Designing the 2020 Mustang Shelby GT500

When you’re going to have your fastest street-legal car, you’re making sure that it looks the part—and then some.

One of the most enthusiastically anticipated cars that will be launched this year—several cars are launched during a year; some are anticipated; few are enthusiastically awaited—is the Ford Shelby GT500. It will become available this fall and will be, according to Hermann Salenbauch, global director, Ford Performance vehicle programs, equipped with “our most powerful street-legal V8 engine to date, plus the quickest-shifting transmission ever in a Mustang.” The engine is a supercharged (an inverted 2.65-liter roots-type supercharger is used) hand-built, all-aluminum V8 that’s mated to a TREMEC 7-speed dual-clutch transmission that is said to provide smooth shifts in less than 100 milliseconds. While the number has yet to be released, the engine is supposed to generate more than 700 horsepower.

But what’s of interest here is not the propulsion system but how the sixth-generation Mustang has been transformed by the design team. So we talked with Melvin Betancourt, Ford design manager, who has been working on cars like the GT500 since model year 1999.

“We wanted to put the ultimate car out there. We wanted to style a beautiful car. A sexy car,” Betancourt said, adding “And the only way we were going to be able to do that was to make sure we worked hand-in-hand with the cross functional teams.”

The ultimate anything is the result of design and engineering, not one without the other.

Betancourt said, for example, that they “were given parameters by the aero team,” which lead to back-and-forth discussions as the style and the slipperiness of the car took form. The vehicle-being-developed was taken to the Ford Performance tech center in Concord, NC, and run on its Windshear rolling wind tunnel as well as in the Ford wind tunnels in southeastern Michigan. One of the things that they did was (comparatively) quickly 3D print aero elements (e.g., spillers, ducts) at the Ford Advanced Manufacturing Center in Redford, Michigan, so that they could put them on the development vehicle and determine their physical performance—as they were also running a lot of computational fluid dynamics simulations. (On the subject of aero, Betancourt said that one of the objects that influenced the design was the F-22 fighter, which he describes as “slippery, fast and agile.”)

Although the GT500 is all-new only from the A-pillar forward (the GT350 had already been developed by Betancourt and the team, so elements of it, as well as the more volume-oriented Mustang, account for the vehicle from the A-pillar rearward), he said they generated thousands of sketches for the car. More surprisingly, they built three full-size clay models. “This was serious,” he said. When they took the models to the courtyard for viewing, they were able to discern which design telegraphed that it was a 500-hp car, which a 600-hp, and which a 700+-hp vehicle.

According to Bentancourt, the GT500 hood is the largest louvered hood in the history of Ford (the louvered vents measure 31 x 28 inches). As previously mentioned, the supercharger is inverted, meaning that it is tucked into the valley of the V8. “To me, the hood is all about power,” he said, then noted that the hood needed to be made out of SMC rather than aluminum because the metal would have not been capable of holding the integrity of the form with such a large hole cut out of the middle of the surface. (There is a rain tray that covers the supercharger made with an aluminum sandwich material.) The front fenders are also formed with SMC.

“I’m an enthusiast,” Betancourt said about the Mustang, explaining that his passion for the car was planted when he was nine-years-old and his father pulled up in a 1970 302 Boss Mustang.

“I design them. And I drive them.”