Ford Harnesses 500 HP for Tech-Rich Dark Horse Mustang

Mustang chief engineer Laurie Transou says the Dark Horse embodies the pony car’s three basic elements: heritage-conscious exterior styling, performance and fun. Here is an edited version of our interview with Transou.

Tanya Gazdik

April 21, 2023

7 Min Read
Mustang Dark Horse front 1.4 (Ford)
Mustang Dark Horse ready for track or drifting.Ford

NEW YORK – Laurie Transou, Ford’s chief engineer for the Mustang since January, has a soft spot for the pony car. At age 16, she learned how to drive a manual transmission in a Mustang GT.

Transou was on hand during the New York International Auto Show to show off the Mustang Dark Horse, which features a 5.0L Coyote V-8 and a 6-speed TREMEC manual transmission (a 10-speed automatic is optional).

Speaking with Wards from behind the wheel of a Dark Horse maneuvering through busy NYC traffic, Transou discusses what motivated the automaker to offer the vehicle and how it differs from other Mustang models.

Wards: Let’s talk about two of the features that are only available on the Dark Horse, the drift brake and remote rev. How do they work and why did you add them?

DH Chassis Number.jpg

DH Chassis Number

Transou: The remote rev is only available on an automatic, not a manual. Both of them are really targeted at what I’ll call the next generation of enthusiast. So, (Ford is) trying to get our younger generation to love Mustang as much as my generation.

I’ll start with, why did we design them into the vehicle. The essence of Mustang is hinged on three elements. One is really distinctive exterior styling. So, you’ll notice the exterior styling and all of the Mustangs are kind of tied to our heritage, but also offering something new. This vehicle is much more edgy, I’ll call it fresh looking, but yet it has views from the 1960s Mustang. We always try to do that.

The other is performance. With every new Mustang, we try to amp up the performance. This has the most horsepower ever in a (non-Shelby) Mustang – the Dark Horse has 500 horsepower.

And then the last thing we always try to lean into is fun. People buy these vehicles because they’re fun. When we were thinking about who is our target customer, what can we do to appeal to that customer, we thought about what would be fun, and drift brake would be fun.

So, we partnered with Vaughn Gittin Jr. – he’s a Formula Drift champion. He helped us with the collaboration of developing the drift brake. It basically kind of acts like the old parking brake used to – I remember being younger in Mustangs, driving (using) my parking brake (in) the snow in Michigan. And yeah, basically pull up on it. It allows your whole vehicle to kind of shift and allows it to drift.

It’s really intended for the novice. You can learn how to drift by using it. It’s intended to bring a new experience to someone who might be interested in it. It is electronic so it’s not mechanically connected.

And then remote rev is basically a feature where you can be outside your vehicle, if you turn your engine on – let’s say you're at “Cars and Coffee” or whatever – and you’re down the way a bit and someone’s looking at your car, you can do a sequence of buttons on your key fob and it revs your engine and then you do it again. And it does like a triple rev, like really loud. So, I like to say “Cars and Coffee” will never be the same again (laughs) because of remote rev.

Wards: What’s the sales split likely to be between manual and automatic?

DH Blue Ember.jpg

DH Blue Ember

Transou: Historically our manual trans on GT is about 40%. So on this new vehicle, I wouldn’t imagine it would be any different.

Wards:  Do customers ask for special editions? Is that something that sort of drives your team to come up with new variations on what’s already a popular vehicle?

Transou: Yeah. I think, for Mustang in particular, our customers are incredibly passionate enthusiasts. And so we get asked all the time, “Hey, could you do, you know, another Boss, could you do another Bullitt?” So, there’s always people wanting special editions and derivatives. I think for us it’s a way to keep the product fresh and exciting.

Wards: What else are you doing to appeal to a younger consumer?

Transou: This is an immersive cockpit and new screen design. It’s a completely customizable screen. There’s a digital cluster. We’ve got, like, six or seven different cluster skins, we call them. You can go into this My Mustang (computer interface), and there’s a thing called cluster theme. You can pick normal, sport, track. There’s one called calm, which I’m not really sure who uses that in a Mustang (laughs). And there’s Fox body (the platform used for the third-generation Mustang from 1979-1993). So, kind of harkening back to some of our heritage. There’s something called My Color that allows you to customize primary and secondary color on your displays and ambient lighting.

Wards: Is that something you’ve discovered specifically appeals to a next generation of buyers?

Transou: Absolutely. And women also like it more so than men in general. You know, they just love color in general. So (there are) lots of different exterior colors. We’ve got lots of different interior colors and stitching. But yeah, in general, the digital customization for sure is aimed at that Gen Z/millennial crew.

One of the things Ford did with the screens is they used Unreal Engine for high-definition 3D graphics which is used for video gaming. My kids (who are in their 20s) who are into gaming would totally be like, “Oh, it’s Unreal Engine,” to them it’s a big deal. So again, trying to find a way to hook that customer.

Wards: What else is specific to Dark Horse?

Transou: The entry and exit animation is unique. When you get into the vehicle, it’ll have a unique animation that covers both screens for Dark Horse. And when you exit, it has a unique animation, as well. There’s also a Dark Horse puddle lamp, which is really cool.

Some of the things that are unique to Dark Horse on the interior, there’s a suede-wrapped steering wheel. You’ve got a 3D-printed blue titanium shift knob that comes on the manual transmission (pictured, below).

DH shifter.jpg

DH shifter

On the exterior there are some unique paint choices, like Blue Ember. It’s called Blue Ember because it looks like blue, but as you walk around it, it kind of starts to get like a cold, glowing kind of tone, almost like the embers in a fire. So it’s a really cool paint job only on Dark Horse.

Each Mustang Dark Horse features an instrument panel badge that includes the vehicle’s chassis number. So, when you buy a Dark Horse, it’s going to be yours and you’ll have your distinctive chassis number.

One of the things that I think is really fun and unique about the vehicle, we put in Easter eggs throughout. One is on the very back glass – you'll see along the bottom there’s a silhouette of every generation (of) Mustang, so there’s seven little mini-silhouettes. And the cool thing is when you look at them, you can see that they’re all connected. So, we’re always based in this history of Mustang, but yet we’re reaching forward to the future.

Wards: When will the Dark Horse arrive at dealerships?  Is it a limited production?

Transou:  All (’24-model-year) Mustangs will be available this summer. They’re all coming out at the same time. You can build and price them right now and order them right now. We don’t usually split out volumes by series. But what we can say is that we will be trying to match production with demand.

Wards: How does driving the Dark Horse feel different than a regular Mustang?

Transou: Faster, for sure. But the GT is 486 horsepower and this is 500. So (they’re) similar, but this one is a little bit faster. I would say everything’s a bit tighter. Your steering, your suspension, your handling is just a bit tighter. I think you just feel good when you drive this vehicle.

DH Laurie Transou.jpg

DH Laurie Transou

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