Donald Farr
Former Editor, Mustang Monthly
July 25, 2012
Photos By: Ford Motor Company

From the outside, the ’13 Shelby GT500 from Ford SVT doesn’t look much different from the ’12 Shelby GT500. You might notice the revised grille treatment, or the new wheels, or perhaps the quad exhaust tips peeking through the rear bumper cover. But in this case, it’s what you can’t see that makes the latest GT500 so impressive. You have to drive it to feel it.

And that’s just what we did for two days in Georgia, both on the track and on the highways around Road Atlanta and Atlanta Dragway.

The power numbers alone are enough to get your attention—662 SAE-certified horsepower and 631 lb-ft of torque. That’s 112 hp more than last year’s GT500 (not to mention 82 hp more than the Camaro ZL1) from a new 5.8L V-8 that replaces the previous 5.4L. SVT chief engineer Jamal Hameedi points out that nearly every system in the ’13 has been upgraded—“except for the back seat,” he jokes. It’s got larger Brembo six-piston front brakes, upgraded Tremec six-speed transmission, and one-piece carbon-fiber driveshaft. The increase in torque allows a drop to 3.31:1 gearing, which also contributes to a couple of other goals—over 200 mph top speed (which explains the 220 mph speedometer) and better fuel mileage than last year—15 city, 24 highway—to once again avoid the dreaded gas guzzler tax.

Looking inside that familiar front snout, you’ll notice new grille slots and an exposed radiator, along with a new front splitter, all for the purpose of increased downforce at high speeds and optimum cooling.

The ’13 GT500’s power increase comes from a combination of new aluminum-block 5.8L (355 cubic inches) V-8 and an increased capacity Twin Vortices Series 2300 supercharger with 14 psi of boost along with a drive ratio that is 2.64 times faster than last year. The camshafts are similar to the Ford GT, only with more valve lift. For added durability, the block utilizes a forged-steel crankshaft and plasma-coated cylinder liners (as opposed to the previous cast-iron sleeves). Oil changes will cost a little more—the revised oil pan holds 8½ quarts.

The redline is 6,250 rpm. However, in this high-tech Mustang, the computer allows for an over-rev to 7,000 rpm for eight seconds to prevent hitting the redline during shifts, allowing for quicker e.t.’s.

Showing that they were serious about showing off the new GT500’s track capabilities at Road Atlanta, SVT provided a second group of cars, each equipped with rollcage, safety harnesses, and option packages that enhance the track experience. We recommend opting for the Performance Package, which adds cockpit adjustable (Comfort and Sport modes) Bilstein dampers in conjunction with unique springs and stabilizer bars, special wheels, and a Torsen differential. On top of that, if you’re planning serious track time, you can check off the Track Package to get additional cooling for engine oil, transmission, and differential.

For our track test, SVT let us loose on the full Road Atlanta course with only one chicane added to the back stretch to prevent speeds that would require full driving suits. Our instructor tells us that the GT500 is capable of 170 mph on Road Atlanta’s long back straight-away; we may see 140 before hitting the brakes for the chicane.

The ’13 GT500 is easy to drive fast. Coming out of the pits in Third gear, the Shelby blasts up the hill into Turn Two. By Turn Three, I fully understand that the GT500 is more capable than I am. With the suspension set to Sport mode, the handling feels neutral with no push like previous GT500s. The car feels lighter, the result of the aluminum engine and revised suspension tuning. There’s body lean but, hey, after all, this is a street car. A fast street car, one that can get you in trouble in a hurry.

Downhill into Road Atlanta’s famous Esses, the GT500 is a rocket ship. With gravity on its side, the acceleration is breathtaking, pressing my eyeballs back into their sockets and peeling my cheeks back until I feel like a contortion-faced cartoon character.

Perhaps best of all, the ’13 Shelby GT500 will go down in history as the last Mustang that Carroll Shelby contributed to at Ford. In a video that was filmed during GT500 testing at Sebring in 2011, Carroll Shelby told the SVT team, “I’m really proud to have my name on this car. Working with my dreams, you guys have put together what I think a car should be. You’ve made it that and more.”

It’s the best combination of performance, driveability, comfort, and even fuel mileage that we’ve ever seen in a Mustang. That’s a good definition for “awesome.”

With 3.31 gearing, the GT500 has long legs. There’s little need to shift out of Third gear, including the blast down the back stretch where a quick glance at the speedometer shows the needle climbing past 130 mph before hitting the brakes as the orange cone chicane comes into view. I’m thankful for the Brembos, which haul the Shelby down to 20 mph in short order. Quickly through the cones, it’s back on the pedal in Second gear for the final dash under the bridge and the return to the pits.

