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Racking up the miles in a GT500

 
Revised and aggressive styling in keeping with the original GT500, but no goofy front headlights in the grille this time

There’s nothing quite like mashing the accelerator pedal in a really powerful car, rapidly followed by that feeling of being pressed hard into the seat as you rocket away.  It’s an unforgettable sensation that keeps drag racers coming back for more, and one that Ford has managed to capture in its latest factory hot rod – the Shelby Mustang GT500.   

Of course, Ford’s longstanding relationship with Carroll Shelby stems from the famous Texan’s on-track success with the Cobra in the 1960s.  It wasn’t long after that Ford’s marketing arm began to realise the sort of impact the Shelby name could have on the appeal of the entire Mustang range.  These were the “horsepower years”, and in 1965, the Shelby Mustangs were born.  Two years later, Shelby exploited a new weapon in Ford’s arsenal, the mighty 428 cu. in. “Cobra Jet” V8 motor, which he shoe-horned into a second-generation Mustang to create the original Shelby GT500.   

Fast forward just three years, however, and with an oil crisis looming, performance became a dirty word.  Sadly for car enthusiasts, the Shelby models were dropped, and it seemed the GT500 had had its day.  All that was left were golden memories of a bygone era and, on a positive note for Shelby Mustang owners, upwardly spiralling second-hand values. 

That might have been the end of the GT500 once and for all, but Ford’s master stroke in relaunching its new-generation Mustang in 2004 was to borrow heavily from the design cues of those iconic 1966/67 models to create a retro look.  This, in turn, re-ignited the relationship with Shelby, and now, nearly 40 years on, a new-generation Shelby GT500 has been born and is on sale.  Such is the enduring charisma of the 80-plus year old Shelby that to see those six chrome letters adorning the boot lid of any Mustang is a true way to earn respect, even though the very latest GT500 is built on an assembly line by Ford in Flat Rock, Michigan. 

As far as the UK market is concerned, Ford has no plans to import the Shelby GT500.  Instead, a handful of specialist American car importers,  such as Bill Shepherd Mustang, which operates with Carroll Shelby’s blessing, will be happy to part you from £50,000 for the privilege of owning one of only 7000 (at last count) cars to be built. 

Understandably, having only just gone on sale in the US, the GT500 is a rare sight on Britain’s roads.  Fortunately for DRCReview, though, Ford had one car available for us to try recently, and over the course of two days of hard driving, we managed to rack up 518 miles – enough to get a reasonable impression of this most powerful production Mustang ever built.


Ford GTs galore at Roush Technologies

Ford entrusts the care of its UK-based GT500 to Roush Technologies in Brentwood, Essex, from whom we collected the car.  The relationship between Ford and Jack Roush dates back to the 1970s, when Gapp and Roush Fords were a winning combination on US drag strips.  Latterly, however, it has been the Roush team’s performances with Ford products in NASCAR that have put the company in the spotlight. We’ll have a more in-depth story from Roush Technologies in the UK for you in the coming weeks. 

 

First impressions
The initial impression when you first set eyes on the GT500 is of just how high it rides.  To our eyes, it’s crying out to be lowered and fitted with a set of larger diameter wheels and tyres over the standard issue 18inch diameter items. 

Having been given the keys to the car, you can’t help but stop, stare and wonder at the key fob, which has all the quality of something that might have been won at the fun fair. The first tactile experience of the Shelby GT500 is therefore not a particularly positive one, but as soon as the key is inserted in the ignition and that muscular V8 fires up, the initial impression rapidly disappears.


Ride height seems a little high to our eyes

Ford has dropped the 5.4-litre, Triton cast iron block, equipped with twin-cam, 32-valve aluminium Ford GT heads, into the GT500.  Along the way, it’s lost 50 horsepower (now 500bhp), but it’s still supercharged and intercooled, just like the GT, with boost pressure peaking at 8.5psi on a gauge that goes up to 15psi – perhaps providing a clue as to where those 50 missing horses have gone.  Under-bonnet packaging is understated and purposeful in black, with  just “powered by SVT” branding on the finned cam covers. As soon as you spot that big “Roots-type” blower, however, you know this car means business.


