Manic street screecher: testing the 2016 Ford Mustang’s line lock

Published: 05 February 2016

► Ford’s bringing drag racing culture to Britain
► Line lock turns your tyres into slicks in minutes
► The costs might not be just rubber related

Line lock. Even within the car-enthusing, automotive lexicon-loving fraternity, it’s not necessarily a term many people here in Britain – unless you regularly frequent Santa Pod or Shakespeare county raceway – are familiar with.

That could be set to change with Ford’s Mustang, however. It's first production car sold with such a system – an electronic version at that – fitted as standard.

Save me from Googling it – what is a line lock?

Simply, it’s a method of locking the front wheels to prevent the car from moving forwards while the driven rears are spun ferociously to generate heat in the tyres.

Originating in the good ol’ US of A, it’s a system developed specifically for drag racing: the hotter the rear tyres the more asphalt adhesion they'll offer off the line, giving you a useful edge over your rival as you launch down the quarter mile.

Doing a burnout was no problem for most; in an automatic it was simply a case of dropping the transmission into first or drive, standing on the brake pedal and gunning the engine. The process of doing it in a manual car required a little more finesse but was otherwise much the same. 

The problem was, however, that performing these big, smokey, tyre-heating burnouts would tear up the rear brakes – as well as require some fairly trick pedal work and control. The line lock allowed drivers to lock the front brakes on, while releasing the rear brakes, and concentrate on getting the burnouts right – which was even more important as competition hotted up.

Originally, line locks were a manual valve that you'd close yourself, holding the brake pressure in the fronts but releasing it from the rears. It wasn't long before electronically controlled and actuated systems were offered, however.

These could be used in conjunction with various drag racing control systems, like timed and capped rev limits, turning the burnout into a precise process. Some even allow for the slow release of brake pressure, granting spectacular rolling burnouts. You can still get manual line locks, though, and many competitors still use them to this day.

2016 Ford Mustang

Okay. Why does the Mustang have it, though? 

Well, because it can – although only if you choose the well-endowed 5.0-litre V8 editions; the 2.3-litre EcoBoost doesn’t even have it as a factory option. There’s still no replacement for displacement, it seems.

Plus it gives Ford a marketing edge that other brawny sports coupes can’t boast about, which is handy when the Blue Oval’s making its first serious attempt to sell the ’Stang outside North America for the first time in its 52-year history. 

Go on, I’m intrigued – how does it work?

Rather like the rest of the Mustang, the line lock is a charming mix of old and new; the system is controlled via a combination of pedal and gear lever actions in conjunction with an electronic menu nestled between the instruments.

After you’ve scrolled through the list to find Track Apps and selected 'Line Lock' on the next screen, you’re then presented with a message stating ‘Initializing’, adjacent to a rectangle with two yellow arrows either side of it. 

Holding the OK button down on the steering wheel elevates the height of the arrows up to the top of the box in a manner reminiscent of a retro video game. Once complete, you have to press the brake pedal down firmly and hold it, which in turn fills the rectangle with white bars. 

A final click of the OK button and the Ford’s primed, the front wheels firmly locked. Next, snick the stick into first and depress the clutch – or pull the automatic’s lever into drive as 47% of initial UK Mustang drivers will do. Let all 415 horses fly and, for an automated 15-second count, keep the revs hovering around the red line.

The result: plumes of billowing white smoke and a high-pitched chirp as several millimetres of tyre tread is violently spat out behind.

2016 Ford Mustang

I bet that gets the attention of the boys in blue...

You could say that. Chief inspector Phil Vickers, operational roads policing lead for Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and Northamptonshire, says: 'We recognise that many enthusiasts look after their cars, but behaving in an anti-social way like this draws attention to the driver and means we’re more likely to become involved.'

Ultimately your Mustang could be seized but it doesn’t stop there as local authorities are increasingly willing to take legal action against those found responsible for damaging the highway.

'A new pair of tyres may not be the only bill,' confirmed Vickers. Mustang project manager, Pierre Bonnet, confirmed the legalities of the burnout function have been painstakingly examined by Ford’s lawyers, the result of which is the brochures and website state: 'Electronic Line Lock is specifically for track use only.'

Doesn’t using it on track invalidate the warranty?

That’s the gist of the chatter on various Mustang forums but Pierre Bonnet was quick to quell this online creation: 'Using the line lock itself won’t invalidate the warranty but driving the Mustang beyond its capabilities on a circuit, breaking something in the process, will do.'

It's hilarious fun in an utterly juvenile way, either way; the line lock’s a further extension of the Mustang’s nod to its Stateside roots and resultant showmanship. Just ensure you have deep pockets for all those trips to Kwik-Fit.

Read CAR magazine's Ford Mustang 5.0 V8 GT (2016) review

By Keith WR Jones

Managing editor of the Bauer Automotive hub and car brochure library owner