Jim Campisano Editor
July 14, 2006
Photos By: Randy Lorentzen

The '07 Shelby GT500 is the most highly anticipated new Mustang in history. And why not? When Ford decided to stuff a slightly detuned Ford GT supercar engine in America's favorite ponycar, it created a buzz never before seen in the four-plus-decade history of the breed.

Of course, the debate about how good it could be has raged in the enthusiast media since the GT500 show car was first revealed. We are here to announce that it's damn good. Go-into-debt-up-to-your-eyeballs good. Is it worth paying $20,000 over sticker to get one? Of course not. Ford will be, relatively speaking, flooding the market with them--8,000 or so per year for five years--so it's not like they will be rare. In other words, there will be more produced in the first two years alone than the sum total of all previous Shelby Mustangs. (For comparison's sake, SVT built 14,476 Cobras in the extended '03 model year and 5,664 in 2004.)

We've spent considerable seat time in the first Mustang to be branded a Shelby since 1970. We've flogged it on the infield road course at California Speedway in Fontana, on some challenging twisty roads outside of Berkley, California, then finally, two weeks later, in Michigan at Milan Dragway. Everything about it is worlds better than the current Mustang GT, from the seats and interior, to the appearance and the powertrain, to the tires and the handling.

The Eaton M122 flows 10 ci more air than the M112 that was used on the '03-'04 "Terminator" Cobras.

Let's start with the engine since, frankly, that's why most people will want this vehicle. There are two main differences between the dual-overhead cam 5.4-liter V-8 in the GT500 and the Ford GT. First, the former utilizes an Eaton Roots-style supercharger instead of a twin-screw design, thus reducing horsepower by a good 10 percent. Second, the version that goes in the Mustang has a cast-iron block with wet-sump oiling, while the GT uses an expensive aluminum block with dry-sump oiling. According to Hau Thai-Tang, Director, Advanced Product Creation and Ford Special Vehicle Team, the four-valve-per-cylinder heads and cams are identical.

The aluminum block was never considered for production because the cost to reengineer it solely for use in the Mustang would have been prohibitive and too much to pass along to the consumer, according to Thai-Tang.

The blower itself is an Eaton M122, which flows 10 ci more air than the M112 that was used on the '03-'04 "Terminator" Cobras. The M112 was simply too small to fulfill the needs of the hungry 330ci DOHC monster in the GT500. It is fed by a dual 60mm electronic throttle body, which draws air through what looks like the world's most restrictive airbox. As this story was being written, the final horsepower and torque numbers were unveiled. It makes 500 hp at 6,000 rpm and 480 lb-ft of torque at 4,500.

We don't care what Ford rates it at. Bottom line is this sumbitch is one strong workhorse, obviously the most powerful mill Ford's ever seen fit to stuff into a Mustang. We can only imagine what it'll do with a pulley swap, air intake upgrade, and computer tune. We're guessing 600 rwhp is not out of the realm of possibility with these tweaks.

As it did with the legendary Terminator engines, the Special Vehicle Team stuffed the 5.4 block with all the necessary hardware to keep it alive under the most rigorous duty--a forged steel crank, forged aluminum pistons, and cracked forged steel I-beam connecting rods. Compression checks in at a blower-friendly 8.4:1, and the redline is set at 6,250.

Like the GT, it's got 2.5-inch exhaust from the cast-iron manifolds to the tailpipes. Unlike said Mustang, however, it is not equipped with an H-pipe. For the first time in a Ford vehicle, the Shelby employs an X-shaped crossover. This smoothes out the sound quite a bit. From the inside, it is quieter than a stock 4.6 Three-Valve, but we're told it is pretty much as loud as legally possible under full throttle. The X also added 10 hp to the mix. Thankfully, the air hiss that was present under full throttle in '03-'04 Cobras (which one engineer said "sounded like a '78 LTD") is gone.

For a gearbox, SVT chose the latest, smoothest version of Tremec's six-speed, now dubbed the TR6060. The ratios are similar to the earlier version, but first is a lower 2.97:1 (versus 2.66). There's a usable 0.80 Fifth, and a 0.63 Sixth for fuel economy. With the mountains of torque available, Ford elected to use a highway-friendly 3.31:1 final drive (with an upgraded diff). This helped keep the GT500 from being slapped with a gas-guzzler tax; hot rodders will immediately want to switch to 4.10s or 4.30s.

