The 2015 Ford Mustang is almost here, which means a new one GT500 isn't far away. I drove the last of the current GT500s to determine what happens when you find 662 horsepower under your right foot.It wasn't anything like I expected.
(Full Disclosure: Ford didn't really want me to drive a Shelby GT500, but they did want Christopher Kippenberger to have one and I offered to pick the car up from Ford for him. I may have driven the car slightly more than was necessary.)
What is 662 horsepower? Well, if you drive a 1990s family sedan, it's something like if your car had five or six extra engines crammed under the hood. It's more power than you know what to do with. It's enough to spin the rear tires with traction control fully on.
Surprisingly, it rarely feels particularly crazy. Having 662 horsepower ends up being rather serene. It's like being on the top floor of a tall Manhattan office building, watching tiny people scurry like ants below. No wait, it's more like sitting under a shady tree one July afternoon, watching birds dart overhead as the rest of the world goes by in slow-motion.
Well, maybe I need to explain a bit more.
Back in October I got a message from the Most Interesting Man In Car Porn, the King of the Drones himself, Chris Kippenberger that he would be a speaker at the big Drones and Aerial Robotics Conference at New York University's law school. That's him standing next to the car in the picture above. "Got this car for the conference," the Facebook message read with a picture of a GT500. "In red with white stripes. We gonna go all tony stark and pull up with that fucker at nyu law."
I considered saying no. Truth be told, I was more than a little scared of the car. Rather, I was more than a little scared that I would stuff the car into a light pole and get fired from my job. Eventually I took a look in a mirror, slapped myself in the face a few times, and agreed to pick the car up for Kippenberger. I mean, it's just 662 horsepower. How hard can it be?
I picked up the car from the big Manhattan Ford dealership the morning before the conference and things were immediately a challenge. I chirped the tires the first time I started moving. I crunched the chin spoiler as I drove out of the garage. I don't know how many times I stalled with the little short-throw shifter. It was all because of my expectations of what all that power was going to be like.
The funny thing is that you expect 662 horsepower to be violent. In the GT500 it's not. I've never been in a more relaxed car, really. I pulled off the West Side Highway onto a wide, deserted side street and planted my foot on the gas. I was ready for a thunderclap and lightning supercharger whine. Instead there was a steady, low roar from the huge V8. I was ready for the car to shoot straight at a parked car. Instead everything went smooth and the car rolled steadily forward at the front, and floated effortlessly at the back. Later in the day I realized there was no more relaxing place I could be than in the GT500 doing a burnout. I wanted to get in, plant my foot to the floor, and take a nap. It felt like I was sailing, not driving. Like I was riding this gentle wave of wheelspin until what felt like hours later and the bald rear tires finally hooked up.
That's when the car shot straight forward and we were doing about ten thousand miles an hour before I hauled the car to a standstill at the stop sign. We may have been doing all of thirty, but it felt like it happened instantaneously, and the car just opened its mouth and chomped down all that speed in one bite.
Before that side street launch, I was terrified of the car. Getting it through stop-and-go Manhattan traffic was some of the stressful driving I've ever done, because I was just so sure that I would release the clutch a little bit too fast and 662 horsepower would rocket me into the trunk of the taxi cab inches from my front bumper. I was positive I would light up the back tires at stop lights. I was deathly afraid that a I'd give the car a hair too much throttle and it would spin off the road, up a curb, and over somebody walking on the sidewalk.
After that side street launch, I understood the car. It was so easy, so simple, so light, so friendly, so playful. And addictive. Every time I saw an empty street, the car would just pull my foot down on the gas pedal and the car would start sailing again, the back tires liquefying.
It has an evil personality. It clearly wanted me to get in trouble and it absolutely turned me into a maniac.
You grow horns when you have 662 horsepower.
I was sure people would hate the car. It's a red Mustang with white racing stripes and a reasonably (but not obnoxiously) loud exhaust. I was prepared for rich and cultured Manhattanites to look down on this muscle car, this single-digit mpg machine.
Instead, people adored it.
Kippenberger said Americans look at a GT500 like Germans look at a GTI. He's right. In the faces of everyone passing by, I could see a little bit of pride, a little bit of vicarious enjoyment. If Kippenberger and I were in a Ferrari, or in some big-engine Mercedes AMG, everyone would have looked at us like douchebags. In the GT500 it was all smiles. I certainly saw a lot of cameraphones point at the car.
At one point [REDACTED] was behind the wheel and I recall turning onto [REDACTED] Street fully [REDACTED], the car taking up [REDACTED] lanes before [THIS SCENE DEPICTS INAPPROPRIATE HOONAGE AND HAS BEEN REDACTED] behind an NYPD patrol car. Maybe the cop liked seeing a Mustang do that, maybe he didn't see us at all. We bent the block and took the long way across town just to be sure.
This is the kind of driving I despise, and there were so many ways for everything to go wrong; the GT500's nose could have bashed into the side of a yellow taxi, or something like that. But the GT500 brings out a very devilish side of you. The lovable asshole side of you. The clownish, full-bass-on-the-stereo, peeling-out-in-front-of-swanky-restaurants side of you.
You feel so different from every other car on the road. Nothing else looks or feels so over the top. I was in traffic in the GT500 and an olive green Accord pulled up next to me. It only made me realize how absurd the GT500 looks. It's a bulky retro coupe with racing stripes and huge tailpipes and a shift knob out of a '60s drag racer and a snake on the steering wheel.
And nothing else is remotely as fast. You feel like you exist on a different plane of existence to other cars in traffic, instantly closing gaps between cars and sucking up blocks between the red lights.
Owning and operating a GT500 in New York City will get you in trouble. Eventually the cops will notice you turning your tires into dust on some side street in Crown Heights. Eventually you will run out of opposite lock and you will slide a wheel into a steel rain gutter. Eventually you will get tired of a traction control system that does nothing to prevent the back tires from spinning. The car is an accident waiting to happen.
But for those first few days, hours, weeks, that 662 horsepower is more than you will ever need or fully understand. It will be the most exciting and relaxing car you could imagine. You will be high for days later, drugged up on supercharged V8.
I couldn't have been happier to have spent a few days with a GT500, and I couldn't have been more relieved to hand the keys back when it was all over.
Photo Credits: Raphael Orlove