Steve Turner
Former Editor, 5.0 Mustang & Super Fords
October 1, 2008
Instantly recalling the glory of the '68 GT500KR with its double-scooped hood, the '08 Ford Shelby GT500KR carries on the lineage of good looks and outstanding performance. Of course, to be one of the 1,571 lucky enough to get an '08 or '09, you'll be putting down at least the sticker price of $79,995, if not more with dealer markups.

Horse Sense: A remarkable amount of engineering went into upgrading the base GT500 to KR specs. That's a lot of work for a run of 1,571 vehicles (1,000 in the '08 model year, and 571 in the '09 model year, which equals the original run of GT500KRs). As such, I wouldn't be surprised to see some of the parts and technologies developed for this 'Stang show up on future models.

The key turns. The 5.4 roars to life. Varoom. Burble, burble. Rmmmm, rmmmm. As the car pulls away from the curb, the blower whirrs to life, singing through the air as I head down the mountain path. From the start, the GT500KR feels familiar, yet different. It's more visceral, more controlled, and of course, it costs a lot more-$79,995 to be exact. I flew all the way to Utah just to spend some time in the car and find out what makes this run of 1,000 King of the Road-spec '08 GT500s so special. Thankfully, it's much more than a few badges and stickers.

Being charged with the task of improving upon the thus-far penultimate Ford Shelby GT500 would certainly be daunting. However, it's the sort of problem-solving that keeps Ford's Special Vehicle Team engineers revved up. Of course, the most obvious flaw of the stock GT500 is its plush, plowing suspension. Certainly it offers a nice balance of ride quality and handling, but when pushed to the edge it understeers like no tomorrow. Given SVT's long history for improved handling, it's no surprise that a great deal of focus was placed on that feature for the KR.

The main difference between the production GT500KR and the show car seen at many of the auto shows is the presence of 18-inch Alcoas in place of the 20s displayed on the show car. While there's no doubt the 20s look great, it was the lighter weight and larger sidewall of the 18s that led engineers to the change-the lighter wheels and more compliant tires yield better performance. The unofficial quarter-mile numbers for the KR are 12.1 at 115 mph, so we'd guess 11s are well within this car's reach, which will leave competitors seeing this view.

"The KR is much more than just a great straight-line performer," says Jamal Hameedi, chief program engineer at Ford SVT. "It's the complete package-handling, power, and performance. The team put the GT500KR through rigorous testing and have witnessed slalom runs with sustained lateral acceleration of 1.0 g on the skidpad. Those are world-class numbers."

When you hear things like "1 g" and "world-class numbers," you might expect the KR to leave ride quality behind like a trail of rubber. That's not so at all. On the street, our well-calibrated hindquarters could detect only the slightest hint that the suspension was stiffer than our previous GT500 experience. However, even on our street drive, which started out hurtling down some twisty mountain roads, the upgrade in handling was readily apparent. I knew right away the car was going to be a blast on the road course, but more on that later.

While the suspension delivered guilt-free handling improvements, you'd expect that an exhaust that was strikingly louder even at idle might grate on your nerves after a while. I've had cars with similar exhausts. However, the KR gurgles at idle, snarls when you open up the twin-bore throttle body, and suddenly mellows out. In essence, its just about the perfect exhaust for my middle-aged ears, as it announces the KR's credentials when you want it to but blurs into the background when you want to cruise on the highway.

Rounding out the street-driving experience is crisper acceleration courtesy of improved tuning, a better Ford Racing cold-air induction system, and a set of 3.73 gears out back. The KR feels quicker than your smug neighbor's stock GT500, but it isn't the fastest GT500 in town. That title falls to the aftermarket versions with bigger blowers. The incremental steps in power and massive steps in handling provide a car that's even closer to achieving true balance, which would prove its worth on the road course.