I’ve just sampled an ultra-high-performing part from the Ford Performance Parts catalog, and if it weren’t already sold out I’d be urging you to pick up the phone, dial 800-367-3788 and order up part number M-FP500-FP350S. You would first need to have a pretty high credit limit and a trailer, though, because this part costs $114,990 and must be picked up in person (saving you the destination charge!). This “part” is a turnkey race car known as the Mustang FP350S. It’s Ford’s follow-up to the run of 50 Mustang Boss 302S club-racers built in 2011 and sold for $79,000. The price increase of about $27,000 after inflation didn’t seem to bother the 50 buyers who will be campaigning this FIA-certified racer in the Trans Am series (classes TA3 or TA4) or in NASA or SCCA club racing classes. As we noted at the new Mustang FP350S’ 2016 unveiling, it follows the out-of-production Shelby GT350R-C and slots in below the big-dog ($235,000) Mustang GT4 in the parts catalog (the latter is still orderable).
The FP350S’ body structure was framed on the Mustang line in Flat Rock, Michigan, and shipped in bare metal 7 miles north to Watson Racing. Then one technician lavished a 40-hour work week light-weighting and seam-welding each body, removing unnecessary parts like the rear package shelf. Then a Multimatic-designed, FIA-compliant roll cage was welded in with high-density foam filling the space inside the doors. All of this makes the bodies vastly more rigid, safer, and easier to repair after accidents (because they don’t crumple as much). Then the bodies were returned to Flat Rock for a full factory paint job, including a dip in the electrocoat tank. Once cured, the bodies went back up to Watson, accompanied by a kit of production parts that carry over to the racer (like the upper dash panel, the suspension hubs and knuckles, the main independent rear suspension module, etc.) for final assembly.
Power for the FP350S comes from a 5.2-liter Voodoo engine with a 90-degree (instead of flat) crankshaft. Certain classes require restrictor plates, so Ford just says it makes “well over 500 hp.” A gigantic oil cooler covers about two-thirds of the main radiator, while what used to be the oil cooler now cools the differential gear oil.
Engine torque routes aft through the Shelby GT350’s Tremec 3160 transmission with an integral pump and a Ford Performance short-throw shift kit to a Torsen rear diff running short 3.73:1 gearing. Customers typically put that power to the ground via 305/680-18 Pirelli P Zero slicks or the slightly longer-lasting, easier-to-get Hoosier A7s in a 315/30R18 size wrapped around the wheels of their choice. Ford offers an optional set of forged 11.0 x 18-inch wheels, but the car is delivered on base 19-inch GT350 wheels and 275-width tires. These tires are for transportation only, because of their limited shelf life. The only other available option on the car is the FP350S graphics package shown here.
Suspension upgrades include replacing nearly all the rubber with metal cross-axis bushings and fitting ZF Sachs coil-over shocks that offer two settings each for jounce and rebound. Caster/camber plates use shims in differing sizes that permit precise changes in geometry without the need for an alignment rack, and using coil-over shocks in the rear moves the pickup point outboard considerably for a higher motion ratio that allows greater effective stiffness with lower-rate springs (spring rates are 650 lb/in in front, 600 in the rear). Electric power steering offers low effort for endurance races and higher effort for sprints.
In place of the usual Brembo brakes are AP Racing Radi-CAL six-piston front and four-piston rear calipers biting down on two-piece vented and slotted rotors measuring 14.6 inches in front and 13.4 inches in the rear. Special calipers for endurance racing permit thicker (1.1-inch versus 0.7-inch), longer-lasting brake pads.
Exterior modifications include a hood vent, exterior hood latches, tow rings, an additional carbon-fiber splitter and fence mounted to the already aggressive Shelby splitter, blades to direct air into a pair of 4-inch brake cooling ducts, and a rear wing that’s highly adjustable. Oh, and there’s no door glass. Inside there’s a Motec data acquisition system and digital instrumentation setup that provides multiple screens and stores or transmits GPS lap data. A fire-suppression system is also standard.
After he clambers into the FP350S’ Sparco racing seat (a task made at least slightly easier by the quick-release steering wheel) and fusses with the five-point Sabelt FIA racing harness, Ben Maher confides that this is perhaps his favorite Ford track car—preferable even to the mighty GT. Ben supervises Ford’s driver safety training program, and he’s riding shotgun to ensure I don’t wad up his new favorite toy. We idle out onto the black lake at Ford’s Dearborn proving ground and wait for the engine oil temp light to switch from flashing blue to solid green. When it does, I start a gentle recon lap around the coned and chalk-lined course. A tight hairpin leads onto a straight long enough to reach third gear before bending into a decreasing-radius right-hander followed by a left onto a short slalom that connects to the hairpin.
As a short-waisted 5-foot-10-incher, an ultra-low seating position has me feeling like a cotton-top little old lady in a Grand Marquis. I struggle to see the tops of some of the cones but quickly master the course. It takes a lap or two to warm the tires, during which time the car feels heavily prone to oversteer, especially when bending into the decreaser or powering onto the slalom. As everything comes up to temperature the chassis feels much more neutral. Ben urges me to stay in the throttle later and later on the straight as the slick Hoosiers and giant brake pads combine forces to deliver five-point-harness-straining retardation. With the engine powering half as many Hoosiers, I must exercise far more restraint with the right pedal at all points on this track. “Off-road use only” means there are no fussy sound regulations to worry about, so the noise trumpeting from the straight pipes is glorious—if a shade less malevolent than that produced by the flat-crank Voodoo. No sound insulation also means no heat insulation, and the cockpit warms up in a big hurry. I’d definitely want a cool suit hooked up to one of the unused dash switches.
After my hot laps on the lake, we swap seats and Ben takes me for a drive on the Dearborn PG’s loopy handling circuit, which is filled with jumpable hills that curve at the landing and every conceivable combination of increasing- and decreasing-radius turns. The FP350S sticks like crazy, rewarding Ben’s smooth driving style with small, controllable slip angles. I have difficulty squaring the DNA connection between this car and the Mustang GT Perf Pack 2 I recently sampled. This one operates in a different realm. I have less difficulty understanding Ben’s affinity for the FP350S.
The last of the 50 examples of the FP350 are being delivered at about the time you’re reading this. However, few have been sufficiently prepped, tested, tuned, and raced in earnest, so the car has yet to establish a track record. Tune in to Motor Trend Premium’s coverage of Trans Am racing next year to learn how formidable Ford’s latest hot “part” will be in competition.
|2017 Ford Mustang FP350S|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, RWD, 2-pass, 2-door race car|
|ENGINE||5.2L/580-hp (est)/445-lb-ft (est) DOHC 32-valve V-8|
|CURB WEIGHT||3,450 lb (mfr)|
|LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT||196.0 x 77.0 x 52.0 in|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||Not rated|
|ON SALE IN U.S.||Sold out|
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