Steve Turner
Former Editor, 5.0 Mustang & Super Fords
August 3, 2012
Photos By: Ford Motor Company

We really should have known better. You truly can't judge a car by its specifications. As we have followed the saga of the '13 Shelby GT500, it's official power spec grew from an estimate of 650 hp to an official 662 hp. It's really easy to get caught up in the excitement of the most powerful factory Mustang ever built. Even we got caught thinking this car might be some sort of uncontrollable, raging hulk of a muscle car.

Certainly it packs the muscle to back up that rep. Lay into the throttle from a standing start and you are burning rubber with ease--till the AdvanceTrac tames the tail-wagging. However, one-dimensional cars are not the business of Ford's vaunted Special Vehicle Team. Nope. SVT believes in building cars that can do it all and do it well.

As we saddled up in the '13 GT500 for the first time near the Atlanta airport, it felt all too familiar. Sure, we've been stalking its development every step of the way, but moreover the car's innards are practically identical to the outgoing GT500. Yes there is a new 4.2 LCD display between the gauges and the optional Recaros have upgraded Alcantara accents, but at first glance the cockpit could easily be that of an earlier version.

Embarking on the drive, it was immediately apparent that the '13 GT500 doesn't pack the gut punch that you might expect. Between the calming AdvanceTrac system and the revised gearing, the modern Shelby is set up for long legs and efficient use of its power.

Obviously SVT opted for taller 3.31 gears to enable this car's world-class top speed. Only three gear ratios are altered in the Tremec TR-6060 six-speed from the prior GT500: First (2.66 versus 2.97), Second (1.82 versus 1.78), and Fifth (0.77 versus 0.74). The change in Fifth is negligible, but First and Second combined with the 3.31 gears dampens the off-the-line punch. Certainly these changes also make the car more tractable, but we suspect drag racers will want 4.10s, and enthusiastic street drivers will opt for 3.73 or 3.90 cogs.

In stock form, the '13 is lithe and long-legged. It takes some adapting to the higher clutch effort and taller gears around town. The latest clutch workout resides in a happy spot betwixt the leg press in the '07-'09 cars and the effortless pedal in the '10-'12 versions. You might hate it in Atlanta rush hour, but we trust it's needed to corral 631 lb-ft of torque.

Once the party is rolling, the gearing is enjoyable and totally livable for everyday driving. On the highway, though, everything under 80 mph seems like you aren't even moving. The coupe is quiet and the exhaust note blurs away. It seems like you're crawling in Sixth unless you get to our preferred highway speed. And don't worry about slowing down. Just a touch of the pedal and the initital bite of those new six-piston calipers scrubs off speed easily.

At the other end of our street cruise through the congested highways around Atlanta was the glorious Road Atlanta. We've been here a few times, but never in a car with so much power. Ford wisely limited the pack of wild media to partial laps on the vaunted course and added an artificial chicane on the long straight heading into Turn 10.

We were afforded just single laps on this path, and after a couple reconnaissance laps, were able to pick up speed and get some feel for the '13's capabilities. In short, this iteration of the Shelby carries itself like the heavyweight to the Boss' welterweight. It is agile, capable, and muscular. The extra weight is apparent but not overwhelming, as the substantial torque and AdvanceTrac toggled to Sport Mode helps the driver keep the GT500 dancing on the edge.

Naturally, our examples were set up with the optional $3,495 SVT Performance Pack (821A) and $2,995 SVT Track Package (55S) with all the extra cooling, adjustable dampeners, and more. Really, the only weak link in the this chain for track duty is the brake pads. Obviously race pads don't work on the street, so it's an expected upgraded for open-track heroes. However, our own road course hero--Editor-at-Large Tom Wilson--was starting to fade the stock pads on his later laps, so keep better pads in mind on high-speed tracks like Road Atlanta.

Certainly this GT500 is the most capable handler yet, but we couldn't help but be enticed by the second day's activities at Atlanta Dragway. Not only did the dragstrip allow for exercising the '13 GT500's more muscular side, but it allowed for a bit more freedom.

