June 11, 2007

Sometimes those phone calls come at just the right time. I've been without a Mustang driver for way too long. I temporarily gave up the GT 500 dream and focused on the Fox 500 reality. Still, the waiting game was killing me. Then the call came in from our local Ford press fleet. They were bringing a GT 500. I could park the SVT Focus and see how it felt to have a GT 500. It's a double-edged sword because I'd get a taste and have to give it back, but I needed a rear-drive V-8 fix.

I've spent more time in GT 500s than most people who don't own one. I drove preproduction prototypes, I drove the real thing at the Dearborn Proving Grounds, and I beat on this press car around the road course at Moroso Motorsports Park. The only thing I hadn't really done was spend an extended period of time driving one in the real world. That's why it's nice sometimes that the Floridian press fleet is slightly behind the pace of the frenetic California and Detroit fleets. It means we are able to forget our earlier impressions from those heady high-speed venues and reflect on the car's value on the street.

After jumping in the GT 500, I knew how it felt to transform from Bruce Banner into the Hulk. I would tolerate traffic in the Focus because I had no choice but to put up with it. But in the GT 500, everyone was in my way. All I wanted was clear asphalt and my foot to the floor. Sure, the car is heavy and the power is somewhat muted by the electronics, but it feels a lot faster in the real world. It reminded me of my brief time in a torquey Dodge Viper years ago. Similar to getting a fix, all you want to do is feel that torque push you back.

What became immediately apparent was those rear Goodyears still aren't wide enough, even though Carroll Shelby encouraged the SVT boys to step up to the 285s out back. Even with the GT 500's sporty traction control engaged, the car annihilates the rear tires on the one-two shift. Without as much computer meddling, the traction is even more hopeless. The GT 500 is a good candidate for factory drag radials if there ever was one. I haven't driven a modded GT 500 yet, but I can only imagine the sort of tire smoke those awakened monsters generate.

As many longtime 5.0&SF readers know, my dad owns a Z-51-equipped C6 Vette.It's a nice car for sure, but even he was intrigued by the Shelby. I agreed that if I had one handy, I'd bring it by. So, I showed up and handed him the keys. With nearly the whole family aboard, he was nonplussed by the car's performance, saying "It doesn't feel as fast as my Corvette." I quickly retorted, "Do you ever have four people in your car?" Of course, that's physically impossible, but he got the point. Dad gave the GT 500 high marks for its ride quality and ease of shifting-the Vette still has a T56, while the GT 500 sports the newer TR-6060-which surprised even me.

After dropping off my mom and son, we found a lonely stretch of road. I banged the GT 500 through four gears. I could've sworn I saw him grab for the armrest, but I asked anyway: "Now does it feel as fast as your Corvette?" He actually agreed that it did.

Of course, that the GT 500 is fast is no surprise, and the car didn't provide many surprises from my earlier experiences. It's adequately balanced despite the weighty hardware over the frontend. Likewise, the braking and cornering is great for a 4,000-pound ride. With more time between the car's debut and my latest ride, the interior is what could use the most help. The seats are better than I remember, but even with the GT 500 Premier Trim Package, the interior doesn't deliver on the upscale promise the pricing on these cars should merit.

In all, the GT 500 is a faster version of every Mustang I have ever enjoyed. It's a great car stock, but it can be so much more with a few modifications. Of course, that's the beauty of Mustangs in general, and the thing that keeps this magazine coming to you every month. If only we could drive one of these every month.

On The DynoSadly, the timing of our GT 500 ride didn't coincide with one of our testing days at Bradenton Motorsports Park. But we did get the chance to strap her down to our in-house Mustang Dyno (www.mustangdyne.com) to see what more than 12,000 miles of hard media break-in miles would do for the car's performance. Wanting to see what the best possible number could be, we tied the car down in the morning and let it sit. We're not supposed to disturb the copy editors with dyno testing during the day, anyway.

With the car ice cold, it laid down 442 hp and 430 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheels as read off the graph, which picks up more points of resolution, hence the slightly lower numbers on our chart. On the second back-to-back pull, the coolant temp went up slightly and the horsepower dropped to 436; the torque picked up to 433. For the dyno geeks out there, we used a horsepower at 50 number-which indicates the car's aerodynamics to the dyno-of 14.8 and a vehicle weight of 3,900 pounds. Mustang Dynos load the car to resemble real-world conditions, so they often read lower than nonloading dynos. Either way, the numbers impressed.