Steve Turner
Former Editor, 5.0 Mustang & Super Fords
January 14, 2019
Photos By: Ford Motor Company

Building for over a year, the hype surrounding the 2020 Shelby GT500 had revved nearly as high at the car’s 7,500-rpm redline. And then, as quickly as the car’s dual-clutch transmission can shift, the penultimate Mustang yet created became official during Ford’s press conference at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan.

From the early indications, this halo stallion was definitely worth the wait. Ford describes it as the most powerful, most advanced, and quickest Mustang ever created, and that is saying something.

“Carroll was always working on the next faster Shelby, I think he would love this Mustang more than any other,” said Jim Farley, Ford president, global markets. “A takedown artist, the new Shelby GT500 will surprise supercar owners with its Ford Performance racing tech, supercharged engine and visceral swagger.”

As many have concluded before the car’s reveal, a 2.65-liter TVS-supercharged 5.2-liter V8 engine powers the latest Shelby. However, even the most ardent internet detectives couldn’t determine exactly what transmission was in the tunnel until it was nearly official. It turns out it is a first-in-segment, seven-speed, dual-clutch transmission that enables heretofore unheard of levels of performance for a production Mustang.

“With its supercar-level powertrain, the all-new Shelby GT500 takes the sixth-generation Mustang to a performance level once reserved only for exotics,” said Hermann Salenbauch, global director, Ford Performance vehicle programs. “As a Mustang, it has to be attainable and punch above its weight. To that end, we’ve set a new standard among American performance cars with our most powerful street-legal V8 engine to date, plus the quickest-shifting transmission ever in a Mustang for all-out precision and speed.”

What that means is Ford has built a Shelby GT500 that sits above its GT350 brethren and closes the gap on its Ford Performance cousin, the Ford GT. So, suffice it to say, the Shelby is a serious performer.

“It’s going to sit, whether it’s at the track or in straight-line performance, it’s going to sit at the top of the pyramid for any production Mustang that we have done,” Ed Krenz, Chief Functional Engineer at Ford Performance, said. “It will rival some of the premium vehicles if not some of the supercar capabilities at the track. It is positioned between the Ford GT and the GT350 on a lot of the performance attributes. It is certainly intentioned to be positioned beyond the Camaro.”

While the traditional Mustang rival was certainly a consideration during the development of the latest GT500, the sights were set much higher, particularly when it came to the implementation of the seven-speed DCT.

“When we did this work we certainly set targets as up as uplifts relative to GT350,” Ed explained. “From a performance perspective we certainly looked at all the Camaro derivatives, including the ZL1 ILE and from the powertrain functionality perspective we spent a lot of time in Porsche GT3s and Mercedes AMG GT Rs.”

With the vehicles in the benchmarking mix, you get an idea of how far beyond a base Mustang this vehicle was intended to go. Engineers set targets that pushed the envelope beyond where the Shelby GT500 excelled it its previous iterations.

“The engineering mission for this vehicle started with being true to the heritage of GT500. From a customer perspective that means a tremendous amount of straight-line performance and power, plus there is a very unmistakable feel when you drive this vehicle,” Ed said. “The incremental engineering challenge for this vehicle is, as Mustangs have moved into a combination of sports car and muscle car, the attributes have become more noteworthy for track capability. We succeeded in making the GT500 everything it needs to be in a straight line and on the track. That was really the engineering challenge. Historically, the GT350 went around the curves and the GT500 went straight, and this GT500 does both.”

Obviously the production Shelby GT500 is perfectly at home on the street as well, but its capabilities stretch well beyond those of a typical street vehicle. Ford Performance engineers took the Mustang platform and pushed it much further with a new powertrain, suspension, and more.

“When we set out to do a vehicle we have a DNA that describes what each vehicle needs to be and we walk that into engineering requirements, and some of those are absolute in nature,” Ed explained. “For example, our Shelbys all have to do 24-hour track durability testing. That’s a given. Then there are some requirements that are competitive based and additional requirements that are relative to, say, historical GT500s or GT350s, just to confirm the showroom positioning of the vehicle is appropriate.”

Potent Powertrain
Ensuring that its positioning is at the top of the heap is a supercharged 5.2-liter V8 engine that is similar to the naturally aspirated engine in the Shelby GT350 with several notable differences engineered for performance and durability in this boosted application.

“…The performance starts with a 700-plus-horsepower supercharged, 5.2-liter engine. The DNA element of performance all starts with the engine as it should,” Ed said. “It has massive power and torque, even as an uplift over GT350. We haven’t finalized those performance numbers because we are still pushing the envelope on what we can get out of this engine. We don’t want to quit early.”