Massive air box and blower dominate underbonnet

Around town, the GT500 drives like a pussy cat.  It’s smooth, comfortable, and the ride is just great considering the aspect ratio of those tyres.  In normal driving, you don’t need much throttle to get it moving at legal speeds, and because the engine is so tractable it pulls in virtually any gear without fuss.  At an indicated 40mph in top gear, the engine just purrs along, barely above tickover at 1000rpm, while at an indicated 70mph in the same gear, you cruise along at 1850rpm.  This car has 500 horsepower on tap, and yet it has all the tractability of a Mondeo in traffic – and it’s comfortable with it.  With such docility, you begin to wonder what all the fuss is about.

 

Split personality
That’s what’s so surprising about the GT500 – on first acquaintance, it can lead you into a false sense of security.  Give the car its head on the open road and  push down the throttle to a point where you think you should be flying, and acceleration is brisk but nothing to write home about.  Push down harder, though, and suddenly you realise there’s at least the same amount of pedal travel again.  As you explore it fully, the supercharger whine kicks in, a sledgehammer whacks you fairly and squarely between the shoulder blades, and you’re finally off on a seemingly endless wave of power. 


We called in on Rodline International near Bath to see some of the street rods taking shape in their workshop - more on that soon 

Adding to the driving experience is the fabulous throbbing sound track from the custom exhaust and a quick shifting and race-proven, Tremec six-speed gearbox, which is so much better than the standard Mustang’s five speed.  The gearchange is short and precise, and there’s a really nicely shaped leather gear knob with aluminium insert that helps make gear changing what it should be in the standard car.  Third gear performance is simply phenomenal.  You can floor the accelerator at 20mph and feel the power building all the time, with an incredible wave from 50mph to well over 100mph (on a private track, of course).  There’s just a solid wall of torque (480lb ft at 4500rpm), as illustrated by the  50 to 70mph and 70 to 90mph incremental gear times in third gear, which both take an identical 2.9 seconds (indicated) to complete.  As you approach the 6000rpm redline, a tell tale warning light lets you know you need to change up, but if you choose to ignore this, there’s a gradual engine cut-out which kicks in at slightly higher revs.  Top speed is a claimed 155mph, which we can well believe, judging by the reserve of power available at 100mph.


Rear styling is neat and purposeful.  Check out the diffuser section under the bumper - borrowed from the Ford GT.  Nice to see the original rear lights retained. GT500 enthusiasts will no doubt remember the original had those rather vulgar '66 Thunderbird items fitted

As you might expect with so much available performance, there’s real drama when accelerating from a standing start.  You can’t escape the fact that the rear 285/40ZR18 Dunlops on 9.5inch rims go up in smoke when you drop the clutch at even modest revs, and more alarmingly, that the car begins to snake this way and that before finding grip, even with the traction control system activated.  Then, when you snick it into second gear and floor it to pass 60 mph in under five seconds, the same thing happens again as 500hp breaks loose through those back tyres.  It’s slightly less dramatic on a dry road surface, but you still feel the rear end squirreling about in a less-than-perfect way. 

In short, the GT500 feels “on the limit” in terms of just how much power it can safely transmit to the road in the lower two gears, and this is possibly one of the reasons why the engine has been detuned from 550 to 500hp.  Having said that, once you are accustomed to the power delivery, you can drive within those limitations, and as the power surge in second gear is so exhilarating, you find yourself exploring its potential at every opportunity.


Useful trip computer lets you know how much havoc you are wreaking on the planet

After a bit of this, it suddenly occurs that it might be a good idea to take a peek at the fuel gauge.  With just 41 miles on the odometer, we’d consumed a quarter of a tank of fuel, and by 81 miles, it was half empty. At 160 miles, the gauge was hovering above empty, our nerve ran out and we refuelled the 16-gallon tank – not a vast range in this day and age.  According to the car’s digital display, fuel consumption varied between 14 and 20mpg, and at the end of our 518-mile trip, we had averaged just 16.0mpg, used 32.2 gallons of premium unleaded, and averaged only 43mph, despite driving predominantly on motorways and dual carriageways. 

