Steve Turner
Former Editor, 5.0 Mustang & Super Fords
August 1, 2009
Photos By: Courtesy of Ford Motor Company
What's not to like about the front visage of the '10 GT500? Inspired by the Cobra roadsters of the past, the styling is more than just a chiseled jaw line. It's built with functionality in mind. The more defined fascia directs air right over the radiator and heat exchanger, which have been sealed even tighter, and the larger single head extractor on the hood lets it out. Specific sections of the grille are blocked off to aid the aerodynamics, while a port on the grille feeds the new intake system. If you dig the HID headlamps, they are late availability, so you might have to wait for them.

Horse Sense: While the convertible GT500 gains many of the upgrades of its coupe brethren, including standard stripes, it does without the suspension upgrades. Likewise it makes do with a cast, 18-inch version of the Blade wheel. The reasoning is that convertible buyers are more likely to be weekend cruisers than all-out performance maniacs, so the engineers wanted to preserve the ride quality on the droptop.Oddly, as much as I liked the clutch, the shifter, particularly when gearing from First into Second, just wasn't as smooth as I'd like itStrapping one on for the first time quickly told the rest of the story--I learned that judging this book by its cover may just be an accurate methodPerhaps more impressive to me is that the car seems to carry even more of an edge than the KR it learned so much fromSee More At 50mustangandsuperfords.com

Menacing from the outside, the looks of the latest GT500 have been familiar for months. Strapping one on for the first time quickly told the rest of the story--I learned that judging this book by its cover may just be an accurate method. Much like the exterior and interior styling, which took the prior car and gave it an edge of external aggression and internal refinement, the underpinnings of the latest Shelby are familiar, yet better in every way. And that's no small feat given the fine breeds of Mustangs galloping out of AAI these days.

I've been like a clichd actor falling in love with each new co-star as we share the road. Most of you know I'm intimately familiar with the prior GT500, so sliding into the '10 provides a familiar feel, yet it's sprinkled with so many little extra touches that the car really feels new and fresh before you even turn the key. From the comfortably placed Alcantara inserts on the wheel to the smooth comfort of the billiard-ball shift knob, the new GT500 just feels good, and with the engineering team looking to differentiate it from the standard car, it looks a lot different, too. From the sculpted steering-wheel emblem to the striped seats, the new GT500 lets you know the car is something special.

Of course, it's the driving that is truly special. For those experienced with the off-idle clutch shudder evident in the prior GT500, the latest car is an absolute treat. Just pushing in the pedal, it's obviously lighter, but after you turn the key and she burbles to life, pulling away from a stop is a breeze. Within a few starts, I stopped being amazed with how good it was and simply forgot about the clutch--just as it should be.

Although still not my favorite view of the latest Mustang, it's starting to grow on me. The GT500 wing and stripes seem to help, as does the 5.0&SF plate. Once the aftermarket addresses that lower valance, I'm sure any hesitation will be a thing of the past. Like the front end, plenty of engineering went into making the back of the car more aerodynamic, and the Gurney flap on top of the wing is a big part of that. "Using data from the wind tunnel and the track, the new Shelby GT500 is near neutral at 120 mph--it makes about 20 pounds of lift," says John Pfeiffer, product development engineer. "This is 50 percent better than the KR and 75 percent better than the outgoing model." In layman's terms, that means this car is really stable when you're hauling ass.

Oddly, as much as I liked the clutch, the shifter, particularly when gearing from First into Second, just wasn't as smooth as I'd like it. It could be that I was being sloppy, not thinking about the clutch, as the owner's manual clearly states you must fully depress the clutch pedal lest you cause a whole litany of ills, the least of which is increased shift effort. So maybe it was me, but many of my peers reported a similar annoyance with the shift actuation.

