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December 28, 2010 > Auto Review: Shelby GT500: Super Mustang experience

Auto Review: Shelby GT500: Super Mustang experience

By Steve Schaefer

Racing legend Carroll Shelby's versions of Mustangs (Cobra and other) have been prized for their potent performance for decades. I drove the 2011 Shelby GT500 last week and oh my!

Ford's Special Vehicle Team (SVT) started with the 2011 Mustang body-gloriously redone last year and still handsome in a retro way. Look at those raised haunches, the trapezoidal grille that leans forward aggressively and the hint of side scoop that has been a Mustang styling cue since 1964. And the classic triple tail lamps remain, with sequential turn signals too! It's a 1960s dream in 21st century form.

Under the hood, a supercharged 5.4-liter V8 growls out a whopping 550 horsepower and 510 lb.-ft of torque. In this 3,800-pound car it is gives rocket performance with a symphony of glorious pistons in motion.

Ford uses a special high-tech technique on the aluminum engine's cylinder bores, applying a state-of-the-art Plasma Transferred Wire Arc (PTWA) coating on the internal surfaces, thereby saving more than eight pounds. The engine itself is 102 pounds lighter than last year's cast iron unit.

The new Electric Power Assisted Steering provides improved torque build-up and road feel that delivers quicker and more precise steering, increased effort on the racetrack or winding roads, and reduced effort in low-speed parking maneuvers. It felt pretty natural to me, too.

Of course a car like this isn't going to impress any environmentalists, but the posted fuel economy is 15 City, 23 Highway (average 17). Those numbers, while not high, represent a one mile per gallon improvement over last year's model, thanks to the lighter engine. It's enough to remove the gas guzzler tax, saving thousands of dollars (and the stigma). I averaged 15.8 miles per gallon.

The Green Vehicle ratings are an average 5 for Air Pollution and a dismal 2 for Greenhouse Gas. What were you expecting?

Historically, Mustangs have not been renowned for their carefully assembled and finely crafted interiors. However, things have improved dramatically. My test car featured dotted metal trim that was carefully installed. The dash was padded and boasted just the right sort of matte finish and grain. The smartly laid out controls were made from a high quality plastic. It felt eerily like a German sports sedan.

It's rare to get to shift your own gears with a truly powerful car. And here, the shift knob is a white cue ball - in the style of its Cobra ancestors. As you move from gear to gear, you feel metal parts connecting - you have to work at it - but there's never a bad shift. When you can shoot away from a stop or up an onramp, it's bliss. The car serves up so much torque that both fifth and sixth gears are overdrive - sixth is .50.

My Performance White tester attracted some attention, including a Mustang 5.0 owner who gave me the big thumbs up. And a couple of guys in an aging Mitsubishi Eclipse actually called out, "Wanna race?" I heard Jan and Dean's "Deadman's Curve" in my mind and ignored them.

Although it is obviously based on the Mustang, the GT 500 is pumped up in more than mechanical ways. It says S H E L B Y in big letters along the tail, and two fat exhausts hang out under the rear bumper. The grille loses its classic running horse for a discreet Shelby Cobra-style coiled snake. More snakes inhabit the front fenders, leaving no doubt it's something special.

My tester came with the Performance Package, which for $3,495, makes the car racetrack ready. It adds special 19-inch front rims and big 20's in back, a 3.73 ratio limited slip rear axle, a spoiler and glorious twin red racing stripes.

The charcoal black leather seats in my tester were very supportive and comfortable. They wore red racing stripes too! The steering wheel combined a metallic center panel (with snake), leather at the top and bottom, and Alcantara suede along the sides. Turning the wheel in corners offers up a mixture of surfaces that's surprisingly satisfying. The metallic trim promotes a cheery retro 1960s feeling.

I found myself shutting off the car's Shaker Audio system with Ford Sync system to hear the engine's music. The 2011 Shelby has more insulation this year, for a 20 percent reduction in road noise, so you can enjoy the engine sound instead of hearing tire hum.

Mighty motoring does not come cheap, although this is a reasonable price for the performance. My test Shelby, with Electronics Package, Performance Package, and destination charge, came to $55,330. Yes, that is a lot for a Mustang, but this is no ordinary horse. If you can find one, in coupe or convertible form, indulge yourself with a test drive.


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