It’s a warm day at Road Atlanta, yet the fleet of GT500s lap the 2.54-mile track all afternoon without showing any signs of overheating. SVT purposely focused on improving the Shelby’s cooling system, cross-drilling the block and heads for coolant flow, upgrading the fan, and adding a shroud with high-speed pressure-relief doors. They even eliminated the mesh inside the grille opening to make sure as much air as possible reaches the radiator.

Arriving at Atlanta Dragway the next morning, we get the idea that quick e.t.’s are a given; the engineers are apparently more eager to show off the GT500’s new Launch Control, which is designed to help the typical driver optimize quarter-mile times. It allows you to set the launch rpm—in 100 rpm increments between 3,000 and 4,500 rpm—via a new productivity screen in the instrument cluster and a small five-way switch on the steering wheel. We tried it at Atlanta Dragway, remembering to turn off the traction control for burnouts, then back on for launch. Once the car is staged, depress the clutch and shove the accelerator to the floor. The computer revs the engine to the pre-set rpm until the clutch is released, launching the car as the traction control manages wheelspin via brake and throttle intervention.

While Launch Control is a great assist, especially for less experienced drag racers, there is some finesse required, as I learn when I dump the clutch too quickly, causing more tire spin than desired. Still, my first pass dips into the low 13s—way quicker than any vintage Mustang ever ran in stock form and even quicker than the 13.8 posted for the 427 Cobra in 1966.

With some coaching from the engineers, who tell me that I’m releasing the clutch too quickly, I drop into the 12s on my second pass. Not bad, I think, at least until Muscle Mustangs and Fast Ford editor and seasoned drag racer Evan Smith returns to the pits with an 11.81-second time slip. At 122 mph. On street tires. In 85 degree temperatures. In a car that hasn’t been shut off for a cool-down for several hours. Impressive.

Yet, on the highway, the ’13 Shelby GT500 is a perfectly comfortable street car. You could drive it daily and never come close to tapping into the performance potential—except to ward off pesky ZL1 Camaros and Hemi Challengers. Torque is abundant; just touch the go-pedal in any gear and the GT500 shoves you back into the seat with instant boost. At 80 mph on I-85 north of Atlanta, the tachometer needle shows a loafing 1,600 rpm.

The optional Recaro seats are the perfect compromise between comfort and racetrack security. Unlike many “racing” seats, they are easy to slide into and out of. Even with a new dual-disc clutch, the pedal pressure is much lighter than you expect from a 662hp performance car. From inside the car, the exhaust tone is pleasantly aggressive, growling on acceleration and pleasantly burbling on deceleration but without the least bit of drone. From the outside, we understand that it’s right at the legal decibel limit. Sure sounded good at the tracks.

We mentioned the productivity screen while describing Launch Control. Located between the speedometer and tach, the menu in the 4.2-inch LCD allows the driver to flip through the available options, including AdvanceTrac, selectable steering, Launch Control, and the suspension setting. There’s also Track Apps, which provides measurements with an accelerometer for g-forces, braking, and acceleration, including 0-30, 0-60, eighth-mile, and quarter-mile. For standing starts, a Christmas tree pops up on the screen for the countdown. Who says Mustangs aren’t high-tech?

'13 Shelby GT500 Highlights

  • 5.8L supercharged V-8: 662hp @ 6,500 rpm, 631 lb-ft of torque @ 4,000 rpm
  • 15 mpg city, 24 mpg highway (no gas-guzzler tax)
  • Weight: 3,852 lb. (coupe); 3,970 lb. (convertible)
  • Tremec TR6060 6-speed manual transmission
  • Single-piece carbon-fiber driveshaft
  • 3.31:1 gear ratio
  • Revised dual-disc clutch design
  • Traction control
  • Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar G:2 tires: P265/40R19 front, P285/35R20 rear
  • Grilles optimized for downforce and cooling
  • Quad exhaust tips
  • Brembo 6-piston front calipers
  • HID headlights
  • 220mph speedometer
  • 4.2-inch LCD instrument cluster "productivity" screen
  • Track Apps
  • Retuned AdvanceTrac and steering assist
  • Shaker audio with SYNC and SIRIUS satellite radio

Optional SVT Performance Package

  • Torsen differential
  • Unique wheels
  • Unique springs and stabilizer bars
  • Cockpit adjustable Bilstein dampers
  • Unique gear shift knob

Optional SVT Track Package

  • External engine oil cooler
  • Differential cooler with pump
  • Transmission cooler with pump

Optional Recaro leather sport seats
Optional glass roof

Base MSRP: $54,200 (coupe)

Price as tested (with Performance and Track Packages; glass roof, Recaro seats): $65,075

Photo Gallery

View Photo Gallery