The Shelby GT500 more than lives up to its name.
Let’s start with its first name: Shelby. As in Carroll Shelby. As in bib overall-wearing, chili-cooking, Le Mans race-winning, Ford GT40 team-managing, Shelby Cobra-creating, Corvette-beating, Ferrari-beating, Viper-inspiring, Ford GT- godfathering, heart transplant-receiving, Barrett-Jackson auction feeding frenzy-causing Carroll Shelby himself.
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Though the Shelby GT500 is built in a Ford Motor Company assembly plant and is not tweaked in Shelby’s own shop, Shelby was involved in the vehicle’s design and development and this pony deserves the Shelby name that’s branded across its rear flanks. Even Ford engineers will tell you that the reason this pony puts its power to the pavement is because of Shelby’s personal involvement in the project. In fact, the only place on the car where it says “Ford” is on the faux 1960s-style gas cap mounted between the rear tail lamps.
Middle name: GT. As in Ford Mustang GT, which is the donor chassis for this car. Though like Shelby himself, this chassis has undergone a heart transplant, which in the case of the car meant inserting a supercharged 5.4-liter V8 engine where the normally aspirated 4.6-liter V8 would have gone.
And now for the 500. As in five hundred horsepower! That’s right. This Shelbyized and supercharged version of the Mustang GT pumps out 200 more horsepower than the standard breed of this pony car platform.
And that’s not all. The Shelby GT500 also is equipped with 14-inch Brembo brakes – basically the same setup as the 200-mph Ford GT supercar – as well as track-tuned suspension pieces, some altered steering gear, traction control, a special front fascia, larger radiator, intercooler, front “splitter” and larger rear wing, white Le Mans stripes, 18-inch wheels with asymmetric tires – the rears put more rubber on the road so those 500 horses can be used more effectively.
There are changes to the interior, too, most notably — at least for driving enthusiasts — the swap of the locations of the speedometer and tachometer, so you can hold the wheel with your left hand and shift with your right and still see the tach.
Audio enthusiasts also will be delighted because the car comes with a 500-watt “Shaker” system with six-CD player and MP3 jack.
Oh, yes, the Shelby GT500 also comes only with a six-speed manual transmission. If you can’t drive a stick, you can’t drive this car. And this definitely is a car that enthusiasts will want to drive.
Although I have to admit, just driving it around town and cruising down the highway, I wondered if the car really did have 500 horsepower to offer. Why, I averaged 17 miles per gallon overall and was getting 21 on the highway.
Trust me, this car really does make 500 horsepower, and you feel it when you downshift to pass, or when you come off the line like a lightning bolt.
Work on the Shelby GT500 was done by Ford’s Special Vehicle Team (many of the same people who had just finished crafting the Ford GT supercar), with Shelby participating in the design and engineering tweaks. Much of the on-track testing was done on the road course and drag strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where Shelby’s shops are located.
Shelby himself took part in regular test drives and debriefs.
Shelby, of course, was responsible for the famed GT350 and GT500 Mustangs of the 1960s. The Shelby GT500 celebrates the 40th anniversary of those cars and marks his reunion with Ford, a reunion that also results in the Shelby GT and Shelby GT-H and soon will result in the beginning of production of the Shelby GT500KR, the King of the Road version of the GT500.
The Shelby GT, GT-H and KR all are or will be modified within Shelby’s own facility, and all are or will be available in limited numbers. On the other hand, the Shelby GT500 is produced in the same factory that builds all new Mustangs, and thus some 10,000 copies are available for the 2007 model year, with around 9000 planned for 2008 and another 9000 for 2009.
The car can be as docile to drive as a base Mustang V6, or as delightful as you’d expect a 500-horsepower pony car to be.
One thing I really liked about the car was that on those occasions when you’re simply cruising around town, you never have to worry about the stupid first-to-fourth transmission lockout that comes with another manually shifted American icon, the Chevrolet Corvette.
Another thing about the car that I appreciated was its seats, nicely bolstered for ripping around an autocross course but also very comfortable for long periods of freeway driving.
The rear seatback is split so either side or both can be folded down to expand the cargo floor. But even with the seat in its upright and locked position, the trunk has plenty of room for a couple of suitcases. Sure, no adult is ever going to want to sit in that back seat, but it’s there if you have children, pets or simply need a place to put a briefcase or gym bag.
Base price on the Shelby GT500 is in the low $40,000-range. Even with the unconscionable markup dealers are getting, this 500-horsepower pony represents a real bargain compared to the more than $69K it takes to get a 505-hp Corvette Z06 or the more than 80 grand it costs for a 510-hp Dodge Viper.
And did I mention that it lives up to its first, middle and last names?