Jerry Heasley
August 1, 2008

No matter how tire-shreddingly fast the new GT500KR is, with 0-60 mph times in the low-4-second range and e.t.'s through the quarter-mile right at 12 seconds, the Shelby legacy is what really causes the stir. Ford could build a 540hp Mustang supercar, but only Shelby can build a Shelby.

I flew to Salt Lake City as a guest of Ford and Shelby Automobiles to testdrive the new KR. On my arrival, Ford engineer Jamal Hameedi from the Special Vehicle Team (SVT) gave me a walk-around of the latest Shelby.

"The KR is a unique vehicle program for Ford, Shelby Automobiles, and SVT," Jamal said as I stared at the first production GT500KR in 40 years. As Jamal talked about the KR's technical features, I thought about how cool the pair of intake scoops and air extractors looked in the hood, just like on Shelby's original '681/2 GT500KR. The front end has that Cobra snake look, also the same as the '681/2. It occurred to me that this is a real Shelby Mustang, and it's brand-spanking new.

I believe many of the KR buyers will be car collectors from the Mustang hobby. Like me, they've probably built a modified Mustang or two or restored a classic. But prices have soared out of their checkbook range for a genuine '681/2 GT500KR. Although triple a new Mustang GT in price at $79,995, the new KR is at least in the price range of many Mustang aficionados. Best of all, no assembly is required-and the N.O.S. battery is included.

The new KR is the real deal. It's the most powerful Mustang ever offered to the public.

Jamal said, "SVT did the engineering and development. Shelby brought its iconic brand to the table. It's also doing the manufacturing, which opens up some neat content that Ford wouldn't have been able to do." Ford assembles them as GT500s in Flat Rock, Michigan, with a specific set of options, then ships them by rail to Shelby Automobiles in Las Vegas for the conversion into the finished GT500KR.

As he popped the hood, the young engineer's smile turned into a full grin, almost Shelby-like, as he said, "The engine develops 540 hp and 510 lb-ft of torque."

The 428 Cobra Jet that powered the original KRs was certainly underrated at 335 horses to place them in competitive classes in Super Stock drag racing. The word circulating in the pits at the '68 Winternationals was that the CJ actually generated more than 400 hp. The figure is tame by comparison to today's KR when one considers the 335 hp was "gross" while the 540 is "net," which would be pushing 600 horses by a '60s yardstick.

Jamie turned his attention to the physical reasons for the KR's extra 40 horses over the basic GT500. He pointed to the cold-air intake box. "It's specially designed to work with the carbon-fiber hood," he said.

The original KR hood utilized a pair of intake scoops at the leading edge of the hood and a pair of openings at the rear to evacuate hot air. The underside of the hood incorporated a round housing that mated to a rubber housing surrounding the air cleaner lid. In keeping with this theme, Ford SVT and Shelby have taken the concept of a fiberglass hood with scoops for airflow to an exotic level. Somewhere around 100 pieces in the "carbon layup" form the inner panels.

Ford began experimenting with ducted hoods for the rear clamshell of its mid-engine Ford GT supercar a few years ago. Inspired by this effort, the company created an intricate ducted hood for the KR. Fresh air comes into the front inlet and drops into the backside of the cold-air intake. At the same time, a separate chamber draws hot air out of the engine bay through extractors located in a low-pressure zone.

This lightweight hood is a trick piece and part of the KR's overall aero setup. But for enthusiasts thinking of upgrading their standard Mustang to a KR version, Shelby Vice President of Marketing Jim Owens says the hoods are strictly for KR owners. Even if a KR owner needs a new hood, he'll have to return the old one to get a replacement. Ford and Shelby are maintaining an exclusivity factor with the KR. They even protect the special exhausts and other trick parts.

A new front splitter adds downforce and works in conjunction with the hood. The rear spoiler creates lower drag in order to move the center of aero pressure forward.

The chassis is unique to the KR. SVT has added new rate springs, dampers, sway bars, and tires. Its mission is to take the GT500, which is a balance of comfort and handling, and turn it into a KR with all-out handling.

Jamie said, "We were prepared to give up quite a bit of comfort for the handling." However, he believes they made the big handling jump without a huge trade-off in ride comfort. Working with Shelby, SVT lowered the car 20 mm (about 3/4 inch) in the front and 15 mm (slightly over 1/2 inch) in the rear.

Another big deal on the GT500KR is specific low back-pressure exhausts featuring an H-pipe with an added baffle. Shelby also went from mufflers in the GT500 to round resonators in the KR that emit a low-pitched Boy Racer vroom.

Behind The Wheel
An initial street drive merely familiarized me with the new KR. A '60s Mustang with more than 500 hp would be a beast. The KR's clutch pedal is slightly stiffer than a standard GT's. Otherwise, the vehicle is easy to drive in the city. While short-throw shifters can be a handful in the sense of magnifying any imprecision, I moved the shifter through the six-speed Tremec with ease.

Ford had plenty of Mustangs for testing at Miller Motorsports Raceway. I started with a stock GT, moved up to a GT500, then to the King Of The Road. This way, I could feel the suspension changes as I moved up the scale.

Tossing the KR into turns is intimidating at first. The vehicle weighs close to 3,900 pounds, but no matter how out of shape I got with it, I could catch the vehicle after diving too far into a corner and breaking the front tires loose.

I went back on the track with race car driver Gene Martindale, who is also an engineer for SVT. He has driven in the Koni Challenge (with the Mustang FR500C) and American Le Mans series. He dove even further into the corners and at higher speeds that, I believe, would spin out virtually any other car on the road. I was amazed by his ability to avoid spinning out. He "caught" the spin and got the KR back on track.

Gene explained how the KR uses stiffer springs to react quicker to turns and braking compared to the regular GT500. However, the sway bars are softened for the street. Ford and Shelby also worked with Goodyear to develop tires for this vehicle. The object was to get as close as possible to the edge-the point where the car oversteers and spins out.

Jim Owens added, "With the compound and the suspension work, we can pull substantially over 1 g at 72 mph."

The KR delivers big-time horsepower and torque. It's a King of the Road musclecar with comfort and great handling.

For decades, the collector in me has wanted Ford and Carroll Shelby to get back together to build a new Shelby Mustang. It's a dream come true that the KR is back. Just like Carroll, the GT500KR is the real deal.

GT500 vs. GT500KR*
 GT500GT500KR
Horsepower500540
Torque480 lb-ft510 lb-ft
Redline6,250 rpm6,250 rpm
0-604.5 sec.4.3 sec.
Quarter-mile e.t.12.8 sec.12.1 sec.
Quarter-mile speed112 mph115 mph
Top speed**155155
100-0310 ft.303 ft.
60-0115 ft.109 ft.
300 ft. skidpad0.92 g1.00 g
Slalom, 100 ft.68.5 mph71.7 mph
Curb weight3,901 lb.3,879 lb.
*Unofficial performance figures provided by SVT
**Electronically limited

Production
The latest on KR production is that Shelby is increasing production from 1,000 units during the '08 model year to an additional 746 for 2009. Of those, 571 will go to buyers in the United States, with the remaining 175 to go outside the U.S. Shelby Automobiles chose the total of 1,571 to match the original number of KRs built in 1968.