When a highly-anticipated test car is spotted on the streets, it is cloaked in camouflage to ensure that secrets are kept undercover from paparazzi looking to leak out every possible detail. Spy shots surface of cars sporting padded covers with mysterious vents and pockets or sport special paint jobs meant to hide its true shape.
With the all-new 2015 Ford Mustang, enthusiasts have been anxiously awaiting every little detail while Ford tried hard to keep it under wraps during months and thousands of logged miles testing the finalized product on public roads. Spy photos flooded the internet every time the covered pony car was spotted around Dearborn, which sparked debates of what the new Mustang might entail.
While many people are out there trying to figure out what is lurking below the black vinyl, the camouflage team from Ford design and engineering is making sure the car is perfectly hidden below the drapes.
“Ford designers and engineers spend a lot of time developing new cars, and part of my job is to make sure people don’t see the result until it’s completely ready,” said Dave Pericak, Mustang chief engineer. “Professional spy photographers have been stalking prototype cars for decades, and now, the addition of camera phones has made it even more critical to hide our cars from prying eyes.”
“The professional photographers all know where the cars get built and where they get tested,” said Pericak. “One photographer we see frequently parks in discrete locations with a view of these facilities, just waiting for something new to emerge.”
With everybody now armed with smartphones, avoiding the usual photographer hot spots is not enough anymore. A quick photo and upload takes mere seconds and can spoil the secret in no time.
“Before a single one of these test vehicles is allowed to leave the prototype plant, a camouflage package is developed and must be approved by the design, engineering, and test track safety departments,” said Al Wilkinson, Ford camouflage coordinator. “With all of the camo in place, even a good photograph should not give away the design details of the new car.”
Developing the camouflage starts with the design team and is refined through engineering and safety. When designing the Mustang camo, the first design was shockingly minimal to keep weight and aerodynamic effects minimal, but that wasn’t going to cut it with today’s technology.
“When I saw the first camouflage package the team suggested, I knew it wasn’t good enough to counter the paparazzi, so we went back to the drawing board,” said Pericak.
Not wanting to reveal too much of the body, it was back to work to make sure the whole car was covered in black vinyl with heavily-padded foam underneath. The second design revealed the fastback profile that Pericak wanted to keep hidden, so it was back to the starting line one more time.
The last Mustang camo package hid the fastback profile and car proportions making it appear as a notchback and seem much smaller than it actually was. Plastic and foam pieces were placed strategically beneath the vinyl to throw off paparazzi and hide the car’s true curves.
“Safety is as important as security when testing prototypes,” added Wilkinson. “Despite covering the body, we still have to make sure car lights and signals can shine through.”
The camo can’t just be thrown on the car, but involves a process to make sure that there is no air to catch the vinyl and pull it up in front of anxious onlookers, and with the new Mustang capable of 155mph, it can be a safety issue for the driver and anybody in the general vicinity.
The final Mustang camo was weighed in at 49 pounds, providing a secure and discreet cover, but allowing the vehicle to breathe when out on the open road.
When looking to photograph a spy car, patience is a virtue. Photographers can sit for minutes or months to catch a glimpse of a never-before-seen vehicle. When Tom Barnes, vehicle engineering manager, drove the first covered 2015 Mustang out on the streets, it took less than an hour for the spy photos to be plastered all over social media and automotive websites.
“After spending weeks refining the camo package for the Mustang, it was a bit frustrating getting snagged by the paparazzi almost immediately,” said Barnes. “On the other hand, when we saw the photos later that day, it was a relief to realize you really couldn’t tell what the car looked like.”
The Ford team went to great lengths to make sure that the Mustang was as obscured as possible, but sometimes the camo needs to come off for further testing. In this case, a lot of late nights were in order for the team to gather the information that they needed with covers off.
Now that the new Mustang has been officially revealed by Ford, the team is free to test it without camo as the paparazzi has moved on to fresh new targets.