The good news is the shifter is connected to a revised Tremec TR-6060 six-speed with deeper fifth and sixth gears that make up for the steeper 3.55 rear gears and strike a happy balance between acceleration and a 2-mpg gain in fuel economy. That improvement is also attributed to the more efficient and powerful engine that benefits from a new cold-air induction and calibration, which picks up power by 40 ponies and torque by 30 lb-ft, and apparently necessitated the larger 250mm, twin-disc clutch.

"Where you really feel the new power and torque is midrange," says Kerry Baldori, chief functional engineer for Ford's Special Vehicles Team. "The new Shelby GT500 produces more torque than the outgoing model at 3,000 rpm--and never looks back."

If these numbers sound familiar, it shouldn't come as any surprise to 5.0&SF readers that a lot of what SVT engineers learned during the development of the '08 GT500KR was revisited for the '10 GT500. In fact, I predicted as much back in our Oct. '08 issue ("Kingdom for a Horse," p. 70): "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."

Obviously the future is here. It would be easy for SVT to rest on the laurels of the new styling and myriad improvements offered by the SN10 platform upgrades, but the most compelling improvements are under the new GT500, in the suspension and steering systems. While engineers obviously borrowed from the KR and increased the spring rate, damping, and pitch sensitivity to give the car more control, they also took some of the plush and assist out of the steering, so the car not only does a better job getting around the corners, it also does a better job communicating what it's doing to the driver.

"We focused most on improving the steering and dry handling attributes because they are the ones that matter most to the customer," says Andrew Vrenko, vehicle dynamics engineer. "We wanted to give the steering more feel, and have the car really feel as if it's more connected to the road."

Quite simply, they succeeded, as this car was a joy to drive over the two days of twisty roads and race tracks, but nowhere were the upgrades more readily apparent than on the figure-eight autocross we put the car through. I already knew that the AdvanceTrac electronic stability control could make even me look like a hero in the Mustang GT, and that was just as apparent in the GT500. However, this GT500 left behind any hints of the wallowing, pushing front end of the last generation.

The '10 will still plow at the edge if you drive it like a maniac, but when driven with control, it's so calm and tossable that even I could post a respectable time on the figure eight. If only an '09 car was there to quantify that there really is no comparison. Engineers report that in addition to tweaking the springs and dampers, they stiffened the chassis and reduced the ride height. "What we came out with is a chassis that feels more controlled and reacts faster," Kerry explains. I can assure you, he's not kidding.

Perhaps more impressive to me is that the car seems to carry even more of an edge than the KR it learned so much from. Where the KR impressed me with its superb balance of handling and ride quality, the '10 GT500 skews that tuning more toward the handling end of the spectrum. After years of driving lowered Fox Mustangs, our tolerance for a rough ride is higher than most. It's not that the car beats you up, but it does talk to your backside a bit more over uneven pavement. I'd gladly trade that for the huge leap in handling, but I'm sure the car will get beat up by IRS lovers because of it. However, the beauty of this car is that it doesn't try to be something it's not. It's a high-performance car--period.

There's another side to that story, however, and it's in a straight line. Ford's official quarter-mile time is a 12.5 at 116 mph, but engineers confide that when everything clicks on a sticky track, they occasionally see times as low as a 12.1. For a change, we actually had a dragstrip available at a press event, which was way cool. Sadly, there was a stiff headwind, a slippery track, and, in my case, a bad driver. I only managed a 13.0 pass but that was with the traction control off. Doing this on the slippery track with a heat-soaked car wasn't the best recipe. A press type on the next wave managed a 12.3. We have no doubt a skilled driver will put this thing in the 11s in stock form, though at higher launch rpm the familiar wheelhop seemed one of the few carryovers from the previous model.

I certainly hope to get another crack at this car, but I think you have to admit that a solid-axle was the move in a car capable of 11-second quarters. Just wait till you maniacs start putting on sticky tires and turning up the wick. That these cars will be quarter-mile animals is no surprise to us, but as you can tell by now, the '10 GT500 is no longer just a lumbering musclecar built for plush street drives and quarter-mile blasts. It's a do-it-all dynamo capable of everything from commuting to corner-carving to quarter-miling, and it leaves me with few complaints.