After a once-through with the car's new launch control system, we were afforded three back-to-back passes before giving up the reins. This allowed for working on our technique. Launch control provides consistency, but it isn't a panacea for poor technique. You can't just dump the clutch on street tires. For more on that, check out the sidebar on the Launch Control (below).

As our time in the latest GT500 came to an end, we traded the caged, track-ready car for a stocker and it was back to the airport in a convertible. The droptop had the same pleasant street manners as the coupe, but the exhaust note was a bit more pronounced. Of course, a performance car needs a bit of personality.

For us that personality is still a bit reserved. In stock form, the '13 Shelby GT500 is the best combination of power and finesses delivered from the factory yet. It's so balanced that it belies its true raw potenial. After years of experience with hopped-up 5.4 GT500s with fewer electronic masters, the '13 GT500 seems like it's holding out on us. It's just ready to burst through its street clothes and reveal its alter-ego.

This is just the beginning.

Horse Sense: Perhaps lost in all the excitement about the '13 GT500's impressive power is the car's fuel mileage. Not only does it sell without incurring an annoying gas-guzzler tax, but it ties the outgoing '12 GT500's city fuel economy numbers with a projected 15 mpg around town and betters the highway numbers by 1 mpg at 24 mpg.

Every car we drove featured the Performance Package (821A) wheels, which fuse elements of spoked and mesh styling. The darker wheels in this year’s PP are finished in a color called Tarnish. Both the standard and PP wheels wear Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar G2 rubber.

On the Dyno

With any luck you saw our video documenting this test of the '13 Shelby GT500 on Ford's own Dynojet chassis dynamometer. The numbers you see here are shown using the SAE correction factor and with the graph's smoothing factor set at a maximum of 5. This means the numbers are a bit on the conservative side. Internet heroes will use Standard correction and turn the smoothing down to obtain bragging rights, so your mileage may vary. We are comparing these runs with Ford's prior verification runs of a '12 Shelby GT500 on the same Dynojet.

Obviously the '12 test was run on another day, but it shows a pretty dramatic rear-wheel difference between the 550hp '12 and the 662hp '13. Ford engineers tell us the drivetrain in the '13 GT500 is highly efficient, costing only 8.1 percent between the crank and tires. That would mean around 50 hp is given up in the drivetrain, which seems to jibe closely with these results.

Certainly we believe there is still a lot left on the table once our friends in the aftermarket start turning up the wick on this impressive combination. For comparison's sake, our own Project Vapor Trail cranked out 607 hp and 600 lb-ft at the wheels with a VMP Tuning tune and 2.65-inch blower pulley on a Ford Racing Performance Parts TVS supercharger. Imagine what Trinity can do with a smaller pulley and a more aggressive calibration.

2012 GT5002013 GT5002012 vs. 2013
RPMHPTQHPTQHPTQ
2,000155.16407.43194.00509.4438.84102.01
2,500202.81426.06269.20565.5566.39139.49
3,000251.43440.17338.11591.9286.68151.75
3,500303.80455.87401.69602.7997.89146.92
4,000352.83463.27460.92605.19108.09141.92
4,500403.14470.54516.95603.38113.81132.84
5,000438.03460.11539.91567.13101.88107.02
5,500468.89447.76562.21536.8793.3289.11
6,000488.49427.61591.20517.52102.7189.91
6,500n/an/a600.06484.87n/an/a
6,900n/an/a590.46449.44n/an/a

In addition to the much-improved LED taillights shared by all Mustangs, the ’13 GT500 rocks a quartet of exhaust tips protruding from a new lower valance. Along with the four tips, the Trinity V-8 rumbles out a more authoritative growl from its exhaust.

Out to Launch

As I ‘ve said before, the only thing worse than my writing is my driving. That doesn’t mean I’m not going to give it the old college try and have fun while I’m doing it. In fact, if you ignore the 2 passes where I missed second—yup, I angrily threw those slips away—I still had 10 relatively clean passes in the most powerful production Mustang ever built. I’d say that qualifies as a blast.

