Ridiculous. That’s what this car is. But in a warm, fuzzy, pant-crappingly good way. It’s ridiculously good at doing what it set out to do in the first place.
A good rule of thumb to remember when you’re dealing with snakes is not to step on them too hard, because you can get bitten.
I recently had the opportunity to spend a week driving a Shelby GT500. It’s funny, because when you tell someone that, you invariably get two reactions – one is a completely blank look, because they don’t know what you’re talking about, and the other is a silent stare of pure hatred and jealousy that slowly morphs into sadness. Because they know exactly what this car is, and they wish they could drive it.
To be clear, this is what would now be considered the previous generation of Shelby GT500. The new one is coming, and soon. I had the privilege of being in LA late last year during the unveiling of the awe-inspiring new generation GT500, a posh event complete with a generous helping of Carroll Shelby himself, not to mention those delicious little shrimp pops. So yeah, that beast is coming and it has 650 HP, and will officially crack the 200 mph barrier. Because we all do that when we can, right?
So, no I didn’t drive the “new one”. I drove the “old one”. Am I sitting here complaining? Of course not! I tend not to look gift horses in the mouth in the first place, but in this case, “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth” takes on a whole new meaning. Because this gift horse, which starts out life as a pony called Mustang, isn’t the old plug at the petting zoo that gently nuzzles sugar cubes out of your palm. This gift horse will take your whole arm off, and then run with it. Hard. And fast.
I can’t imagine doing one of my typical, completely exhaustive reviews on this car. I would feel as though I’m sullying the vibe of this car by talking about much more than the driving experience itself.
So, let’s get to it!
Under the Hood
Wait. Before we talk numbers, I want to give a shout-out to whoever made the wholly appropriate decision to unmask this engine. It’s a work of art – a hand-built, 5.4-Litre V-8, mated to an intercooled supercharger. It’s got a segregated cool-air intake at the end of some plumbing, it’s got an exposed blower sitting on top, it’s got beautiful blue head covers – there’s a real engine under there! I’m a car guy, through and through, and I think almost any engine looks great or is, at very least, worth seeing – and I just hate that they’re invariably shrouded by Tupperware. Show us the engine, people! It’s what drives us! Anyway, I digress. Thank you, Ford, for keeping it simple and beautiful under the hood. I loved the plaque inscribed with two signatures – the men who put this monstrosity together before it gets bolted to the unwitting chassis it will punish.
That blown V-8, whilst performing the petrol-head version of a beer bong, winds up and lays down 550 HP at 6200 RPM. Of course, that’s all good once you’ve got a move on, but getting away from the laws of physics that pin this 3,969 pound monster to the ground requires torque. And lots of it. Ah, but you’ve come to the right party. This premium-fuel swilling kegger will provide you with 510 lb.ft of torque at 4500 RPM. It’s enough to get a move on, and leave no doubt about who’s the boss in these here parts.
Some joker hilariously rated this car at 15.7 L/100 km (15 mpg) in the city and 10.2 L/100 km (23 mpg) on the highway! Whatevs, man. I don’t think you could find a single person who would buy this car and then achieve those numbers. You buy this car because it sounds horny and because it goes like stink. I drove it fairly aggressively throughout the week, and did get several sprints down the highway in, and I averaged 19 L/100 km (12 mpg). No surprise there.
This is why you buy this car. OK, well, you also buy it so you can tell people you actually have a Shelby vehicle, and that it has 550 HP, but after you tell them that, you can actually take them for a drive.
Let me just start by saying this car doesn’t advertise itself as a razor’s edge, precision carving tool. And it’s not. This is an instrument of blunt-force trauma, so much so, that you wouldn’t be surprised to see it referenced in a brutal beating. There’s nothing “finesse” about the GT500, and that’s the way they want it.
Let’s start by firing it up. A big lug like that takes a couple of cranks, and you can feel the whole animal shifting impatiently under your feet. It fires up in a second, and barks. Loudly. I can honestly say this is the best-sounding car I’ve ever driven myself. It’s difficult to beat the sound of a V-8 in terms of what gets my emotions and my memories flowing. I’ve heard a lot of V-8s in my lifetime – my brother is a muscle car fanatic, and he knows his American iron. I’ve been introduced to my fair share of them, and heard them do their thing. The GT500’s iron can easily hold its own here. I absolutely love the sound when it fires up. Give it a half-minute, and things settle down as it warms up, and it comes back down to a comfortable whuffle out of the huge tailpipes.
