Exterior Design *****
The more I look at these new Mustangs, the more I understand why LA's Museum of Contemporary Art gave designer J Mays his own show. True, his New Beetle and reborn Thunderbird are insipid, but what he did for Ford's hot two-door has teeth. The Mustang looks even better dressed as a Shelby, with its ass in the air, fat tires and megamouth shark front end. You simply cannot front on the blue Le Mans stripes, nor can you dispute the perturbed Cobras (four of 'em) covering all sides. Still, to the untrained eye, the GT500 only looks like a plain, old Mustang. And considering it's a vehicle capable of truly heinous illegal activity, that may be good news for your license.
Interior Design ***
The SVT light, which flares orange when revs match a driver-selectable shift point, is beyond cool. In fact, if everything else about the car sucked eggs, that lone detail would be enough to win my heart. If you look at the wheel you'll clock yet another snake. If you gaze through the wheel, you'll notice a wholly illegible supercharger boost gauge. And the seats have hissing cobras stitched into 'em, too. Just don't look down at the same cheap-o FoMoCo interior parts.
I wish we could give out more than five stars, because the GT500 deserves at least seven. True, other cars will hit 60 mph faster (4.5 seconds in this case) and do the quarter-mile in less time (12.9 seconds) — (Hot Rod wrangled 4.3 seconds to 60mph and 12.25 through the quarter). But no production vehicle on earth is more fun, or more frightening, to launch. Once the clutch engages, the feeling is that of being strapped to a Saturn V rocket that's had a few too many. Shifting into second produces immediate, blood-curdling fishtailage. And that's with the computer doing to the dirty work. Computer off, and the Shelby goes sideways and stays there for as long as it goes forward. Long story short, the Shelby GT500 conjures dreams of owning an abandoned runway.
Obviously the terrible stock Mustang GT's brakes would be of little use in a 500hp brute like this. Out they went, and in their place are 14" cross-drilled rotors and four-piston Brembos in the front. Though the rear wheels have stock stoppers, the mighty Brembo duo gets the job done. They're not outstanding or memorable, mind you, but you will shed speed when you stand on the pedal. And, as I found out on an 80-mile round trip up and down Angeles Crest, no sign of fade.
What a beast. On straight, smooth surfaces the GT500 feels fine, and that's the only reason I'm handing out two stars. But if the road ahead should wind even slightly, the Shelby begins its rocking and bobbing. There's too much weight up front and too little technology out back in the live-axle setup for any other result. Rough surfaces are a nightmare of jolting and banging. There's a reason the headrests are the softest part of the seats.
Ford Racing execs claim they've mitigated the live-rear-axle liability by tweaking elsewhere. True, this car is to an Elise what a rhinoceros is to a gazelle. So ... Don't race Lotuses. Engineers did their job though, as the grip is enormous (0.92 G), making challenging roads feel conquerable. It's always a bummer when the stock Mustang GT quits at the limit and begins to plow, but the good news is the Shelby's first instinct is to oversteer; with the traction control off it does little else. Even if you're not quite Mr. McRae, with the traction nanny switched on you'll have a hard time doing anything too stupid.
Disclaimer: our Shelby showed up with 9,000 journalist miles so who knows what this poor car has been through. (I would guess hell.) Still, the transmission made some of the worst noises I've heard since my old Pontiac lost a cylinder. You only notice this when scooting about town buying milk and cigarettes; under heavy acceleration all you hear is the air-raid-siren scream from the blower. The flimsy stick felt like it could snap apart in my hand, which, again may or may not be due to abuse. Ford claims the six-speed Tremec unit, which replaces the mediocre five-speed in the GT, is needed to handle the extra torque. Without the sixth-gear, however, the Shelby would likely return close to single-digit highway miles.
There's no video and the Shelby is in desperate need of the Shaker 1000 unit we had in last month's California Special. There's so much womp-womp from the massive tires at freeway speeds that it is best to just pull the head unit to save weight.
In some sense, the car itself is a toy. That said, I just cannot get over that you can choose your own gauge colors. Also, as mentioned, the flashing SVT shift point indicator is tits on glass.
Only the M6 and the Merc 600CL rival the Shelby for 500hp coupe storage supremacy. And those are fancy-pants Deutsche super sleds most definitely not intended for me or you. I was able to schlep my mother's Black Friday Macy's haul home with ease.
500 horses for $40,925? Sold.
I was so prepared to hate this car. The (admittedly short) time I spent with the convertible GT500 alerted me to all its flaws. Plus, as we were testing the drop-top in heavily congested and policed Malibu, I never got to really open her up (i.e., drop the hammer and the clutch). As the miles rolled by this week I have been converted, one stoplight at a time. The Shelby has so many good points; bowel-emptying acceleration, rude-boy looks, aggressive handling and potent brakes that it is easy to overlook the most important part. You (or hopefully me) could live with this car, happily ever after.