The one thing we have to mention, is the shifter. It's short and stubby, like the factory GT piece but the linkage is in an entirely different league - it's just so workable and fluid and you'd never guess that it's remotely linked to a Tremec TR6060 six-speed gearbox. The shifts are supple, smooth - they feel more like those in a lightweight European sportscar than a Detroit street fighter. What the shifter does, is enable you to 'drive' this thing in a European sense, working the gears in a way you couldn't with any muscle car that has come before.
The Shelby is even tempered at regular driving speeds, either on the highway or about town - it doesn't bog, but with 451.6 lb/ft to the tires it isn't likely to either. It also rides rather nicely. Some hoity-toity types have been quick to bemoan the fact that it has a solid axle out back in place of the Terminator's IRS, but that's largely a moot point - even over badly rutted roads or through corners, the GT500 doesn't really get out of line on the street - most who get behind the wheel, wouldn't know the difference anyway. Yes, you can drive this thing to the grocery store, to work, or the movie theatre, come rain or shine, but to truly appreciate it, you need to get out and hammer down on a few twisty back roads. The GT500 is no lightweight - our tester clocked in at 4,075 lbs on the scales - but still, it's quite the machine. Punch it and it rolls - like a fully laden freight train barrelling along at triple-digit speeds, the Shelby sounds its wake-up call with a scurry from the tires and huge thrust of forward motion.
The Eaton blower starts yelling at about four grand on the tach and the exhaust begins to bellow - there is just so much power and torque that the car will chirp the tires in first through fourth (we did the latter at 70 mph on the 3-4 shift) and that was with the traction control on. It just goes and goes. It doesn't pang you with the brute force of say a Viper but it gets you there soon enough and wow, that shifter is just a gem. At high speed the car is relatively quiet and rock solid - the front and rear spoilers, like everything else on the outside actually have a job to do besides looking pretty and they help pin the hurtling supercharged mass to the road as the needle approaches 150 and the autobahn beckons (see sidebar). Turn in is sharp and steady, but still you feel like there's 4,000 lbs plus of pony car at your finger tips. The big Goodyear F1s however do a fantastic job and give you just about all the grip you need. You can feel a touch of factory built-in understeer, but the car is by no means unwieldy - crank the wheel this way and that and it responds with enthusiasm. Throttle oversteer can be induced at will but watch the rear with the traction control off - a smooth, progressive application of the gas will get you through with a bit ofenjoyable kickback from the stern - it's still a snake remember, and it will bite if provoked.
The brakes on this thing, are quite simply, amazing. The four-piston, 14-inch rotor setup in front, with performance padded GT clampers out back, delivers in spades. Stomp on the pedal and it grabs hold of the car to haul it down - like Superman putting his hand out to stop a bus. The only downside is that after a few heavy applications, the front wheels are coated in brake dust and they're a bugger to clean. As for how it fared at the dragstrip - well there were some surprises, both good and bad. Driven straight off the street and onto a well-prepped stretch of competition 1320, the Shelby suffered from quite severe wheelhop (think that scene in Bullitt and you're not far off), but when we staged it, the car rewarded us with a 1.90 60-foot and a 12.41-second elapsed time - on the F1s - not too shabby by any means. It's got a 3.31 ring and pinion in that solid 8.8", but we kept on wondering what caused the axle to dance so much when you try and light the tires - not that we were about find out of course, especially on the fourth car built.