You’ll only find a manual transmission in this car – a 6-speed that seems grumpy and quite notchy at times – it’s definitely not what you’d call slick. I felt as though the car was never excited about getting into second gear, which is tragic, because it’s the gear I wanted to get into the most. Anyway, go ahead and grab the classic cue-ball shift knob, sitting on a short lever rising out of a patch of Alcantara, force it into first, and let the clutch out. You’ll be surprised at how nicely the clutch works, and I felt it was a bit opposed to how snarly the shifter was at times. I loved the clutch take-up – always smooth and compliant.
As you’re letting the clutch out, you’re bracing yourself for 510 lb.ft of torque – waiting for them to unleash certain fury and death, and whip you around into the car beside you. Not so. You can actually drive this car very smoothly and comfortably around town, and frankly, you might even be a tad disappointed at how civilized and quiet this thing can be! Don’t get me wrong – considering what a bruiser this car is, I was pleasantly surprised with the day-to-day drivability. You can hang tight in pretty much any gear, sit at the lowest of low RPMs, and this engine will still lug the car up to speed when you step on it. No need to rev it high, and when you do, it will soar to crazy speeds easily, and comfortably cruise there as long as you ask it to, or until those irritating red and blue lights go on behind you.
But we’re not here for drivability, are we? We’re not here to read about smooth action clutches and cars that are quieter than anticipated when we’re puttering around town. We’re here to talk about a snake that will howl with unbridled fury. Step on this snake, and prepare to lose control of your rectal sphincter in a hurry – you will be bitten.
Step on it in first gear, and basically you’ll bounce off the rev limiter as quickly as your foot can go down to the floor, and you’ll make nice, black, expensive rubber marks wherever you happen to be driving. To be honest, it’s fun, but not for long. No real surprises there. With 55% of the weight on the front axle, and that much juice going to the rear one, nobody drops their jaw in shock when first gear treats you with contempt.
It’s second gear that made for the most fun. The Shelby will happily cruise in second all day long, and make the most wonderful sounds while doing it. It can remain calm and collected, albeit a tad loud for the old folks down the street. Mind you, you didn’t buy this to impress the old folks, did you?
It’s when I stepped on it in second gear that the most memorable moments happened for me. Regardless of what speed you’re at, or what RPM you’re at, floor it in second and you’ll hear the instantaneous report from the engine bay, supported whole-heartedly by the background singers called the Huge Tailpipe Sisters. Within a split second, you’ll start hearing the unmistakable whine of the supercharger, deliciously spinning its way to happiness, and even better, you’ll feel the difference that force-fed air makes and you’ll surge ahead. Or so you’d think. Except then something else magical happens. You’ll break the rear tires loose. With the traction control on, it’ll still break them loose and then simmer things down. Turn the traction control off, and step on it in second, and you can make smoky clouds pour out of the rear wheel wells any time you want. Now that’s power.
So, yes you can do that kind of thing, if you like, and if you are accelerating in a rush, and you shift into third and keep hammering on it, it won’t quite smoke the tires anymore, but it will unsettle the rear end and get a bit wobbly as the massive tires fight to maintain any grip on the tarmac. Of course, at that point, you’re driving at illegal speeds and anything further is just gravy. Or another ticket. However you want to read that. Want numbers? I’ll go with the most conservative numbers I could find. 0-60 in 4.3 seconds and the quarter-mile in 12.3 seconds. How’d you like them apples?
Should you choose to exercise a little restraint, and just push the pedal down a tad slower whilst rowing through the gears with that cantankerous shifter, you’ll be treated to what I can only describe as herculean power. It seems almost endless, and as mentioned, it takes only moments to break any speed limits. Cruising at high speeds is just as effortless as getting there, and I was very happy to see that my car, the convertible, was exemplary in terms of road and wind noise at highway speeds. Impressive.
The ride is very firm, but didn’t cross the you-might-as-well-keep-a-chiropractor-on-staff line. It remained comfortable enough, and handling is amazing. With that said, I almost felt as though it was a bit scary going into fast corners, because I always thought if I just touch the gas a tiny bit, the car feels on edge and I might be kicking out the rear when I don’t want to. It might sound weird, but I thought it took a bit of courage to drive this car around curves quickly. But it will absolutely go where you ask it to, and you can easily stab the power pedal to rotate the rear end into place.
Brakes are Brembo, and very effective – even after repeated braking, I never experienced a lot of fade, yet they never felt overly grabby during normal driving – a great balance.
The car is heavy (basically 4000 pounds for the ragtop), and you’ll certainly feel that all day long and it never feels light on its feet.
It’s not all unicorns and rainbows and puppy dogs however. I felt that traction was truly an issue. Yes, this car has more power than you’d ever need on the street, but with that said, I felt that under hard acceleration, first gear is basically useless in terms of getting away from the line quickly – you’re just spinning the tires, and often experiencing some axle tramp back there. This car needs a launch control function for those times.
