It's more than just looks, although they are beautiful: the carbon-fiber wheels are as advanced as those on a Ferrari.

CarAndDriver, By Clifford Atiyeh

© CarAndDriver | Why the 2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500's Carbon Wheels Are Superior to the GT350R's.

The 2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 is available with carbon-fiber wheels as advanced as those on a Ferrari.

They're made by Carbon Revolution, a small Australian supplier of cars including the Ferrari 488 Pista and the Ford GT.

Ford will include the carbon-fiber wheels as part of its $18,500 Track Pack option for the Shelby GT500.

A lot has changed since the Ford Mustang Shelby GT350R became the first major series-production car with carbon-fiber wheels. That was the litmus test for Carbon Revolution, a small Australian supplier gambling with expensive, handmade rims for an equally expensive, low-volume sports car. Four years later, Oz is the world's hub for carbon wheels—and the latest set on the 2020 Shelby GT500 is the firm's best yet. This is real democracy: You can now order wheels from Ford that are just as advanced as those on a Ferrari.

The most noticeable difference in the GT500 wheels is the exposed weave. Ford wasn’t confident enough about this lacquer's durability when it contracted with Carbon Revolution in 2013, so Dearborn coated the GT350R's wheels in thick black paint. On the GT500, each spoke has intricate textures and a glossy finish, and they look gobsmackingly beautiful from 50 feet away. 

Up close, crossing the biggest front brake calipers Brembo has ever made and stuffed inside razor-thin Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires (305/30R-20 front and 315/30R-20 rear), they're an appropriate reward for picking the $18,500 Carbon Fiber Track Pack, which includes them. (Carbon Revolution says it retails similar aftermarket wheels at $11,500 per set, although Ford hasn’t yet listed a price.) This time, there's no doubt what exotic material lies underneath the clearcoat.

What’s more telling is how Carbon Revolution upsized the GT350R's 19-inch wheels and rated them for higher loads without any weight penalty. Both GT350R and GT500 wheels weigh the same 17 pounds. Had it applied the same construction technique, co-founder Brett Gass said, each 20-inch wheel would be five pounds heavier.

But these wheels are the company's fourth generation. The 2016 Ford GT had the second version, which featured a new resin and weaves to support thinner spokes. Then came the 10-spoke design for the Ferrari 488 Pista. Not only was the barrel 40 percent thinner, further reducing mass and increasing rigidity, but a new foam core within the spokes and a special braiding process allowed for recessed bolt holes. Formerly, Carbon Revolution's process restricted the center design to a flat, deep-dish plate. The Ferrari rims, shared with the upcoming SF90 Stradale, are just as curvy and smooth as a standard alloy design.

The GT500 wheels share these upgrades and are otherwise identical. The inner structure of microscopic glass beads and high-density foam are bonded together with 200 pieces of carbon strands each barely 0.1 mm thick. Their major benefit over the Pista wheels especially for a mainstream automaker like Ford is automation. Robots that can spin the carbon preform and higher-pressure resin injection molds have removed much of the manual labor.

Gass said Carbon Revolution is prepared to make as many as 8000 GT500 wheels per year and up to 30,000 wheels in total for Ford, Ferrari, and Porsche (for the 911 Turbo Exclusive Series). Those numbers seemed impossible just four years ago. (And Shelby fans, if you haven't done the math, that means Ford expects to sell at least 2000 cars with the Track Pack.)

The performance gains are tangible, as we tested in 2016 with the GT350R's aluminum and carbon wheels. Lighter, stiffer wheels improve acceleration, grip, and steering feel. Less unsprung weight means less upward motion, ensuring a steadier contact patch over uneven surfaces. More rigidity means less sidewall flex and negative camber movements under hard cornering. And have you ever tried curling a 20-inch carbon wheel? We did and it’s cake.

"I know what aluminum was 10 years ago, and I know what it will be 10 years from now," Gass said. "There is no place else on earth doing what we're doing."

Exempting Koenigsegg and McLaren (the latter uses a hybrid aluminum and carbon-fiber wheel on the Senna), there indeed is no other supplier churning out carbon wheels for major automakers. Gass said they've signed 10 OEM contracts and hints he's working on a 23-inch wheel for an upcoming super SUV (Ferrari Purosangue, perhaps?).

We can't wait to test the GT500 ourselves with these carbon wheels. But we also can't wait to see what cars wear these wheels in the next four years.

This article was originally published by CarAndDriver.
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