Back in my day – not too long ago – Mustangs were the king of the block. The 5.0L Fox-body was a relatively compact chassis and had a potent V8 with loads of aftermarket support. Over the years, the imports caught up and toppled the Mustang (and then some) in every conceivable way. However, in the last few years Detroit has come out swinging with hit after hit in the automotive world. Your performance car isn’t worth much unless it’s cranking out 400+ horsepower with sweeping technological advancements.
Now that the Ford GT is gone, there is a new Halo car in town. It is equally powerful, carries a long lineage of greatness and, in my opinion, looks even better than the Ford GT. The 2011 Ford Shelby GT500 has stormed onto the marketplace yet again with all kinds of improvements and a more refined look than the previous version. The new snake exudes a modern quality as opposed to the hasty redesign of a 1960s fastback that it replaced. Right down to the most minor detail, the new GT500 is of a higher caliber craftsmanship and attention to detail is in evidence at every turn. But what has turned buyers on this time around is a new V8 that will leave your heart thumping.
The 2011 Shelby GT500 features a supercharged 5.4L alloy block V8 with aluminum heads. The new mill puts down 550 horsepower and 510lb-ft of torque that springs to life at virtually any RPM. From the SVT cold air intake to the “Ford” blue crinkle finish valve covers, this hand-built engine even has a prominent stamped plate with the signatures of the craftsmen who assembled it. The sinister growl of the 5.4L is unmistakably Mustang and is audible from blocks away.
Mated to a six-speed Tremec gearbox, the 550 ponies feed into a limited-slip differential nestled inside Ford’s controversial solid rear axle. Since this is a true muscle car, no automatic transmission is available. The gearing allows the ‘stang to always be in the power band, although we did find the gates a tad hard to find and the clutch a little on the stiff side. Still, we mustered some blistering 4.6-second 0-60mph rips with the quarter mile time of 12.7, both of which were accomplished with the traction control off.
As for the chassis, it is certainly a hefty one. Tipping the scales at 3,820lbs, the GT500 is over 200 pounds heavier than a new Mustang GT. The majority of the weight is up front, thanks to a 56/44 weight distribution so the car tends to want to plow, but the improved suspension and throttle response compensate for that. The solid rear axle may be the choice of drag racers everywhere but it sure makes it a curious beast to drive. The heavily sprung car may stiffen the suspension and that can certainly be felt over the sharper bumps. Overall, it is a sportier ride than the GT and, in most cases, livable. The steering is precise but touchy at highway speeds, meaning you don’t want to be fiddling with your BlackBerry – this car demands your full attention. The braking for this bruiser was also improved with Brembos all around that haul in the reins and pull this pony from 60mph to a dead stop in only 106 feet.
The classic exterior treatment continues into the cabin, while cracking the door is almost like stepping into a time machine. The flared dash panels house old school analogue gauges, while the centre console feels decidedly more modern with an optional Next Gen touch screen DVD navigation unit and soft-touch buttons. The high back seats are supportive along the spine but could use some side bolsters, given the potential for violence. Suede accents abound and the black leather seats feature a pair of distinct white stripes to mimic the exterior strip package. Visibility is moderate considering you kind of sink into this car, and the sweeping C-pillars don’t help. The rear seats make for a 2+2 application and although they may look the part, they don’t fold down. Lucky for buyers the trunk is huge, but really, are you going to be hauling 2x4s in this beast?
From every angle, our Race Red Shelby GT500 had great presence. With its aggressive stance and raked angles, the car turned heads wherever it roamed. Of course, once you own one, everyone will be your new best friend wanting a joy ride, a photo-op or a few stabs at the gas to hear it rev. The front fascia redesign has a sharper more upscale look with unique biomechanical headlight enclosures with HIDs. The LED tail lamps are redesigned as well with the striking sequential signal feature harkening back to Fords and Mercurys of yesteryear. The fit and finish of the panels is top notch, as is the paint and striping kit. Included in the SVT Track Pack are forged alloy wheels, finished in gunmetal which gives the GT500 a more exotic appearance. The rollers are wrapped in Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar G radials sized in 265/40R19 and a healthy 285/35R20 out back.
The Shelby GT500 is the total package. At $60 grand there isn’t much to compare it to since it throws down the kind of numbers normally reserved for the $100,000+ club. We wanted the car to be something special, and it definitely provided a memorable experience and big grins with every effortless smokey burnout. Naturally, there are more parts available for Mustangs than almost any other platform out there. We can’t imagine what engineers will dream up for this menace to the roads, but I’m sure we’ll see it in person at the 2010 SEMA Show.
2011 Ford Shelby GT500
Price as tested: $64,749
Output: 550hp with 510lb-ft
0-60mph = 4.6 seconds
¼ mile = 12.7 seconds
60-0mph = 106 feet
Tested with: V-Box Performance Meter