Also, as noted, shifting into second gear, especially at higher RPMs, seemed to be a crapshoot, and proved frustrating as many times as not. It’s not cool to find yourself doing the “grind ’em and find ’em” move while trying to impress people with how awesome it is to shift into second. “Hang on, folks, as soon as I get it into second, you’ll see what I’m talking about. Go ahead and grab a coffee. It won’t be long.”
As noted, the GT500 starts life as a Mustang, and it’s not hard to pick that out. And that might be something that hurts it. The Mustang is a handsome vehicle, but it blends in. There are a lot of them around, and many of them don’t warrant a second look from most people. Doesn’t change that it’s a great car, it’s just not one that reaches out and grabs you, styling-wise. The Shelby clearly makes an effort to step it up, and is given numerous visual cues to set itself apart from a humble, pedestrian Mustang. It gets Shelby specific front and rear facias, and a hood that looks like it means business – complete with functional heat extractors. It has 19″ front rims and 20″ rears, shod with gargantuan rubber boots. It has Shelby’s snake logo all over the place, and big honkin’ tailpipes. It’s not a subtle vehicle, and if you were jaywalking and saw it coming down the street at you, the anger in the front grill is unmistakable.
But it still shares a silhouette with a Mustang, and there’s no way around that. Take it or leave it.
So, did I mention this car sounds great? Fine, fine, I’ll talk about the interior. I wasn’t too excited about it. It’s not a bad interior – not at all. It’s just a bit…. basic feeling. The word unimpressive comes to mind. All the functionality I needed was there, but I’ve had the opportunity to drive a number of current Fords, and they do interiors so well, it seemed like a bit of a letdown in comparison. I didn’t have the navigation equipped model, so it comes with the lower SYNC system. The system itself works fine, and tunes sound fantastic piping through the Shaker sound system. To be honest, that’s of very little consequence, because I have the feeling the sound system most buyers will want to hear is sitting under the hood out front.
The seats are excellent. Quite comfortable, with fantastic side and thigh bolstering, and highly adjustable. At this price level, it was a bit surprising to find they aren’t heated and that the climate control system isn’t automatic. I wasn’t a big fan of the steering wheel – the rim was a good thickness, but I thought the diameter is way too big. The speedometer is dumb – it’s not linear, and the font is terrible and the numbers are squished together.
The cabin is adorned with Shelby badging, including embossing on the seats. There are Alcantara inserts on the seats, steering wheel, door panels as well as the shift boot. Seat and door panel inserts are ribbed, and kind of reminded me of a snake’s belly.
Storage is pathetic, with a couple of cupholders and a small center console bin. The trunk is smaller because of the convertible top, and further hampered by the rear styling – the rear lights become part of the lower trunk lip, making the lift-over width very narrow, and quite tall. Still, you can throw a couple of medium suitcases or several duffle bags in there without a problem.
The two rear seats are certainly tight, but surprisingly usable when required. I had four big guys in the car, and nobody complained.
Where do I start? Oh right, under the hood. That’s the whole point here. Handling, although very good compared to a normal car, isn’t this car’s selling point. Highway road manners? Just fine, but still not where it’s at. Interior appointments? Nah. Fuel economy. Erm, not here, Bucky.
Seriously though, who cares? You can take a look at this car, and if you happened to get one before they sold out, you’d know if it was OK in terms of what you get. This car doesn’t advertise anything it can’t deliver.
I don’t think any of the niggling things I can come up with would be a deal-breaker for the kind of person who would consider this car. They don’t care so much about cargo space, heated seats, or even finesse. They know what they want, and they know the GT500 will answer those questions. They know the GT500 will bludgeon most comers into submission, and that this snake bites. So go ahead and step on it. It’s a good bite.
I feel the Shelby GT500 is simply a great modernization of classic American iron – the muscle car that barks and has bite to back it up.
Bravo, Ford, for building an unapologetic, brash, loud and seemingly simple car that easily answers the few questions that will be asked of it.
I couldn’t buy one, because my family doesn’t fit in it, and my wife would give me a second vasectomy, but I just loved it!
I want to say that I am extremely grateful for the efforts of Focus Communications in Edmonton, and the generosity of Sherwood Ford and particularly Mr. Kelly O’Connell in making this happen. If you’re interested in Ford’s crazy SVT offerings (including the insane 650 HP 2013 GT500 and the awesome Raptor), or some tuned Ford exotics from Roush, head on over to Sherwood Ford. I sensed passion about performance when I was there to pick this car up, and that’s the kind of guys I want to deal with when I’m buying something like this.
One final note: the only true tragedy to report on in this review is that I had arranged to have two friends shoot some high-end photos and video of this car on the last full day I had the car. Unfortunately, we were blessed with a full-on snowstorm and this car wouldn’t have made it down the street that day. Sad trombone.