No more IRS, Ford tested this solid rearend to 500 high rpm launches with no failure.

Fans of automatic transmissions are out of luck since Ford doesn't make one that can cope with this car's power.

Obviously, we've made no mention of an independent rear suspension since, well, there isn't one. While this will send some lapsing into spasms, we've seen enough grenaded IRS units from previous SVT Mustangs (not to mention new Pontiac GTOs) that we are grateful for the omission, if you can call it that. So there's a tradeoff--a little more brake dive and a little movement in back if you hit a bump or two in a corner versus a more efficient driveline that puts more power to the ground, is lighter, and is virtually indestructible (not to mention cheaper to produce). Not only has the new three-link proven itself on the track in Grand Am cup, where it has kicked Porsche and BMW ass, but in Ford's testing it withstood 500 high-rpm drag launches without failure.

On The Street
Frankly, we were shocked at how docile the GT500 is as a daily driver. Anyone who has driven an '03-'04 Cobra has cursed its ridiculously heavy stock clutch and horrendous factory shifter. The new GT500's dual-disc hydraulic clutch (which features a sintered metallic lining) is barely harder to engage than that of a six-cylinder Mustang, and the shifter, while not perfect for powershifting, is light years better than the mess that was installed on the last generation SVT model. Some actually wanted to add more pedal pressure to make the clutch more "muscular," but as far as we're concerned, it's perfect just the way it is. It has one-half the pedal effort of the previous Cobra.

The suspension tuning is pretty much spot-on for the masses. It's extremely compliant over uneven surfaces, but like all factory Mustangs sits about an inch and a half too high. (It's especially objectionable in the rear.) The steering feel is vastly improved over the regular Mustang GT, slightly heavier and more direct, with better feedback. Both on the track and in switchbacks on the serpentine roads we sampled out West, the steering was sublime--the way the car transitioned through the S-turns was thoroughly enjoyable.

Ford's engineers jacked around with the springs, shocks, struts, and rear sway bar in order to bring some balance to a vehicle that wears 57 percent of its weight up front. Thanks to the changes wrought, you'd never know it was so nose-heavy from behind the wheel. This was perhaps the biggest surprise on the road course. We knew it would be a beast in a straight line, but here it might be fairly unbalanced. Not so. The front sway bar remains the same diameter (34 mm), but SVT increased the rear sway bar diameter from 22 mm to 24 mm. While it definitely still understeers when pushed hard, it's not nearly the plowhorse the GT is.

On these staggered 18 inch wheels you'll find the only SVT letters on the exterior of the vehicle.

Not only was the 5.4 engine pirated from the GT supercar, so were its tires--Goodyear F1s. According to Jay O'Connell, chief engineer of SVT, only the tire size is different between the two vehicles. The GT500 uses staggered sizes, with P255/45/ZR18s up front and P285/40ZR18s in the rear, on gorgeous 18x9.5-inch, 10-spoke rims that made the transition from concept car to production vehicle. It is in the center of these wheels that you'll find the only SVT letters on the exterior of the vehicle. O'Connell noted that Ford was considering using the 255s all around, but it was Carroll Shelby himself who convinced them the car needed wider tires in the rear.

Trying to stop two-plus-tons of 500hp Mustang was not a task to be left to the stock binders. Up front, 14-inch Brembo rotors with four-piston aluminum calipers are used, while 11.8-inch rotors with two piston calipers and special brake pads are in the back.

On track, the GT500s were in continuous duty for hours at a clip, and while they were in serious need of pads at the end of the afternoon, the brakes never exhibited any signs of fade. They did a remarkable job of hauling these porky ponies down from triple-digit speeds time and time again.

Through the turns, the Shelby was an eye-opener. As we said earlier, it exhibited much better manners than we expected. The big meats out back keep the rear from stepping out on you (unless you're really trying hard to get it loose). Both on the track and the street, it stuck like glue. Interestingly, we found the traction control system was not all that intrusive. On past Mustangs, the first thing you do it disable the TCS; this is no longer absolutely necessary. You can still have a ton of fun with it turned on, and this applies both to the road course and the dragstrip.