These sort of figures don’t stack up too well in the UK’s eco-friendly age, but I doubt whether owners of this car, which, let’s face it, delivers supercar performance at a fraction of the cost of most so-called supercars, would be too bothered about that.  

 

Extra chassis work
Having established the GT500’s straight-line acceleration credentials, we’d love to be able to tell you in detail how it handles, but without the benefit of a proper test track to explore the car’s full potential, this has to be limited to road driving impressions only.  Firstly, the car feels quite heavy.  Indeed, at 3920lb, it is definitely a weighty machine, but that fact is masked to some degree by the car’s precise steering and great turn-in, plus well-balanced chassis – under normal driving conditions.  To achieve this, Ford’s SVT team has further tuned the standard Mustang’s MacPherson strut independent front suspension and three-link rear axle location with revised shock absorbers, spring rates and anti-roll bars to deal with the sizeable power hike.


Check out those massive front ventilated discs

Once you’ve got almost two tons of American iron rolling, you need to know it will stop efficiently, too.  To achieve this, massive 14-inch diameter, ventilated Brembo four-pot callipers are used up front combined with two-pot, vented 11.8-inch diameter rears.  As a result, braking performance is extremely impressive, and the extra chassis work means you can hustle the GT500 on normal A-roads in a way you might not at first have expected. 

We talked earlier about ride quality, and considering the performance this car offers, it really is supremely comfortable, with only tyre roar spoiling an otherwise very quiet, refined cabin.  When you crawl along in traffic with the transmission in first gear, you can also faintly hear the whirring of gears and the odd clunk from the differential, but neither could be classed as unpleasant.  The other thing you come to notice in stop-start traffic, with its constant requirement for clutch action, is that the pedal requires quite a weighty shove.


We love the execution of the exterior transformation

As for the external packaging of the GT500, the launch of the 2005 Mustang spawned a multitude of body-kitted versions – some good and others not.  Ford deserves full credit in this area, though, as the company’s designers have somehow managed to come up with a refreshingly different and sympathetic solution that emphasises the car’s great styling, and adds aggression in the process.  The simply shaped front grille treatment and the combined front bumper/air dam are beautifully integrated, as is the matching rear bumper design, with its air diffuser inspired by the Ford GT, plus relatively restrained-looking, duck-tail boot spoiler.  It gets the job done without fuss.


There's no mistaking it's a Shelby, with Cobra snakes on all four sides, SHELBY lettering on the boot lid and GT500 stripes along its flanks

By contrast, Ford’s desire to ensure the car is identified as a Shelby does seem a little over the top.  For starters, there’s a Cobra snake badge inset into the grille, even bolder items adorning the front wings, and a fourth snake emblem set into the mock, ’60s-style fuel filler on the back panel.  If you are still unsure about what you’re driving, there are traditional GT500 stripes on the car’s lower flanks, a chromium-plated SHELBY bootlid badge and SVT centre caps on the wheels.


Interior changes are minimal.  Biggest improvement is the new 6-speed Tremec gearbox with a great shift action

By comparison, the car is almost standard Mustang on the inside, the major differences being the reversed speedo and tacho (apparently to provide a better view of the tacho’s shift points), Cobra badge and GT500 script on the leather-covered steering wheel, the aforementioned new gear lever for the six-speed transmission, SVT-branded, polished metal scuff panels and backlit instrument panel, plus Cobra snake emblem embossed into the backrests of the supportive leather front seats.  It’s clear that by utilising what’s already there rather than redesigning the interior, Ford has been able to keep costs down, and to be honest, it does the job perfectly well, even if it lacks a little flair. It is also undoubtedly one of the reasons why, in the US, the GT500 has a sticker price of just $43,000 – or around £23,000 by UK prices, before you factor in shipping, import duty and VAT.

