Forty years ago if you’d asked anyone which car had two wide racing stripes running full-length from bumper to bumper, they would say “The Shelby GT350!” A couple years later the answer would be, “The Shelby GT500!” These cars carried the immensely popular Mustang into the world of SCCA racing, garnering hundreds of trophies and grudging acceptance from “Euro-elitists” who doggedly pressed on with their high-revving, over-tweaked engines while Ford-powered cars swept nearly all forms of racing from NASCAR to Le Mans. This was the heyday for the Blue Oval and a lot of dealers got rich, but those days appear to be over.
Or, maybe not! A couple years ago old “Shel,” as Carroll Shelby prefers to be called, got together with Ford’s SVT group to dust off the ’60s legends and attempt to stir the juices of another generation of Mustang aficionados. The new Mustang was destined to be a major hit for Ford. Sensing the momentum, SVT’s chief engineer, Hau Tai Tang, sold management on the idea of bringing back a super-powered version. Management wisely agreed and the SVT engineers sat down with Shelby (then over 80 years old) to iron out the details.
What they came up with is nothing short of a whole new definition of the Muscle Car. The new Shelby GT500 Mustang is better described as an Uber-Muscle Car, with the most performance you can get for less than 50 Grand (that’s MSRP, not including dealer markups). It’s a Mustang, but styling accents give it an intimidating, don’t-even-think-about-it, kind of appearance that reeks of testosterone, power and a lot of automotive history. It’s a machine that, in its modern way, looks just like the old Shelby cars looked: fast and capable and no frills.
There are frills of course, like A/C, sound systems, ABS and powered devices that today’s buyers expect from all vehicles, but that’s where the line was drawn at SVT. Everything else was put there to make the car go really, really fast. Packed – shoehorned, if you will – into the engine bay of this new Mustang is a 5.4 liter supercharged V8 that sits waiting to pump 505 horsepower into the drivetrain and thence to the rear wheels. No, SVT didn’t merely bolt a supercharger onto an assembly line engine. They produced a 4 valves-per-cylinder, overhead cam, fully tricked-out, high performance engine that’s capable of yielding 22 mpg if you keep your foot out of it, but what-the-heck. Added to this are a high-capacity aluminum radiator, intercooler mounted under the blower, loop-style power steering cooler and an oil-to-water stacked-dish engine oil cooler.
Coupled to all that power is the TR6060, an upgraded version of the 6-speed T56 transmission, that lets you take advantage of all the rev ranges. Out back is a live rear axle set in a multi-link suspension. None of those new-fangled independent rears for the Mustang crowd, thank you very much, but to be fair, it works fine and is the same suspension as the FR500C racing setup used in Grand-Am racing. Spring and shock rates all around are F-I-R-M. There’s no other apt description. It’s a bone-shaker of a ride, but what’s a little discomfort among friends?
You can also watch the Ford Shelby Mustang GT500 video on YouTube.
Speaking of friends, if you drive one of these you’ll attract a lot of them. Nearly everyone seems to know what this machine is and I found myself being addressed at stop lights, gas pumps and every time I parked it. They all wanted to know, “How fast is it?” or “Could I have a ride?” A couple bicyclists gave me the finger, no doubt their way of letting me know that this car is an anachronism in the “Age of Danger,” but I couldn’t help but notice that they didn’t bother to heed stop signs or lights as they pedaled smugly along.
So how does it feel and how fast is it? Well, I didn’t time any 0-60 or 0-100 runs but it’s sure to equal or exceed the performance of the usual suspects like Viper, ZO6, Turbo Carrera and those few others currently sitting in the 4-second category. It feels much like a Ford GT with slipping rear tires. The Shelby managed effortlessly to lose grip in first and second gears every time I hammered the throttle, in spite of the fact that the car was going at least 20 mph on dry pavement and the traction control was turned on!
The engine winds up incredibly fast, launching (throwing!) the driver and passengers back into their seats and producing a pleasant, but almost frightening supercharger whine that any WWII P51 pilot would love. (Come to think about it, the P51 was a Mustang, too.) While all the fuss is going on the exhaust note tells everyone around that this is a serious performance machine.
Things happen real fast when all-out driving the Shelby, and in avery short time you realize the need to slow down for legal, if not safety reasons. Addressing that problem is plenty of stopping power. Up front are Brembo brakes with big, four-piston calipers and vented 14-inch discs. In the back the GT500 utilizes an 11.8-inch vented single-piston caliper rear-disc setup with special pad material. Both Coupe and Convertible models ride on four 18-inch x 9.5-inch aluminum wheels, wearing 255/45ZR18 tires on the front and 285/40ZR18 tires on the rear.
All that rubber gives the Shelby a very good handling feel, notwithstanding the ride quality. Turns are managed quite capably in spite of the 57%-front, 43%-rear weight bias and the 4,000 pound mass of the car itself. It does feel heavy and brutish, to be sure. The clutch and steering sensations are reminiscent of the 60s-era factory hotrods that the Big Three produced. This can be construed as either an endearing quality or a negative, depending upon your point of view. No matter how you look at it, the Shelby is a screamer of a car.
Interior comforts are typical Mustang, although Ford’s description is one of an upgraded version. Typical of SVT cars the gauges are light-faced with polished bezels and the speedometer and tach are located left-right on the instrument cluster. Leather surfaces are embossed with a cobra on the seatbacks and the red-stiched shift boot is also leather. Only two colors are available, charcoal black and charcoal black with red seat inserts and door panels. This test car was trimmed in black only.
Outside it’s all Shelby. The fog lamps are relocated on the outside of the lower front fascia for maximum airflow and the hood is raised for airflow. Two heat extractor openings are fared into the hood as well. The de-riguer rear spoiler is functional, of course, and the C-pillar glass is not, just as in the original Shelby cars. Then there are the painted racing stripes. These come in four colors: white, blue, tungsten and silver and the test car was painted Vista Blue with white stripes. There are also stripes along the rocker panel and these end forward with the GT500 lettering.
My overall assessment is that the Shelby lives up to its hype, and heritage, as a serious no-holds-barred performance car. It’s not what most people would want for an everyday driver but it is certainly to be a collectable car and great weekend “toy.” The MSRP on the Shelby is $43,000 including a $1,300 gas-guzzler tax, but dealerships are currently tacking on a whopping $30,000 markup for those who want to be the first to own one.
Whether you buy one now or wait until they make enough to be able to get one at the sticker price, you’ll definitely own the bragging rights.