Ultimately, like any musclecar, the Shelby is about acceleration. It's remarkable how much brute power this automobile has. Exiting slow corners in second gear, you'd mat the throttle and before you knew it you'd be going 120 mph and braking hard for the next turn. From a standing start on the street, you can melt the tires to your heart's content. Turning expensive Goodyear rubber into pungent smoke is lots of fun--especially when they're someone else's tires.

The traditional SVT white gauges with black letters are now charcoal with silver letters and are harder to read than the Mustang GT gauges.

Inside, the GT500 sees a host of improve-ments over the GT. The steering wheel, for one, has indentations for your thumbs. There is a dark-satin aluminum finish on the instrument trim, rings, and door handles to reduce glare. The tachometer and speedometer switch places, with the tach now on the right. It comes with a programmable shift light--at a predetermined rpm, the letters "SVT" flash. Which is helpful because the traditional SVT white gauges with black letters are now charcoal with silver letters and are even harder to read than the standard Mustang GT gauges. Leather seats are all that's offered and the side bolstering is altered for better support, but there still isn't enough bolstering in the seat bottom to hold you in place during hard driving.

There is also a Premium Interior Trim Package option, which nets you a leather-wrapped and stitched instrument panel brow and center console with upgraded door armrests, electrochomic rearview mirror and aluminum pedal covers. Naturally, the Shaker 1000 stereo is optional (500 is standard), as is Sirius satellite radio.

One thing is for certain, and that is no matter where we went in the GT500, people freaked out over the mere sight of it. This car has a presence--the big, bold front end sans lights in the grille, the giant tires, the Le Mans stripes on the coupe. Even the front fascia has pro-visions for brake-cooling ducts. Only two things are wrong with it. First, the production hood is pretty uninteresting. While functional for ducting air out from the engine compartment, which aids aerodynamics, the hood grilles just sit there like an afterthought. If you're going to call something "GT500," use a '68-style Shelby hood with forward-facing scoops at the leading edge of the nose and make them functional to boost horsepower. Then add air extractors somewhere else on the hood, again `a la the '68 Shelby.

Our other gripe is having the name "Shelby" scrunched together on the left side of the decklid, rather than spread across it like the show vehicle. Of course, the show car had the center high-mounted stop light in the rear spoiler and the production version has it in the stock trunk location. This must've made the bean counters happy, since they didn't have to tool up for a new decklid.

To improve aerodynamics, Ford uses a front splitter, a rear diffuser, and the aforementioned decklid spoiler. O'Connell said the spoiler provided 200 pounds of downforce at 150 mph, and the combination of it and the front splitter has cut the total lift to zero. The final drag coefficient for the GT500 is .38, which is slightly higher than the GT, but that is attributable to the wider tires.

For those ordering the convertible, know that the Le Mans stripes are not available (they can be deleted on the coupe as well).

Naturally, we couldn't wait for our turn at the strip. In order to get the numbers for this issue, that meant heading to Milan Dragway rather than our usual stomping grounds, Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in New Jersey. The weather was decent (66 degrees F, 46 percent humidity, 29.9 barometric pressure), but nothing killer.

Driving the new GT500 requires a deft touch on the line. The numerically low 3.31 gears and 2.97:1 First gear means if you start spinning the tires off the line, your run is shot. But if you lug it too much, it will bog badly, also killing e.t.

Test-shoe Evan Smith, alias the "T5 Bandit," flew in for this mission, and with a cooking hot car clicked off a 12.74 at 111 mph (it had just made five launches and three consecutive passes without a cooldown). More than acceptable for some folks, better than other magazines will ever achieve, but we were just getting started. On the next pass, he slipped the clutch and the 60-foot time was 2.14. He powershifted Second and the tires spun all the way until Third gear. Going through the traps in Third resulted in a 12.42 at 115.70. Longtime readers will recall that in our July '02 issue, we went 12.67 at 110 in our first '03 Cobra drag test, so we were already ahead of the game.

Smitty decided to try a run where he speed-shifted Second, but that didn't help. "The car didn't like that at all," he reported. The timeslip backed him up. It read 2.13 60-foot and 12.54 at 115.32 mph.

There was some frustration in his voice. "I'm going through the lights in Third gear," he reported. "You're giving up 3-tenths minimum. The first thing I'd do is put in 4.10s or 4.30s. I can feel this is an 11-second car with gears, even on the stock tires. It's a very difficult car to launch."