 

Conclusion
As you might have expected, it was a difficult job handing back the keys of the GT500 after our brief encounter.  As far as we at DRC Review are concerned, it’s a tremendous overall package that delivers in all departments.  In the course of researching this article, we have heard comments from some enthusiasts suggesting that the GT500 would benefit further from independent rear suspension, to allow all that power to be transmitted to the rear wheels with less drama and more control.  With that accomplished, it’s apparently relatively straightforward to restore engine output to the 550, or even 600 horsepower level.  Of course, this would all come at a price.  For our money, we’ll take the GT500 as it comes – devastating performance, in a practical coupe, for a fraction of the cost of most supercars.

Story & Photos: Andy kirk & Graham Jones

 

TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS

 BODY

Construction

Unitised, welded steel body, aluminium hood

 

 POWERTRAIN AND CHASSIS

ENGINE

Type

V-8

Manufacturing location

Romeo, Michigan

Configuration

Iron block and aluminium heads

Intake manifold

Cast-aluminum with Roots-type supercharger and air-to-water intercooler

Exhaust manifold

Cast iron

Crankshaft

Forged steel

Throttle Body

Dual 60 mm, electronic

Valvetrain

DOHC, four valves per cylinder

Valve diameter

Intake: 37.0 mm; Exhaust: 32.0 mm

Pistons

Forged aluminium

Connecting Rods

Cracked, forged steel I-beams

Ignition

Coil-on-plug

Bore x stroke

3.552 x 4.165 in / 90.22 x 105.8 mm

Displacement

330 cu. In / 5,409 cc

Horsepower

500 hp @ 6000 rpm

Torque

480 lb-ft @ 4500 rpm

Compression ratio

8.4:1

Redline

6,250 rpm

Idle speed in neutral

750 rpm

Engine control system

Spanish oak PCM

Recommended fuel

Premium only

Fuel capacity

16.0 gallons

Fuel Injection

Electronic returnless sequential

Oil capacity

6.5 quarts  5W-50 fully synthetic

Coolant capacity

21 quarts

 

DRIVETRAIN

Layout

Rear-wheel drive

 

TRANSMISSION

Standard (Type)

Tremec TR6060 six-speed manual

Gear Ratios

1st

2.97

2nd

1.78

3rd

1.3

4th

1.0

5th

0.80

6th

0.63

Final Drive

3.31

SUSPENSION

Front

Reverse-L independent MacPherson strut, 34-mm tubular anti-roll bar

Rear

Three-link solid axle with coil springs, Panhard rod, 24-mm solid anti-roll bar

STEERING

Type

Rack and pinion with power assistance

Ratio

15.7:1

Steering column

Tilt

BRAKES

Type

Four wheel, servo-assisted discs with four-channel, anti-lock braking system (ABS), electronic brake force distribution (EBD) and traction control

Front

Brembo 14-in diameter vented discs, four-piston aluminium callipers

Rear

11.8-in diameter vented discs, two-piston callipers

TYRES AND WHEELS

Tyres

P255/45R18 front, P285/40ZR18 rear

Wheels

18 x 9.5-in machined aluminium wheels with SVT centre caps

 

 DIMENSIONS (inches unless otherwise noted) (All dimensions are preliminary)

EXTERIOR

Wheelbase

107.1 in

Overall length

188.0 in

Overall width

73.9 in

Overall height

54.5 in, Coupe; 55.7 in, Convertible

Track width, front/rear

61.9 in / 62.5 in

Ground clearance

5.71 in

INTERIOR

Seating capacity

Four passengers

Headroom

Front

38.6 in, Coupe; 38.8 in, Convertible

Back

35.0 in, Coupe; 36.3 in, Convertible

Legroom

Front

42.7 in, Coupe; 42.7 in, Convertible

Back

31.0 in, Coupe; 30.3 in, Convertible

Shoulder room

Front

55.4 in, Coupe; 55.4 in, Convertible

Back

53.3 in, Coupe; 45.0 in, Convertible

Hip room

Front

53.6 in, Coupe; 53.6 in, Convertible

Back

46.7 in, Coupe; 45.4 in, Convertible

Cargo volume

12.3 cu ft, Coupe; 9.7 cu ft, Convertible

 

