Porsche does this thing — I guess Ferrari does it, too — where the brand-new pretty fast medium-spicy sports car of the range goes as fast as the top ultra mega extra spicy supercar of the generation before. It sort of dulls the impact.
This happens all the time in the sports car world. We just cycled through it again the other day. The brand-new Porsche 911 GT3 lapped the Nürburgring Nordschleife faster than the Porsche 918. That’s the driver’s-edition sports car of the new generation going as fast as the supercar before it.
It’s always the same story with every new Ferrari 430 Scuderia being as fast as the Enzo before it, on and on, up and down the years.
The lie that is being told with every one of these stories is obvious: The new car that is just as fast as the more expensive higher-tier model that came before it must be just as fast, because it is obviously less special. Less exciting. Less thrilling. We understand that we are being told the new car is as powerful, as fast, as sharp as the supercar that preceded it, because it is all that can be done for a more plain machine.
And this brings us to the Mustang GT500.
I remember when the most recent GT350 came out all the way back in 2015, and magazines like MotorTrend were quick to hype that the newer, lower-tier car was faster than the old, higher-tier GT500. The GT350 was getting it done with less horsepower because it had more modern design, from the tires to the shocks to the independent rear suspension.
I’ve been lucky. I’ve driven this generation of GT350, a GT350R. Other than the time the front tires skated in the rain so much that I thought the car had a faulty lane-keep assist, it was a remarkably sane, sedate car to drive around. It sounded bonkers. It felt special. It just wasn’t in any way unhinged. It was a car that encouraged you to hit a drag strip for the first time, to run out the flat-plane-crank Voodoo engine.
I was even luckier once before. I got handed the keys to a 2014 GT500, in the middle of Manhattan, on near-bald tires. I had never driven a car like it before. I was terrified.
I didn’t have to be. The car didn’t want to go fast; it wanted to do burnouts. It burned tires across half of Brooklyn one day, across TriBeCa another, SoHo the next. With a cop watching. With a supercharged 5.8-liter “Trinity” engine evolved from the Modular V8 of the ’90s, the 2013-14 GT500s sent 662 HP to a live rear axle. This was hilarious at best, terrifying at worst.
Here’s Jason Torchinsky being charitable when he test-drove the car at Road Atlanta during its launch:
The GT500 is so much more powerful, so much faster and bigger and purposeful that I never really felt like I could let go and just have fun.
I’m a little conflicted, to be honest. On one hand, I resent how much the traction assist and related systems are taming the car, yet I know I could hardly drive the damn thing without them. With traction controls all off, a professional or very skilled driver could easily have me wetting myself with lavish abandon, yet that doesn’t do me any good. Traction control on, I get something I won’t kill myself in, but you’re always aware that you’re not getting what you could out of the machine, and that holding back feeling takes some of the fun away.
Jason brought up the car more recently in our office Slack channel with a more terse summary:
on a track I’ve hit 160 [...] the 160 time I was in a live-axle mustang GT500 and it was so fucking scary
More recently, Kristen Lee drove the current-gen GT500 for Jalopnik back in 2019. “It has chill,” is how she put it. The car is fast, sure, but it’s not capable of being as haggard as the blown, live GT500 before it.
To be behind the wheel of that old GT500 was to be in the eye of a hurricane. You were in a quiet place of calm. Around you was chaos:
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.
I knew that car would kill me, or at least be polite enough to get me arrested before I could hurt myself. I knew that I should want nothing to do with it. I was happy to give back the keys, I really was. But I still think about those days with that car.
We’re going to think about that GT500 for a long time, manual, unhinged. We’re going to wonder how we all survived for so long with it out on the street.