Report and photos (unless noted) by Jamie Doyle
Horsepower is something the vast majority of enthusiasts spend a lot of time thinking about. If possible we want a large dose of it, and are always craving more. We read about it, analyze it, brag about it, even lose sleep over it. But when does a lot of power become too much power? Is too much power even possible? One car that perhaps comes closer to pushing that limit more than any other this model year is the 2013 Shelby Mustang GT500.
Mustang folks may already be up on the new GT500’s big numbers, but with a car such as this one the stats bear repeating, and repeating them is a process that may never get old. With 662 horsepower and 631 lb/ft of torque, this king of modern muscle cars will hit 60 in 3.5 seconds and make the quarter-mile in 11.6 seconds. Another shocker is that the time has finally come when a production Mustang can join the 200 mile per hour club. Top speed is 202, to be exact. That’s clearly a lot of impressive straight-line, on-paper kind of statistics, but with cars like this it’s the more subjective stuff, the twisty bits, the actual driving that can complicate matters. Ridiculously high-powered muscle cars in the past have at times tended to be roller skates through the corners, but Ford and SVT seem to have put a lot of effort and development into making the GT500 a machine for the road, track, and drag strip alike. For this Mustang to turn and stop as well as it goes would mean that this is a thoroughly modern machine that is on par with traditionally more sophisticated, and more expensive, sports cars.
Shelby’s connection to the Mustang is of course much deeper than white and blue Le Mans stripes and Shelby badges. It can be traced all the way back to 1964, when the Cobra still roamed the earth and the Mustang was still just a new car. The relationship between Shelby and Ford was already a happy one as the Cobra still continued to rack up wins, so when Ford’s wildly popular new Mustang debuted in 1964, the folks at Shelby were asked to do what they did best and inject some performance into the new pony car. The Shelby GT350R that resulted was a potent racing machine, and the road-going GT350 was immediately the hot Mustang to have. When the bigger Shelby GT500 was added to the lineup, it was not steeped in competition as the GT350 was, but it nevertheless became one of the most memorable Fords of the period, thanks to its wild styling and huge 428 c.i. motor. The look of the new GT500 is no doubt inspired by that late-’60s icon of the same name, but one go in the 2013 model reveals that this is much more than just a half-assed tribute car with Cobra badges and SVT written on it.
The 2013 Shelby GT500 is already important in that it is both the last car Carroll Shelby was involved with (he seemed quite happy with it) and a celebration of SVT’s twentieth anniversary. The car is also noteworthy, though, because it is such a big leap forward from its predecessor, the 2012 GT500. Horsepower alone, the most noticeable figure, is up 112 from the previous model. While that might even be considered excessive, many other components have been reworked or massaged as well so, at $55,000, the new Shelby offers a lot to look at and think about.
Straight away some of the stylish enhancements for 2013 stand out, including new signature lighting with two attention-grabbing LED bars in the front, and rocker panels running along the car that are now colored to match the body. Additionally, the rear end has a new high-gloss black panel between the taillights and a diffuser surrounding the new quad-tip exhaust. To commemorate the 20th anniversary of SVT’s launch at the 1992 Chicago Auto Show, SVT badging joins the familiar Cobra badges throughout the interior in homage to these two decades of performance and progress by Ford’s Special Vehicle Team.
As for the more functional elements of the exterior, there is still plenty to look at. Regarding aerodynamics, a new front splitter and black grille inserts, both upper and lower, have been added. While the splitter helps to create downforce at high speed, the exposed radiator helps funnel air to cool the hard-working internal systems. An integrated air dam has also been incorporated, as has a high Gurney flap out back to reduce lift.
On the ground, meanwhile, two new sets of forged aluminum wheels are available. Freshened up with the interesting dark finish and updated spoke designs, the wheels appear aggressive but still offer the advantage of being lightweight. The 19 x 9.5-inch front and 20 x 9.5-inch rear wheels are coupled with Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar G2 tires, developed specifically for the GT500, on all configurations.
It all frankly looks pretty sinister, in a good way. The Mustang has become the more graceful of the pony car reincarnations, and the additions that separate the GT500 from a regular Mustang are distinctive without being in-your-face about it.
On the inside the 2013 GT500 immediately offers a surprising (and fun) level of technology. Via a new LCD “productivity screen” located on the instrument cluster, right between the tachometer and speedometer, the driver can scroll through several menu options regarding the vehicle’s performance. This customizable menu is navigated through a five-way control button located on the steering wheel, and the screen provides information such as the launch control settings, selectable steering, lateral g-forces, lap times, and brake performance. Trust me, it’s really fun to see how many g-forces you can create, whether it’s launching from a stop light or barreling through the curves. As the gauges will tell you though, it’s for “track use only.” Right.
