The launch of the Shelby GT500 was befitting of this most regal of Mustangs: well planned and packed with punch, without the slightest waste of energy and yet totally relaxed. You could say that it was the work of engineers who know what they’re doing. In fact, several engineers were brought in on this project led by SVT, Ford’s performance division, which happens to be celebrating its 20th birthday this year.
The first day, we left early for Atlanta. As soon as we arrived, I headed to a hotel, where I was greeted by a 2013 Shelby GT500. It was midnight blue, with two broad white stripes across it – just like the cars that brought glory to the Shelby name and made it a legend. The vehicle had been selected by Jim Kenzie, contributor to the “Wheels” segment of the Toronto Star. His thoughts immediately turned to Carroll Shelby, a larger-than-life personality who died recently at the age of 89. Jim was the only journalist from English Canada in attendance, and I was the only Quebecker there. Once again, we were paired as a team.
A guided tour by the creator
Jamal Hameedi of Ford’s Special Vehicle Team (SVT) is the engineer who oversaw the new GT500’s development. He presented the beast to us. At first glance, the vehicle looked a lot like its predecessor. That said, the differences are actually quite numerous and though many are small, they’re not to be discounted. All 2013 Mustangs feature a redesigned grille, but the GT500’s grille has received extra special attention.
These modifications and touch-ups (which included a redesigned spoiler) have helped improve its aerodynamics by 33% at 360 km/hr, gluing the vehicle firmly to the ground. This is important because the GT500 can go even faster. It’s also worth noting that the front grille incorporates the emblematic Shelby cobra and does not include any crossbars to maximize air intake and keep the exceptionally powerful engine cool.
That’s right! SVT prepared an all-new engine for this GT500. This version of the aluminum block V8 was taken from the Ford GT and includes almost identical camshafts. The cylinder diameter has been increased using a patented technique that makes the block about 4 kg lighter by eliminating the steel liners. Engine displacement has gone from 5.4 to 5.8 litres. Plus, they installed a 2.3-litre TVBS supercharger that provides 50% more boost as well as a series of modifications to maximize its robustness, endurance and reliability, even on the track.
The result: 662 horsepower at 6,500 rpm and a maximum of 631 lbs-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm, duly certified by SAE. These figures, which surpass the initial goal of 650 horsepower and 600 lbs-ft, confirm that this V8 is the most powerful engine offered in a production vehicle. The new GT500 generates 112 more horses than its predecessor and 102 more than a Camaro ZL1.
The team’s third objective was a maximum speed of 200 mph (322 km/hr) and the boys at SVT simply smiled when we asked by how much their baby surpassed this mythical mark on the infamous 12.5km circular track in Nardo, Italy. It will go even faster on a flat straightaway.
The prototypes were tested on two dozen circuits all over the world, including the Nürburgring legendary Northern Loop, to refine the handling of the factory model. They also examined the prototypes’ stamina and durability with tests like a 24-hour trial on the unforgiving Sebring Raceway in Florida.
We were excited to drive it on the Road Atlanta circuit an hour away from here, but not before giving the passenger compartment a once over. First, Jamal Hameedi pointed out the Recaro front bucket seats where, this time, the cobras are embroidered in white on the seatbacks. Next, he showed us the 4.2-inch screen nestled between the rev counter and speedometer that tops out at 360 km/hr (220 mph).
Using this screen, you can access functions like Track Apps, which helps measure not only acceleration, braking and laps, but also regulates the GT500’s unique launch control mode that even features a countdown and a real Christmas tree, like you’d see on dragstrips. We were going to do a quarter mile the next day.
To the left of the dashboard, there are simple buttons to choose between three setting levels for the new adjustable Bilstein monotube dampers and the power steering. Another one allows you to activate the launch control.
On the road
Already aware the car’s exceptional power numbers, I was quite frankly expecting it to be a jumpy, impetuous, bundle of nerves. What I found was the complete opposite. Makes you wonder where they’re hiding those 662 horses. The answer was forthcoming.
The clutch is at first very progressive and the pedal isn’t too heavy. The secret is a double disc whose rotational inertia is much lower than that of a single disc. The disc diameter has been increased from 250 to 260 mm and the clamping force has been increased by 33% to tame the superior torque of this brawnier GT500.
The driveshaft is now made of carbon fibre, is 6.5 kg lighter and can transmit 36% more torque. More importantly, it isn’t going to disintegrate under the strain of the harmonic vibration at more than 250 km/hr like a steel driveshaft might. As an added bonus, it’s also smoother and quieter.
On the road, the GT500 is the model of civility. The six-speed Tremec manual gearbox is the only one available. Its stick shift, crowned by a classic white round knob, is rather stiff and each gear’s locking mechanism demands a firm hand, but that’s no surprise for mechanics like this.
