminating the air conditioning. This lightweight GT (call it the GT-L) would be a potential race-ready road car, not a boulevard cruiser for hot nights in Vegas. If it wasn’t for the Federal standards about defrosters, you might be able to leave off the heater. But even with a heater and defroster, the elimination of the air conditioning unit would drop a lot of mass, and some drag on the engine as well. Next, ditch the power windows. If Ford made the call, its suppliers could come up with a manual window regulator in a heartbeat.
Likewise, lose the electric locks. Real racers can push their own lock buttons down. Ditto for the electric trunk release. Once those are gone, the module that controls these functions and related wiring can also be deleted, saving even more weight. The radio and CD player can also go; the glorious fury of the Mustang GT’s V8 is music enough to a performance junkie. And while we’re at it, deep-six the sound deadening material behind the front seats. And the back seats, rear seat belts and shoulder harnesses.
Ford can use the front fascia from the base six cylinder Mustang, delete the fog lights and save a few more pounds. The cladding on the rocker panels can go, too. Who cares if the tires throw a little dirt on the side of the car? And off with the spoiler. A real racer is going to fashion a spoiler that works, rather than one that satisfies the design committee. Removing the spare tire, jack and tools will also liberate some major heft.
These simple steps would get the Mustang coupe’s weight near the goal of 2600 lbs. Several more radical changes would get the weight to less than 2600 pounds. How ‘bout manual steering? Back to the supplier for a manual rack and pinion gear. This would allow the elimination, and drag, of the power steering pump. A Mustang with manual steering would probably be a bear to park, but pistonheads aren’t going to buy this car for their grandmothers. The final step: kill the center console. This would require some new parts, but the existing console has to be a lot heavier than a few rubber boots around the shifter.
Tweak the car’s suspension, add appropriate decals and there you have it: a Mustang that’s fully competitive with the Shelby version, and a lot better handling to boot. As less is sometimes less, the Mustang GT-L’s development costs would not be prohibitive. Lest we forget Shelby himself jettisoned ballast when he developed the GT350, ‘way back in the 60s. It was a belter that burnished the image created by the Cobra. Porsche, Mazda, Honda and several other manufacturers build lightweight performance cars like these. Even better for Ford, they charge more money for them. That’s a business plan that FoMoCo should latch onto pronto.
Of course, not many people would buy this car. But there is simply no underestimating the street cred a GT-L would generate for Ford and its entire Mustang franchise. Of course, there’s nothing to stop ole Shel from putting his Mustang on a diet…