The Ford Mustang is the vehicle that defines the pony car segment. Few automobiles have lived up to the prowess displayed by these muscle-heavy sports coupes. However, a class action lawsuit alleges that the Mustang—or more specifically, the 526-horsepower Shelby GT350—isn’t living up to its paradigmatic reputation. Early sixth-generation GT350 owners have banded together to take on the Blue Oval in court, claiming that the “track-ready” tire slayers were never equipped to properly handle seat time in their natural habitat.
Earlier this month, Federal Judge Federico A. Moreno reviewed the complaints against Ford which were originally made back in 2017. It was determined that proceedings held enough merit to move forward, and they were certified in several states. Then, the judge quoted plaintiffs who compared the Mustangs with one of Lee Iacocca’s most infamous flops: the Ford Pinto.
At the center of the lawsuit is the 2016 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350. Specifically, the complaint targets the vehicles equipped with either the Base or Technology packages, as both trims lacked the oil, transmission, and differential coolers found in the higher-trimmed cars like the Track, R, and R Technology packages. Instead, the cars were programmed to enter a performance-limited engine management loop (“Limp Mode”) which capped the power output to prevent damage to the vehicle due to high temperatures. This problem is specific to the 2016 Shelby GT350, as the 2017 made the Track package standard, which equipped the Mustang with all the coolers that were previously optional.
The lawsuit alleges that Ford removed these coolers from the two lowest trims in order to increase profits, yet still chose to improperly advertise these Mustangs as being “track-ready.” Some plaintiffs in the case say that they specifically purchased the cars for prolonged track use, yet the cars are unable to perform due to the cooling issues constantly sending them into Limp Mode before they could complete even a single track day. Some claim that the vehicles entered Limp Mode in just 15 minutes of sustained track driving.
In the video below, a GT350 with the Technology Package can be seen hitting Limp Mode during a track day around the four-minute mark.
Depending on the state that the case was certified in, the class action may be presented as either fraud or a breach of warranty due to the cars entering Limp Mode under “normal” conditions. Ford maintains that this is a safety feature—that since it is not a malfunction, it doesn’t represent a vehicle defect and thus is not a warrantable claim.
The judge, however, is not convinced by the warranty argument. The order to certify the lawsuit specifically calls out the lack of coolers as a design choice and labels it an alleged design defect rather than a manufacturing defect, though consumers’ protection on this becomes muddied on a state-by-state basis when approached as a warranty issue.
“Through product placement in James Bond movies and racing partnerships with figures like Carroll Shelby, Ford has spent half a century cultivating an aura of performance and adventure,” writes Judge Moreno in the order. “But these Plaintiffs allege, to Lee Iacocca’s chagrin, that their cars are more like Pintos than Mustangs.”
It appears that the next step for this long-dragged-out lawsuit will be to duke it out in court. That alone might be concerning for Ford considering that Hagens Berman—the firm that won $1.6 billion from Toyota over unintended acceleration, $350 million from GM over its ignition switches, and $330 million from FCA (now Stellantis) over an emissions scandal—is leading the case.
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