Courtesy of Ford Motor Company
September 6, 2012

Ford's SVT division had three simple goals with the 2013 Shelby GT500: Make over 650 hp and 600 lb-ft of torque, and run over 200 mph. It overachieved. The final cut delivers show-stopping performance with 662 hp, 631 lb-ft of torque, and a top speed just north of 200--no encore needed. No matter what Ford builds in the future, the '13 GT500 will go down as a legend. It's the most powerful American car ever--and the last one Carroll Shelby laid his hands on. Sadly, the release of the '13 coincides with Mr. Shelby's death. It's heartbreaking. Carroll Shelby was full of energy and ideas and lived a storied life. He enjoyed success in business, sports cars, at Le Mans, with classic Shelby Mustangs, and with today's fire-breathing GT500 monsters. Shelby's iconic name will forever be engrained in the Mustang, Ford, and American fabric.

Sadly, Shelby passed just weeks before the official release of the latest Mustang that bears his name. He was so proud of it. Shelby continually said his favorite was "the next one," yet he claimed the '13 as his favorite. With 662 glorious horsepower, the '13 GT500 will be a favorite of enthusiasts, too. SVT's engineering team massaged the entire Mustang, adding technological improvements to enhance virtually every aspect of the car. This translates into a supreme driving experience on and off the track.

Most impressive is the modular brute, enlarged to 5.8L (that's 351 ci, if you're old-school) by means of bigger bores (93.5 mm) with Plasma Transferred Wire Arc cylinder liners, which replaces the cast liners. It also saves 8.5 pounds. There are cross-drilled coolant passages, oil squirters to cool the underside of the forged pistons, forged rods, six-bolt billet main caps, a cast-aluminum oil pan and windage tray, and a forged-steel crank designed to handle 7,000 rpm. The heads have high-lift cams, seal up the 9.0:1 compression, and cylinder fill is enhanced with a new 2.3L blower with downsized pulley (69mm versus 72mm), boasting SVT and 5.8L logos into the ribbed casting--it's McQueen cool.

To utilize every single horsepower off the line, engineers developed an easy-to-use Launch Control (LC) system. LC offers an adjustable rpm hold (3,000-4,500 rpm) and it controls wheelspin on launch. Once you select the desired rpm, simply press LC, stage, depress the clutch, floor the gas and release the clutch smooth and fast--but don't dump or side-step it. Depending on available traction, the Shelby will rip from the line with little-to-no spin. Obviously, with better traction there will be less intrusion from the system. Best of all, the system rewards drivers with good clutch feel--it's not dummy proof. You can also activate the rev limiter alone, in case you want to hold rpm on the line but control your own launch.

Speaking of the clutch, it's firm with 33-precent more grip. Size is increased by 10 mm and it grabs higher in the uptake. Gearing has been altered for driveability, to increase miles per gallon, and to reach the coveted 200 mark. I didn't like it--the gearing that is. The beefed Tremec six-speed felt great, but the revised gears (a 2.66 First gear in the Tremec versus 2.97 in the '12) combined with the 3.31:1 rear gearing made the car feel soft on the bottom. Despite the mammoth torque, the Shelby required a good bit of throttle and smooth clutch release to get moving without a slight buck.

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Basically, the gearing is just too tall--it's like starting in Second gear in most cars and takes too long to come up on revs. In its favor is 631 lb-ft of torque, but the GT500 would accelerate swifter and be easier to drive with 3.55s or 3.73s. In fact, I've already driven a 2013 GT500 with 3.73s and it had the snap you'd expect. Connecting the trans and the fortified 8.8 is a one-piece carbon fiber driveshaft that saves 14 pounds.

To exercise the ponies, we traveled to Road Atlanta and Atlanta Dragway about an hour north of downtown Atlanta. Ford hooked us up with a Race Red GT500 with the glass roof for the 60-plus-mile drive from the airport to the track. The glass roof adds class, but also weight and cost ($1,995). With the retractable shade closed, you forget the roof is even there, but slide it back for sunlight and a unique view of the sky.

The revised Recaros hug you in all the right places, the steering wheel is one of the best I've laid my mitts on, and the Shelby stares at you with it's intimidating grille as if to say, "You lookin' at me?" It's new 19/20-inch wheels fit the style, and the quad tips sing gloriously. It's throaty, even aggressive when it needs to be, but tame at cruising speeds.

Rest in peace, Mr. Shelby--you left us with the baddest Mustang ever created.

Track Out

With its flowing elevation changes and demanding turns, Road Atlanta provides multiple thrills per lap. It's challenging, very fast, and there's little room for error.

I warmed up to the GT500 with three easy laps, then pushed hard on the throttle, brakes, and suspension to realize the potential of this fabulous car. The optional Recaro seats ($1,595) are just wonderful. I liked them in the Boss and love them wrapped in leather and Alcantara. Actually, the ergonomics are as good, or better, than any factory Mustang I've driven. The controls were just where I like 'em and that made the GT500 easy to drive fast.

It's no lightweight, but having a wide power curve means you can exit corners at lower rpm with little drama and still makes tracks down the straights. The Shelby has herculean power and the technology to enable full use of that gumption. Power comes on really smooth and is linear, not peaky.