Sadly, the best pass I could muster was a 12.22 at 120.21 mph with a 2.13 60-foot. Obviously my technique could use a bit of work, as our big brothers at Motor Trend managed a stellar 11.60 at 125.7 mph. Think of my runs as what the average guy can get out of the car within a few passes. The MT numbers are what the great drivers will pull. With sticky tires, this car is going to fly.

Even more educational than the e.t.’s was the validation of both the new Launch Control and the improved cooling system. By the time I strapped into the GT500, most of the other media types had already had their fun and were headed for the catering. As such, I was able to make a ton of back-to-back passes just hot-lapping the car. This showed that the cooling system stabilizes the heat soak and keeps the power at a pretty high level over extended usage. From the improved cooling fan and larger intercooler pump, to the larger heat exchanger and more efficient intercooler core, the package really worked. Certainly, the extra coolers in the Track Package didn’t hurt.

As for Launch Control, it was a joy, and a bit more user-friendly than the Boss version thanks to the on/off button below the headlight switch. If you aren’t aware, Launch Control allows you to preset the launch rpm from 3,000 to 4,500 rpm. With it engaged, you push in the clutch, mat the throttle, and get ready for the Tree to start the party. Then you release the clutch and let the AdvanceTrac help put that 631 lb-ft to the pavement. Even with all those toys, you can’t just dump the clutch on street tires. You have to ease into till it grabs, then go for it. It should work even better with racing rubber.

The feature is just another tool in your toolbox, but in my experience, it really helps with consistency. I’m notoriously inconsistent, but once I came to grips with a shifting style, most of my passes were within a tenth of each other. That just doesn’t happen with a normal 600-plus-horsepower car. Welcome to the age of Launch Control.

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5.0 Tech Specs

’13 Shelby GT500

Engine and Drivetrain
Block 5.8-liter Trinity aluminum
Crankshaft Forged steel
Rods Cracked forged-steel I-beam
Pistons Forged aluminum
Camshafts DOHC
Cylinder Heads Aluminum w/ four valves per cylinder; 37mm intake, 32mm exhaust
Intake Manifold Cast-aluminum w/ high-efficiency air-to-water intercooler
Power Adder 2.3-liter Eaton Twin Vortices Series supercharger; maximum boost 14.0 psi
Fuel System Electronic return-less sequential
Exhaust Cast-iron exhaust manifolds w/ 2.75-in crossover pipe with catalytic converters and quad tips
Transmission Tremec TR-6060 six-speed manual
Rearend 8.8-in w/ 3.31 gears

Electronics
Engine Management Copperhead
Ignition Coil on plug
Gauges MyColor w/ 4.2-inch LCD display

Suspension and Chassis
Front Suspension
Struts Standard: twin-tube dampers
Optional: Bilstein selectable monotube dampers
Sway Bar Standard: 33.2x5.0mm tubular
Optional: 33.2x5.0mm tubular (34.6x5.5mm on coupe)
Brakes Brembo 15-in, vented discs w/ six-piston aluminum calipers
Wheels Standard: 10-spoke, 19x9.5-in, forged- aluminum wheels
SVT Performance Package: 16-spoke, 19x9.5-in, forged-aluminum wheels
Tires Goodyear Eagle F1 SuperCar G, P265/40ZR-19

Rear Suspension
Shocks Standard: twin-tube dampers
Optional: Bilstein selectable monotube dampers
Sway Bar Standard: 23mm solid
Optional: 23mm solid (25mm on coupe)
Brakes 13.8-in, vented discs w/ single-piston calipers
Wheels Standard: 10-spoke, 20x9.5-in, forged- aluminum wheels
SVT Performance Package: 16-spoke 20x9.5-in forged-aluminum wheels
Tires Goodyear Eagle F1 SuperCar G, 285/35ZR-20

It’s tough being all things to all people, but the ’13 Shelby GT500 is the ultimate jack of all trades. It’s comfortable on the street, strip, and track.