A familiar face is always nice to see, especially when it's the supercharged, Four-Valve, 5.4-liter engine that I adore. Better yet, it makes more power and gets better mileage. Not only does this engine deliver 540 hp and 510 lb-ft of torque in stock form, it has such a huge upside when tuned up. The better economy even means you pay a smaller $1,000 gas-guzzler tax. Most of the underhood appears to be carryover, save for the new induction system and the battery cable routing. Noticeably absent despite all the talk about a stiffer chassis is the strut-tower brace that was de rigueur on the '07-'09 GT500s. It appears the new induction system and perhaps the new hood might preclude the bar.

Turns out I'm not the only one that's pleased with the latest GT500. Shelby Automobiles' Vice President of Marketing and Communications Jim Owens relays that upon experiencing the finalized '10 GT500, Carroll Shelby himself told the Ford brass that he had a list of things he would like to change about the previous car, and that Ford SVT had resolved everything on his list with this car.

That's an impressive recommendation, but the '10 GT500 might just be the best high-performance Mustang Ford has ever built.

The Competition
Having driven all three of the new ponycars--Chevy Camaro, Dodge Challenger, Ford Mustang--along with the new GT500, Editor Turner asked me to give my opinion on how the three lineup.

Curiously, but mainly fortuitously, the three cars don't line up evenly. That is, the V-6 Chevy, Dodge and Ford aren't in one group, the V-8s in another. Strictly from a performance standpoint--and by that I mean mainly acceleration but also some handling--the continuum starts with the anemic V-6 Challenger, moves up to the now slightly agricultural V-6 Mustang, heavy V-8 Challenger/potent V-6 Camaro, our beloved V-8 Mustang GT, the unquestionably faster V-8 Camaro SS, and finally, the Shelby GT500. Chevy has developed a potent Camaro Z28 that would likely have bested the GT500, but the uber-Chevy fell victim to national politics. (Chevy can't build wild performance cars while taking tax-payer money; that wouldn't be "responsible." It also has Corvette ZR1s for ultimate bragging rights.) That the pony cars are not evenly paired across the performance continuum doesn't bother me at all; it gives each more personality and spreads out the buyers.

It's the Dodge that comes up the shortest, yet it still has definite advantages. Above all, the Challenger is huge; all it's missing is a pair of steam catapults on the foredeck, er, hood to complete its Nimitz-class impression. It's also heavy--4,100 pounds. The V-6 is completely overwhelmed and the standard 5.7 V-8 left panting. Only in SRT8 Hemi trim does the Challenger live up to its name. By then its over $40,000 and still can't quite match the Camaro SS or Mustang GT, both of which are $10,000 less expensive.

Where the Challenger arguably leads is in looks--it's a big, handsome devil--and interior room. It's the only one with a workable back seat for smaller adults, and it has a great big trunk.

Chevy's new Camaro is more impressive. The V-6 is a techno tour de force--at least until Ford introduces the EcoBoost V-6 in the Mustang. The sophisticated bent-six Camaro mill screams out 304 hp and a 7,000-rpm redline. It's dead smooth, boasts direct fuel injection and 29 mpg, and really tears when revved. But you have to rev it, and there's the rub. It just doesn't drive with the easy speed a torquier, lower-rpm V-8 delivers.

Camaro SS drivers fear only GT500s. Our helmet's off to Chevy for its superb 6.2-liter V-8. The all-aluminum pushrod mill packages far tighter than the rambling Ford modular V-8s, while packing a huge displacement advantage. With 426 hp on tap, the SS flat hauls. It's also priced competitively and gets 25 mpg on the highway.