To prevent journalists from killing themselves, a coned chicane was set up on RA's long back straight. Still, we accelerated from Turn 7 (a tight right-hander) to 135 mph before braking for the disruption. The chicane forced heavy braking and a Second gear downshift, but the Shelby rocketed back to 135 (top of Third) before reaching the downhill braking zone for 10a. Holy boost Batman, this thing goes from 60 to 135 mph like a scalded cat. Ford engineers confirmed the GT500 would achieve over 170 mph using the entire back straight!

The Shelby has precise and predictable handling. Aggressive and even moderate braking planted the nose and gave me loads of grip for accurate turn-in. I didn't notice any understeer, which was nice. Overall, it was neutral in the turns. I could induce oversteer with throttle, but it was controllable. With the Advance Trac active, the computer limited yaw, it keeps you from messing up.

The updated suspension was also tight, absorbing the apex strips without upsetting the chassis. The Brembo brakes hauled it down from speed effortlessly with firm feel and nice modulation. Ford claims a 55-percent improvement in fade and better stopping distance.

It all combines to make the GT500 amazing quick on the track, but also enjoyable for street driving. It's sprung tight, yet it absorbs imperfections nicely. To enhance your experience, drivers can toggle on the fly between damper settings that alter the feel, ride quality, and performance. These adjustments include the tunable EPAS (electric power assist steering) and the (optional) Damptronic Bilstein dampers, which can either be set on Firm or Soft with the touch of a button. Drivers can also enable or disable LC, TC, or Advance Trac.

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Drag City

Atlanta Dragway's quarter-mile was up next, where about 20 journalists and Ford engineers laid down a multitude of passes on the same six GT500's we drove on track the day prior.

We arrived to see Ford's crew performing check-out laps on each of the cars. After a safety briefing, I rode with a Ford driver to learn the LC system. Some journalists had never seen a dragstrip, so this was necessary. I climbed aboard with Brake Controls Engineer Dan Dunn, who pounded a mean gear and got us there in just over 12 seconds. Not bad for a hot car with two occupants and a rollbar.

By the time I cycled through, the ambient temperature had climbed to 78 degrees, with mild humidity absorbing valuable space where oxygen could be. The track though, once prepped, was showing baldness on the line.

I strapped into a Black 500, which had about 15-20 runs on it--in a row. I heated/cleaned the Goodyear tires with a First-gear burnout by turning off traction control, revving the engine, and dumping the clutch. A touch of brake with my left foot held the car stationary; once I saw smoke, I powered towards the line. We were instructed to use the LC, so I dialed in 3,800 rpm, pushed the LC button, and was ready to go. When I snapped my foot from the clutch, the GT500 lunged and then bogged--seemingly gagging for a breath--then took off. Due to the tall gearing, only two upshifts are necessary, and I cracked the traps in 12.52 seconds at 120 mph--disappointing to say the least.

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I upped the rpm to 4,000, got my foot off the clutch quicker, and clicked off a 12.09/121-mph pass. It was a nice gain, but not perfect. For my last run in this rotation, I upped the rpm to 4,200 and the GT500 scooted from the line cleanly. I drove it down there with my right foot planted--it felt like the best of the three. The kid in the timeslip booth confirmed what I felt--he was all smiles when I arrived. "Finally, someone did it right: 11.93/121," he announced, handing me the slip.

With about 20 drivers hammering the Mustangs, this was more torture test than proper drag test. If anything, these machines are Timex-durable. Despite a myriad of techniques used for burnout and launch (some not so elegant), there wasn't a single failure--not a wisp of clutch, not a drip of coolant on the sizzling Atlanta pavement.

The engineers wanted more, so they Ford pulled one GT500 from the rotation for a 15-minute cool down. They used electric fans to lessen the blaze from the blower, but in reality it did very little. When I got back to the line, the Shelby was back at operating temp. I had a plane to catch, so there was just enough time for a few passes.

After the day's beating, the line was stripped of much stickiness. I preset the LC to 4,000 rpm and hoped for some bite. I staged shallow, put the throttle on the floor, and cut it loose on green. Initially I got the clutch out with a quick snap, then I paused my leg, waiting for the Mustang to transfer weight. At just the right moment, I let it out all the way and felt the rush of acceleration.

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The LC is a real driver aid, but like I stated, it rewards those with more feel. Dumping the clutch will still result in spin, followed by a reduction in power to allow hook. So, if you get the clutch out smoothly, you will hook better and realize less interference from the LC.

There was a slight eeek... eeek ...eeek from the Goodyears and the engine never pulled back on power--it was hauling with the fury and determination of every single horsepower. The 5.8L's heartbeat rose to 7,000 rpm, and with my right foot planted on the firewall, I tapped the clutch and yanked the lever into Second. The tail twitched and the tires chirped--acceleration was continual and brisk. At redline I found Third and got the same result as the previous gear exchange. You can actually feel the rush of boost as the rpm climbs.

Again, I saw the pumping fist from the smiling kid, who handed over the 11.817/123.25-mph slip. I backed it up immediately with an 11.890 at 121.63 and a spinning 12.081 hero attempt at 124.8 mph. The Ford guys said the next quickest run was 12.07. At a separate test after the launch we'd run as quick as 11.60s at 126 mph. We had a chance to drive a 3.73-equipped GT500 (no other mods) and it was 0.40 quicker!

The GT500 is a true masterpiece. It swallows up the road and track with amazing grace that is unrivaled anywhere. It is the ultimate Mustang. Ford, SVT, and everyone involved should be proud of this flagship model. It carries the name of an icon who said it's the best Mustang ever, and who can argue with Mr. Shelby?