Carroll Shelby and the Ford Mustang
are knocking on immortality, and with age comes the wisdom to invent new variations of the classic pony car theme.
Ace snake charmer Shelby, who's eighty-six and still kicking, thrives by teaming with Ford's Special Vehicle Team (SVT) to scare interlopers off their hot coupe turf. Chevrolet Camaro, Dodge Challenger, and, yes, Hyundai Genesis coupe, stand back; there's a new GT500 in town, and the supercharger under its humped hood isn't for blowing smoke.
SVT was born in 1991 to spoil the debut of the fourth-generation Camaro. With and without Shelby as an accomplice, SVT has created some of the best performance models ever blessed with a blue oval. Now, following a long coffee break, the SVT gang is back on two feet - tending one car and one truck - and itching to kick asphalt.
The 2010 Shelby GT500 is the recently face-lifted Mustang armed with the Ford Motor Company's most powerful engine and comprehensive chassis, driveline, interior, and exterior modifications. A 5.4-liter DOHC V-8 similar to the engine that powered the late Ford GT delivers 540 hp at 6200 rpm - a 40-hp gain - thanks to the addition of knock sensors, a more efficient air intake, low-restriction mufflers, and fresh fuel and spark calibrations.
A dual-plate clutch, revised transmission ratios, and a shorter (3.55 replacing 3.31:1) final-drive ratio pass the newfound punch to nineteen-inch (up from eighteen-inch) Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar radials. Chassis alterations include stiffer springs, tighter damping, and a softer front antiroll bar. Steering compliance has been reduced, and there's a touch more power assistance.
The widest racing stripes in Christendom sweep back from a prominent fascia, over a rear spoiler augmented with a downforce-generating (Dan) Gurney flap, and between four-inch exhaust pipes. Forged Super Alloy aluminum wheels brighten the side view and showcase the (front only) Brembo four-piston brake calipers. The tuck-and-roll upholstery is also striped to a fare-thee-well. Metal dash plates are finished with a polka-dot pattern, and there are strategically positioned Alcantara grip patches in the steering wheel and seat bolsters.
Another round of tuning helps suppress the shortcomings of the rudimentary strut-front, live-axle-rear suspension system. Turn-in is linear, the Tokico gas-pressure dampers keep body motions in check, and the new tires provide tenacious grip with a surprisingly supple ride. But, compared with the new Camaro, this Shelby is a work in progress. Minimal road feel reaches the driver's fingers, and mixing hard cornering with heaves or bumps still spells trouble. When we negotiated quick left/right transitions at Infineon Raceway, the GT500 felt like it had bowling balls strapped to its roof, the result of an iron engine block piled high with heavy supercharging gear.
The straight-line game is where this car shines. The Shelby's force-fed V-8 howls like a demon, knocking off 4.5-second 0-to-60-mph runs and sub-thirteen-second quarter-mile sprints. That performance drives past all contemporary pony car rivals to harass Corvettes with the Z51performance package. In normal motoring, just the right amount of blower whine is released by a patented chamber located between the cold-air snorkel and the throttle body.
Due credit must be given to the Tremec six-speed transmission. First gear lights the rear tires, while second swings the tail into drift mode. Third is perfect for prowling the suburbs in search of unsuspecting prey. That leaves three more gears for placid cruising. Thanks to the new 0.50:1 top ratio, highway mileage climbs to 22 mpg (a gain of 2 mpg), trimming the Shelby's guzzler tax from $1300 to $1000.
Further augmenting the Shelby's joy of shifting, the clutch pedal is light and progressive in its takeup while the stick moves through a tight H-pattern. The coolest interior detail is a striped shift knob made of four molded pieces laminated together and polished by a billiard ball manufacturer.
There are a couple of flaws. A lump in the floor snags the driver's heel during full-throttle indulgences, and the headrests don't willingly accommodate helmets. On track day, you can put up with the rub or lap with the headrests removed.
With a base price of $48,175 (or $53,075 for the convertible), the Shelby GT500 won't deter many from placing their bets on the Camaro, Challenger, Mustang, or Genesis coupe of their choice. Still, it's good to see that the Shelby/SVT collaboration hasn't lost its ability to slip on a game face to show the junior pony car gang what 540 hp can do.
On Sale: Now
Engine: 5.4L supercharged V-8, 540 hp, 510 lb-ft
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