Speaking of the track, perhaps the most radical change for the 2013 GT500 is under the hood. This year’s 5.8 liter supercharged V-8 makes a staggering 662 horsepower, 112 more than the 2012 GT500. Ford boasts that this makes it the most powerful production engine ever produced in North America. Torque is an equally imposing figure at 631 lb/ft. To crank out such a gratuitous amount of power, there are updated camshaft profiles, upgraded head gaskets, a new carbon driveshaft, reworked cooling system, forged pistons and forged connecting rods.
The wildest thing about the new Shelby’s engine, however, is probably its gigantic 2.3 liter Roots-type supercharger, which is the same size as the entire engine of the mid-’80s top-of-the-line Mustang SVO. My, how far we’ve come. The design of this year’s supercharger includes four lobes with a 160-degree twist, a drive ratio that spins 2.64 times faster than the 2012 model, and an impressive 14 psi boost. Despite all the grunt, the GT500 still manages respectable 15 miles per gallon in the city and 24 miles per gallon on the highway. It’s not economy car territory, but it’s still not as comically low as one might expect from a blown V-8 muscle car.
Given how much go the GT500 can deliver, it also needs to stop. The upgraded Brembo brake system features even larger rotors than the previous model, with 15-inch discs and six-piston calipers on the front and single-piston 13.8-inch discs on the rear. And they work, stopping the 3,852 pound Mustang in a scant 102 feet from sixty miles per hour.
With the $3,495 Performance Package, the GT500 comes with a two-mode, driver-adjustable damper system that was developed in conjunction with Bilstein, as well as more robust springs, stabilizer bars and a limited-slip differential. The additional $2,995 Track Package includes an external oil cooler, differential cooler and transmission cooler. According to Kerry Baldori, Ford SVT Global Performance Vehicles chief engineer, the “adjustable dampers let us develop our car on the track without any compromise. Before, we had to tune the car with street implications in mind. Now we can go as extreme as we want on the track setting and still offer the customer a comfortable ride on the road.”
Damper adjustments are accessed via a button on the dash. Normal mode gives the driver a more relaxed ride for rougher roads, while Sport mode delivers improved response time and combats body roll during more aggressive driving.
The AdvanceTrac traction control system, meanwhile, can be adjusted for rainy or aggressive summer drives alike. For days on the track, the traction and stability controls can be completely turned off. High-speed handling and stability should be better than the old GT500 no matter what settings are engaged since, as Ford claims, the 2013 model makes 33 percent more downforce at 160 mph than its predecessor.
Ford’s Tremec six-speed manual transmission offers upgraded gears, bearings and housing so it can handle the incredible amount of torque coming from the blown V-8 mated to it. The final drive ratio has also been changed to 3.31:1, while the clutch is heavier-duty and uses a dual-disc design. Again, these changes are meant to accommodate the torque.
With that much brute force on tap, straight line performance is predictably very good. My relatively short time with this year’s GT500 came on a chilly morning in Arizona with tires that had probably seen better days. The car not-so-politely refused to hook up in first gear and well into second, while chirping the tires into third. Once traction was found, there is no denying that the GT500 is a rocket, with arrest me speed before you remember to breathe. And the sound this mighty beast creates is nothing short of heroic. Ford reportedly tested more than 40 muffler tunings to achieve an aggressive exhaust note that is a great mixture of blower whine and traditional American V-8 goodness, yet not belligerent when tooling around town.
It’s easy to channel Tim “the Toolman” Taylor and say that you can never have too much power. But on a cold morning in a Mustang sporting horsepower and torque figures that are in the 600s, all bets are off. Maybe this Mustang is a bit ludicrous, but the best thing about them is that nothing is taken too seriously. While a lot of thought and engineering has clearly gone into this car, including input from none other than Carroll Shelby himself, it thankfully retains a wild and crazy and fun side. And that’s really what Shelby motoring is all about, even if it is just a tiny bit dangerous. In short, the 2013 Shelby GT500 is superbly scary, but it also makes a great noise and never stops being fun. Wherever he is, Carroll Shelby must surely be proud of this, his last car.
2013 Shelby GT500
Engine type: Supercharged DOHC aluminum V-8
Displacement: 5.8 liters
Power: 662 @ 6,500 rpm
Torque: 631 lb/ft @ 4,000 rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Curb Weight: 3,852 pounds
Fuel Economy: 15 mpg city, 25 mpg highway, 18 mpg combined
Performance: 0-60 in 3.5 seconds; 0-100 in 7.9 seconds; top speed of 202 miles per hour (323 km/h)
For additional information, visit www.ford.com/cars/mustang/trim/shelbygt500.