While the KR that inspired it used off-the-shelf Ford Racing gear, the '10 GT500 features an all-new cold-air induction system with a ram-air snorkel feeding ambient air right into the filter box. The all-new inlet tube features a resonator to dampen all those cool supercharger noises, and the new air-box is sealed to the hood blanket, a la the '08-'09 Bullitt. Certainly there's likely power to be found in freer-flowing filters and larger mass air housings, but the SVT engineers are certainly providing a narrower window for tuners to work.

Where the Camaro stumbles is as a real-world car. Chevy openly admits to making the Camaro an image car; it was designed to appeal on looks first and function second. This is almost exactly the same mistake Chevy made with the previous-generation Camaro, which put up great test track numbers but was a complete pain in the neck. The new Camaro's swoopy body kills rear vision, and the car's elongated 112.3-inch wheelbase and bloated 3,950 pounds of empty weight are simply too much to feel light and handy. The rear pew is strictly for car seats, the trunk opening is like a mail slot, the seats are far too low to the body (just try and rest an elbow on the window sill), the chopped top limits useful windshield height, and on and on. And interior design? The Camaro interior is almost painful visually. As a driver's car, the Camaro feels best on most roads in V-6 form and somewhat aloof or distant with the thumping V-8 underfoot, but make no mistake, it's fast and grips tenaciously. All told, the Camaro does an admirable job of hiding its size and weight, but ultimately, it's still hiding something.

By comparison, the Mustang GT takes to the streets because it's been working there as a real car for real people for 45 uninterrupted years. In fact, the Challenger and Camaro strike me as come-lately retro specials. They live for their looks, especially the Camaro. Its Victoria Secret wardrobe will wear great on the honeymoon, but in a way, it's more of a cartoon of what a Camaro looks like than an honest Camaro. The Mustang, thankfully, looks like a Mustang; so, too, the Challenger is an honest Dodge.

A final note on independent rear suspension, which the Camaro has and Ford will feel the heat to install in the Mustang. You don't want IRS. The live-axle is the superior solution, both technically and marketing-wise, for a high-torque rear-drive sportster such as the Mustang. The IRS does help the Camaro's ride just occasionally, but the rest of the time the spring/shock rates are high enough to give a jiggle anyway, so the ride advantage is mainly wasted. The IRS is heavy and doesn't present the tires as flat to the ground when it counts, so no matter what the stringback driving-glove set parrots, this is one scribe firmly against an IRS Mustang.

My only other advice? If Camaro-baiting with your Mustang GT, pack a supercharger or bring a GT500. Of course, the good news is you can drop an FRPP blower on your '10 Mustang and come away with a faster car for about the same price as a stock Camaro. --Tom Wilson

2010 Shelby GT500
5.0 Tech Specs
Engine and Drivetrain
Block 5.4-liter iron block
Bore 3.552-in
Stroke 4.165-in
Displacement 330ci
Rods Cracked forged-steel I-beams
Pistons Forged aluminum
Crankshaft Forged steel
Camshaft(s) DOHC
Heads Aluminum Four-Valve
Intake Cast-aluminum with Roots-type supercharger and air-to-water intercooler
Throttle Body Dual-bore 60mm, electronic
Fuel System Electronic returnless sequential
Exhaust Tuned dual with catalytic converters, crossover pipe, and 4-inch tips
Transmission Tremec TR6060 six-speed manual
Clutch 250mm twin-disc
Rearend 8.8-inch with limited-slip differential and 3.55 gears

Electronics
Engine Management Spanish Oak PCM
Ignition Coil-on-plug
Gauges MyColor

Chassis and SuspensionFront Suspension
Shocks Independent MacPherson strut
Brakes Brembo four-piston calipers with 14-inch rotors
Wheels 19x9.5-inch forged aluminum with SVT center caps
Tires Goodyear F1 P255/40Z-19
Rear Suspension
Shocks Twin-tube gas
Brakes Two-piston calipers with 11.8-inch vented discs
Wheels 19x9.5-inch forged aluminum with SVT center caps
Tires Goodyear F1 P285/35ZR-19