 WEIGHTS AND CAPACITIES (pounds unless otherwise noted)

Curb weight, pounds

Coupe

~3,920 pounds

Convertible

~4,040 pounds

Weight distribution (f/r)

57/43

 

 SAFETY

Safety belts

Load-limiting seat belts with pretensioners and height-adjustable shoulder belts for front seating positions (coupe)
Three-point safety belts for all seating positions
BeltMinder™ safety-belt reminder chime

Air bags

Dual-stage driver and front-passenger air bags with crash-severity sensor, driver-seat position sensor and front passenger weight sensor
Seat-deployed side air bags for driver and front passenger

Child safety

LATCH anchors for rear outboard seats

Brakes

Anti-lock braking system (ABS)
Traction-control system

Fuel

Inertia-activated shut-off switch for fuel pump

Security

SecuriLock™ passive anti-theft system
Remote keyless entry
Separate alarm sounder
Anti-tow sensor
Ultrasonic interior motion sensor
Perimeter anti-theft battery

 

 MAJOR STANDARD EQUIPMENT

Audio system

Shaker 500: AM/FM stereo with six-disc CD/MP3-capable player with eight speakers

EXTERIOR

Badging

Unique GT500

Top

Black cloth (Convertible only)

Exhaust

Tuned dual stainless steel

Fascia

Unique GT500 colour-keyed front and rear

Fog lamps

Front

Grille

Unique upper with Cobra emblem

Hood

Unique with heat extractors

Locking

Remote keyless entry

Spoiler

Unique, color-keyed decklid spoiler

Trim

Over-the-top "Le Mans" stripes and "GT500" side stripes (Coupe)
"GT500" side stripes (Convertible)

Trunk

“Fix a Flat” tire repair kit

INTERIOR

Air conditioning

Manual

Console

Centre with full armrest and storage

Cupholders

Two

Door trim inserts

Soft vinyl

Floor mats

Front, color-keyed with driver-side retention hook

Instrument cluster

Includes boost gauge and message centre, SVT graphics

Map pockets

Front doors

Power points

Two

Scuff plates

Door sills, with bright SVT script insert

Seats

Leather sport buckets; six-way power adjustable driver seat with power lumbar and two-way adjustable head restraint

Shift knob

Unique with leather shift boot and parking brake handle

Steering wheel

Leather-wrapped with unique thumb pads, adjustable for tilt

Windows/door locks

Power

 

 OPTIONS

DELETE OPTIONS

"LeMans" stripes

Coupe only

"GT500" side stripes

Coupe, Convertible

AUDIO

Shaker 1000

1000 watt audio system: AM/FM stereo, in-dash, six-disc CD/MP3 player, 10 speakers

Satellite radio

SIRIUS

PACKAGE

GT500 Premium Interior
Trim Package

Wrapped and stitched instrument panel brow and center console with upgraded door armrest, electrochromic rearview mirror and aluminium pedal covers

 

 EXTERIOR/INTERIOR COLORS

EXTERIOR

Paint/stripe colors

Torch Red Clearcoat with Performance White or Satin Silver stripes
Alloy Clearcoat Metallic with Satin Silver or Tungsten stripes
Vista Blue Clearcoat with Performance White or Tungsten stripes
Performance White Clearcoat with Vista Blue or Tungsten stripes
Tungsten Grey Clearcoat with Satin Silver stripes
Valencia Yellow Clearcoat with Tungsten stripes
Ebony Clearcoat with Performance White or Tungsten stripes

Convertible top

Black cloth

INTERIOR

Charcoal Black/Charcoal Black
Charcoal Black/Crimson Red

 

 WARRANTY INFORMATION

Warranty

3-year, 36,000-mile, bumper-to-bumper limited warranty

 

 
 
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