A longer sixth gear helped slightly reduce fuel consumption, despite the added power, but it’s almost unusable anywhere else but on the highway where the big V8 revs at only 1,600 rpm at 130 km/hr. On the other gears, the low, muffled rumble turns into a wonderful roar when you press down even slightly with your right foot.
The stallion on the track
On the Road Atlanta circuit, we do laps at the wheel of GT500 coupes, wearing helmets and strapped in with six-point safety belts. We can’t drive the convertible on the track though, because the Mustang still doesn’t have roll bars in case of overturning. Nor can these models be equipped with the Track Pack ($3,300) that adds engine oil coolers, the gearbox and the differential to drive fearlessly on a track.
These components complete the Performance Package ($2,000) that also includes a Torsen limited-slip differential, adjustable Bilstein dampers, forged aluminum rims and Brembo brakes with 380-mm front discs featuring six-piston calipers and 350-mm rear discs.
I was surprised by the braking power on the track when I slammed on the brakes for a short bend in the middle of the straightaway. In flat-out acceleration, we hit 210 km/hr at the end of third gear. The V8 can run in overspeed up to the red zone at 7,000 rpm for eight seconds at a time.
Starting again in the turn, all the weight was squarely on the front wheels when we cranked the wheel completely and the GT500 pivoted without resisting. Then we balanced out the skidding of all four wheels by playing with the accelerator. I managed to do it during my solo laps with the anti-skid in Sport mode that lets the car slide a little more.
Next, I happily handed the wheel over to engineer and SVT driver Glen Martindale. He helped adjust the handling and knows the GT500 like the back of his hand. Even with all of the electronic aides deactivated, he had utter control of the Shelby and pushed the tire grip to the limit. Sweet!
Mechanical Quarter Horse
The next day, the straightaways of the Atlanta Dragway provided the perfect occasion to test the GT500’s LC mode (launch control) that helps modify thrust in 100 rpm increments. We begin with a good burnout to warm up the tires. Once the Shelby is staged between the timing beams, the trick is to release the clutch just quickly enough for the tires to catch without skidding too much. The system then adjusts the electronic accelerator and will even apply the brakes when necessary to control skidding until shifting into second at 7,000 rpm and third a little later.
On my second try, which ended up being my best, my time was 12.1 seconds and the GT500 reached 196.9 km/hr over a quarter mile. Evan Smith, an American colleague that is also a professional drag racer, clocks a time of 11.81 seconds at 200.8 km/hr. He explained to us that he accomplished this by shifting from second to third without taking his foot off the accelerator by using the power-shift technique that took him years to perfect in competition. He says it helps him go about two-tenths of a second faster.
Don’t expect me to risk blowing up the engine, gearbox or differential by attempting to imitate him, and never use the power-shift technique to improve performance of production cars. According to SVT, it covers the quarter mile in 11.7 seconds with the maximum speed of 200 km/hr and goes from 0-60 mph (96.5 km/hr) in 3.7 seconds in first gear. The SVT guys can do what they want. After all, it’s their car!
We made the trip to the Atlanta for the return flight in a convertible, under the sun with the wind in our hair, as it should be. This GT500 is silver with red bands and red and black seats. It rumbles softly and I hear the compressor whistle when it accelerates powerfully. The convertible is solid, has impeccable balance and the ride seems identical to that of the coupe even though its springs are much softer. Most importantly, you never feel the slightest bend in the body on the road. It might be different on Québec’s roads with this rigid rear axle, but I think that the Shelby GT500 will manage just fine.
At the thought of great sports car owners who paid three or four times the price of the Shelby, the SVT team will have to smile. And why wouldn’t they? This coupe starts at $61,699 and the convertible starts are $66,699, and you won’t find better performance for the price anywhere.
|Test model||2013 Ford Mustang|
|Trim level||Shelby GT500 Coupe|
|Price range||$61,699 - $66,699|
|Price as tested||$67,999|
|Warranty (basic)||3 years / 60,000 km|
|Warranty (powertrain)||5 years / 100,000 km|
|Options||SVT Track Pack ($3,300); SVT Performance Package ($2,000); Recaro seats ($1,000); glass roof ($2,200); full vehicle cover ($500 $); heated seats ($300)|
|Competitive models||BMW M6 Coupé, Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, Chevrolet Corvette, Dodge Challenger SRT8 392, Jaguar XKR-S, Nissan GT-R, Porsche 911, SRT Viper|
|Fuel consumption||If you take it easy with your right foot|
|Value for price||Unmatched performance-price-quality ratio|
|Styling||An incredibly beautiful Mustang|
|Comfort||Excellent seats and controlled ride|
|Performance||A power range as big as Texas|
|Overall||An inspired homage to Carroll Shelby|