Jim Smart
August 1, 2001
Photos By: Randy Lorentzen

The KR does its talking underhood, though. In mid-1968, Ford spanked the competition with a surprise of its own: the Bob Tasca Ford-inspired 428 Cobra Jet FE-series big-block in the GT500. Period road tests prove the 428 Cobra Jet could rocket the Shelby Mustang through the quarter-mile in 14 seconds flat with 3.91:1 gears; with 3.50:1 cruising gears, 14.5 seconds. This makes the GT500KR a formidable competitor for the SVT Cobra. In perfect tune with a seasoned drag racer at the wheel, the KR will stay flush with the more high-tech Cobra.

The Driving Experience
Driving each of these cars isn't like driving the other. Behind the wheel of the '99 SVT Cobra, being confident is second nature. Taking corners with the Cobra is easy and the car is forgiving. You can't say that about the Cobra's competition, Chevrolet's Camaro SS. Get into trouble with the Camaro SS and you can have an accident if your driving skills aren't polished. The Cobra's handling dynamics are designed to be forgiving and get you back on the road safely. Under acceleration, the Cobra's cross-bolted, double overhead-cam, 32-valve, all-aluminum V-8 is a rush. High rpm shifts at 6,200 put goose bumps on your tooth enamel, yet it's so smooth at high revs, it's hard to believe it's an American V-8 engine.

The Tremec T45 five-speed provides a concrete feel, with short throws and tight channels. There is little concern for a missed shift because it's so precise. Out of the hole at wide-open throttle, there's some wheelhop, which we expect from the independent rear suspension (IRS); IRS isn't designed for drag racing, it's designed for road racing. And huge binders fore and aft cast little doubt on this philly's stopping ability.

When you get out on the open road, the SVT Cobra really shines because it feels like it will do every bit of the speedometer. Drop it down into Fourth gear and listen to the mod motor roar. Shift into Overdrive and take in the mellow roar of confident American V-8 power; it's a sweet ride by anyone's standards.

Taking the wheel of a vintage big-block Shelby feels decidedly different from the Cobra just mentioned. We wouldn't tackle a road course with this car as we would the '99 Cobra. Shelby's GT500KR isn't the surefooted stallion its grandson is. Despite the Bendix power steering's reputation for grief, it feels good in proper tune, making the Shelby pleasurable to drive. On the open road, the GT500KR is a true road car. It's a cruiser that likes the open highway. A twisty canyon road is not what this car was designed for. More than 700 pounds of FE-series big-block over the front wheels makes this a given. Shifting the Ford Top Loader four-speed and listening to the whine of an old cast-iron synchromesh crash box takes us way back. Nothing sounded sweeter than a Top Loader in high school.

For its day, the GT500KR had a luxurious interior with its rolled and tucked vinyl, buttons, hand holds, and rich woodgrain. We like that a lot in a second-generation Mustang. Admittedly, Ford fell short in terms of comfort. Those low-buck bucket seats still make your bottom sore. Oh, those memories of running down the interstate for hours on end with a sore behind, wishing like anything to reach your destination as quickly as possible. Bucket seats on '68 Mustangs were notorious for broken backs. Buddy, can you spare me a two-by-four to hold my seat back up?

Heading straight down the road, the GT500KR is a rewarding experience. Tempted though we are to downshift and mash the pedal, we find the KR needs the mystique that goes with wondering what it will do versus actually knowing and blowing the whole secret. Isn't that what it's all about? The mystique?

Conclusion
Thirty years of technological advancement give the '68 GT500KR an unfair disadvantage when pitted alongside the most high-tech Mustang ever made. The Cobra shines, thanks to its advanced engineering package, something Ford has been striving for in the Mustang since 1964. Shelby's greatest ride shines through sheer beauty and charisma, the things that make it a darling classic that will endure for generations to come. In the final analysis, these are Mustangs that almost anyone aspires to own.