Think back to when you were a child, when you could spend hours looking through the Sears catalog “wish book.” The hardest part of ordering anything from the catalog was waiting for the mailman to deliver the goods.
That’s about how it was with Mustang FR500S, a factory-built, turn-key racecar you could order from the Ford Racing Parts catalog. But you didn’t have to sit at home waiting for the car to arrive. You got to take delivery of it at Miller Motorsports Park, then spend the weekend breaking it in at one of the nicest racetracks in the American West.
Back in 2008, the idea behind the FR500S was to build enough of them to launch their own race series, the Mustang Challenge Series, which would be sanctioned by Grand Am and run at tracks across the United States. At the time, no one knew how far the economy was about to plummet, and the ill-timed series lasted just a couple of years. But the cars, all 77, of them are still around and lapping today, with 14 of the lot at Miller Motorsports Park in Tooele, Utah.
The seed for the idea to build the cars was germinated at Miller Motorsports Park. According to Dan McKeever, director of facility operations and performance schools for Miller Motorsports Park, Miller purchased and built 20 Mustangs for its school programs. Miller gutted the interiors, added roll cages, data acquisition, a racing seat, window nets and removable steering wheel, and the results were pretty impressive.
“With 300 pounds out of it, with a BF Goodrich race tire on it, it was phenomenal,” McKeever said. “So we invited the guys from Ford out and said, ‘Hey, you guys have got to drive these things.’ So they drove them a little bit and that sort of spurred the idea of building them in the factory just like this.”
The Ford guys took one of Miller’s school cars back to Dearborn, Mich., did some wind-tunnel testing to fine tune splitters and rear wings and determine how best to build the cars.
Ford built the FR500S on the production line at AutoAlliance International in Flat Rock, Mich., then sent the car to Watson Engineering in Taylor, Mich., where the interior work was completed. The three-valve, 4.6-liter production V8 engine was built by Ford in Romeo, Mich., sealed and dyno tested at Roush Industries in Livonia, Mich. Ford sent all the cars to Miller Motorsports Park for final assembly and delivery. Retail price was $75,000.
“We put on the splitters and the rear wings and the brake parts and seats. Just the little things,” McKeever said. “We finished the cars off. So, the 75 cars, the initial run were actually finished and delivered out of Miller Motorsports Park.”
The engines put out 300 horsepower in stock form, but the FR500S benefits from a bit more juice. With a reflashed ECU, a cold-air intake and long-tube headers bolted on, the 4.6-liter engine made about 325 crankshaft horsepower.
After the series ended, Miller bought 14 of the cars. The rest are still scattered around the country, pulling duty in American Iron Extreme, as track-day cars and of course, gathering dust in the coddling hands of collectors.
“We’re not too keen on the garage queen program,” McKeever said. “When we first started selling the cars, we at least tried to prioritize the folks who were going to race them, especially in the race series.”
Weighing in at 3,600 pounds, the cars are no lightweights, but McKeever said they are blast to drive and quite manageable, which is ideal for the school environment.
“They’re really easy to be comfortable in,” he said. “The power to grip level is good. It’s manageable and real hard to get in trouble with. They’ve got tremendous balance for a car that’s traditionally nose-heavy. For us in a school environment, it’s cool to have a V8 racecar that’s got the cool factor of American muscle but friendly enough to put anybody in.”
The cars also have proven to be reliable. Not one engine has failed, and some of Miller’s original school cars have upward of 18,000 miles of nothing-but-track driving on them. The T-60 six-speed, which is built to withstand the 500 pound-feet of torque in the GT500, has had zero issues in any of the school cars. It has been, to use an expression we often hear, bulletproof — except in this case, it’s actually true.
Much of the operating costs of the cars, McKeever said, has been limited to consumables. Tires, brake pads, rotors, fluid changes. He said they have replace an axle seal here or there and a bushing or two, but that’s about it.
That’s one of the coolest aspects of the FR500S, that it was delivered new as a racecar, that it was built by engineers on an assembly line in a factory, not beneath a shade tree. No corners were cut, and it’s evident in the finished product even as some hard miles begin to accumulate.
“That was the great part about being involved with Ford,” McKeever said. “They had access to engineering and made sure everything was right. We wanted to make sure that when somebody bought this, at whatever level you were at, if you were running a professional series, it’s a reasonably priced race car, but it doesn’t mean you give up having the interior tin be nice and having the center console be the way it should be and have the mounting for all of the different things be the way it should be. It’s really finished off nice.”
You won’t find an FR500S in the Ford Racing Parts “wish book” any more, but if you can find one of the original 77 models for sale, you’ll have a well-built racecar that also might eventually do something other racecars cannot: appreciate in value.
|4.6-liter three-valve DOHC V8, 325 hp
|Front: two-way adjustable front dampers and sway bar with coil springs; Rear: live axle with adjustable sway bar and coil springs
|BF Goodrich R1 racing slicks
|Four-wheel disc, with SVT brake upgrade kit