He decided powershifting Second was the only way to go. And the next run bore this out, a 12.257 at 117.18 (2.11 60-foot), with him pedaling it like John Force in Second. He also shifted into Fourth on this run.

Try as he might, Smith couldn't improve on this time. He ran a 12.37 at 116.52 and a 12.41, but the 12.25 was as good as it got. For the sake of science (and at the request of Ford's Gene Martindale, he tried two runs with the Traction Control activated. The Shelby, we're happy to report, ran quicker than expected, a 12.61 and 12.68.

"The system works really well. It recovers very quickly," Smith noted. "This would be the hot ticket for the average guy who wants to take it track but doesn't have a lot of experience. The traction control doesn't totally kick it down."

So there you have it. The most expensive ($41,950) Mustang ever after the '00 SVT Cobra R (not including those from Roush and Saleen) is the quickest Mustang ever. At 3,920 pounds (minus driver) for the coupe and 4,040 for the convertible, it's also the heaviest, for which we think Ford should be ashamed.

Either way, it's a fantastic automobile, one worthy of the Shelby name, one that should go 10s in the quarter-mile with minimal bolt-ons.

Gotta love that.

Tricks of The Ford Racing Trade
At the track at California Speedway, Ford Racing rolled out a bright yellow GT500 with a couple of tweaks. After buckling myself in, I asked the Ford representative riding shotgun what was done to the car.

"Why don't you drive it and tell me," came the challenge. Would I even notice a difference?

Just driving down pit road, I could hear the F1s kicking up stones into the wheelwells. "Different tire compound," I noted. Just punching the throttle entering the track I blurted out that it definitely felt a lot stronger.

"Yeah, there's a little different tune in it," was the answer from the passenger seat.

Going around the infield road course, I noticed this GT500 was a lot more neutral than the "stock" models I'd been driving all morning. The ride height looked the same. My guess was sway bars.

"Nope," I was told. "Just different valving on the shocks and struts."

Are these tricks something we'll see in the Ford Racing catalog soon? Could well be. They work and are obviously something enthusiasts will be interested in.--J.C.

BodyUnitized welded steel body, aluminum hood
Powertrain & Chassis
Engine5.4-liter V-8, iron block, aluminum cylinder heads
Intake ManifoldCast-aluminum with Roots-type supercharger and air-to-water intercooler
Exhaust ManifoldsCast iron
CrankshaftForged steel
Throttle BodyDual 60mm electronic
ValvetrainDOHC, four valves per cylinder
Valve Diameter37.0 mm (intake); 32.0 mm (exhaust)
PistonsForged aluminum
Connecting RodsCracked forged steel I-beams
Bore x stroke3.552 in x 4.165 in
Displacement330 ci/5409 cc
Horsepower500 at 6,000 rpm
Torque480 lb-ft at 4,500 rpm
Compression Ratio8.4:1
Redline6,250 rpm
Recommended FuelPremium only
Oil Capacity6.0 quarts, 5W-50 full synthetic
Coolant Capacity21 qts
Tremec TR6060 six-speed manual
Gear ratios
Final Drive3.31:1
FrontReverse-L independent MacPherson strut, 34mm tubular stabilizer ball
RearThree-link solid axle with coil springs, Panhard rod, 24mm solid stabilizer bar
TypeRack-and-pinion with power assist
TypeFour-wheel power disc with four-channel antilock braking system, electronic brake force distribution and traction control
FrontBrembo 14-in diameter vented discs, four-piston aluminum calipers
Rear11.8-in diameter vented discs, two-piston calipers
Tires & Wheels
TiresP255/45ZR18 (f)
P285/40ZR18 (r)
Wheels18x9.5-in machined aluminum
Dimensions (Exterior)
Wheelbase107.1 in
Overall Length187.6 in
Overall Width73.9 in
Overall Height54.5 in (coupe)
55.7 in (convertible)
Track Width (f/r)61.9-in/62.5-in
Ground Clearance5.71 in
Coupe3,920 lbs
Convertible4,040 lbs
Distribution (f/r)57/43 percent
Coupe$41,950 (base, destination and delivery included)
Convertible$45,000-$48,000 (estimated)
Standing Quarter-Mile12.257/117.18 MPH
Top Speed155 (electronically limited)