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

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?