Choose the red key, and see how fast the Mustang goes


Ford’s 2012 Mustang Boss 302 is a high-tech reboot of the muscle car, and it’s packed with treats for automotive aficionados. But the key to its real secrets don’t merely lie under the hood, but in the code. Ford will offer a second set of race-ready parameters for the software that controls the car’s performance—which owners will be able to access only if they purchase a special key. A standard-issue black key starts the car with its default street settings; turn the red pill TracKey, and the sports car turns into a race-ready monster. Here’s Ford’s own description of the tech as reported at Jalopnik:

The TracKey PCM software, installed by an authorized Ford racing dealer after a customer takes delivery of the car, adjusts variable cam timing, spark maps, engine braking, fuel control and other engine parameters — more than 200 in total — to provide a complete race car calibration. The result is an aggressive, race-bred driving experience all the way down to the lopey idle rumbling through the Boss quad exhaust.

It’s a wild notion, and no doubt it will prove catnip to the speed-addicted. But it’s also a reminder of the powerful software lock manufacturers are exerting over their products, as automotive on-board computers are loaded with the equivalent of DRM software. And it prompts a question: have we entered a stage when hot-rod tuning becomes a species of software hacking?

2 comments

  1. Hot rod tuning becoming a species of software hacking? It has been one of the biggest components of tuning vehicles for years. Mod Chips, computer monitor interfaces, it is the industry dirty secret.

    The fun part about it is how well the manufacturers warranty correlates to changing of tuning settings.

    Always remember to save a backup of your stock settings. Change it back before going to a dealer.

    These performance modes are long overdue. They can be great ways to up fuel efficiency and still create an awesome driving experience.

  2. Thanks, Trace. Performance modes are pretty cool—but is there a downside? I’m thinking mostly of how hard it’s become for small-time garages to fix recent automobiles. Maybe the loss in competition in the repair market can be offset by fuel efficiency and lowered emissions. Or maybe with a little reg, we can have it both ways?

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