It’s good news that the engineers are still tweaking the combo, as it certainly seems robust enough to support big power. Rather than using the exotic flat-plane crankshaft like the GT350 5.2, this engine uses a traditional, smooth-revving cross-plane crankshaft that swings robust forged rods and pistons. The pistons are cooled high-pressure oil jets fed by the engine’s high-flow oil pump. In deference to 12 pounds of boost from the TVS blower, its upgraded cylinder heads feature improved valves, valve springs, and seats. The cams are also boost-friendly grinds, and sit atop heads that are securely fastened.

“From a structural perspective, one example is that we increased the length of the head bolts into the block,” Ed said. “As you start getting into forced induction with a 12-psi capable supercharger, you are getting into combustion pressures around 1,800 psi. With that, the loads into the head and block required us to increase the structure there, just so you don’t blow the heads off the engine.”

To allow for those longer bolts, some upgrades were added to the 5.2-aluminum block, but it still shares the same architecture and benefits from the lightweight Plasma Transfer Wire Arc liners employed on its Voodoo 5.2 cousin.

“The base engine is common with the 5.2-liter from the GT350. From a bore and stroke perspective it’s the same base block,” Ed explained. “It’s got some structural ribbing upgrades to the casting to allow for the increased bolt bosses, but it is fundamentally the same base engine as what’s in the GT350.”

That basic structure is obviously proven, but there was some supporting hardware that required changes for both performance and fitment. In particular, is the new oil pan bolted to the bottom of the blown 5.2-liter.

“The oil pan is structural. It ties in the lower end of the engine to the transmission. That was a necessary to meet top-speed requirements. Secondly, because of the high g-forces the vehicle is running, we had to look at how we manage oil in those situations,” Ed elaborated. “The oil pan is derived from our racing oil pan from a Ford Performances Parts catalog perspective. From there it is pushed further with active or dynamic baffles that keep the oil in the sump under high g-loads.”

Obviously this car is capable of much higher levels of acceleration, sustained speed, and cornering force, so those upgrades were warranted. However, engineers looked a every aspect of the powertrain to maximize the performance, including the layout of the TVS supercharger and its supporting air-to-water intercooler.

“We tucked the supercharger as deep into the valley as possible. Putting the cooling system on top of the compressor just so you have the driving weight center of gravity as low as possible,” Ed said. “Every detail from bottom to the top of the engine was looked at.”

While much of the engine architecture is familiar, there was quite a bit of though put into what type of gearbox to put behind this potent powerplant. Traditionally Ford Performance-engineered Mustang variants have always utilized manual transmission, but the level of performance on tap with the 2020 Shelby GT500 would really rely on a great deal of driver skill with a manual gearbox to make the most of it.

“From a GT500 perspective we clearly looked at it from the perspective or ‘should it be a manual, should we use our 10-speed, torque-converter automatic transmission, or should we go the route of the dual clutch?’” Ed said. “The challenge with the manual is that you are just not going to get the straight-line times, and it does require a level of expertise on the track. The 10-speed automatic transmission in the base Mustang is phenomenal, and we are really proud of it in that application. To take it into this application, it just doesn’t have the pure torque capacity that we would require, and we were really trying to do something first-to-segment with shift speed. That was really the decision point between using our 10-speed transmission from the Mustang GT versus creating an all-new dual-clutch.”

Ultimately the 10 gears were deemed overkill with this broad powerband and the desire to keep pushing innovation resulted in the selection of the aforementioned seven-speed, dual-clutch transmission from Tremec that feeds power to a Torsen differential and 3.73 gears via a carbon-fiber driveshaft.

“We are very proud of the engine, the supercharger, and all the structural enhancements to durability in a track environment to the engine itself,” Ed said. “To be fair, we have done supercharged engines before, but to get that power and torque to the wheels that seven-speed, dual-clutch transmission is first in segment. That transmission is all new from a clean sheet of paper that we designed with TREMEC as the supplier. It is their first dual-clutch transmission, so we are working very closely with them.”

This choice brought into play the comparisons with far more expensive premium performance vehicles. That led engineers to push hard to refine the application of this segment-leading offering.

“As we get into the dual-clutch transmission specifically, being first to the segment with that technology we really had to get into some of the more premium sports cars to do the benchmarking, and when you do that, you might as well pick the best,” Ed said.

He promises that it performance right up there with more premium rivals with this feature and it also allowed for something that previous Shelby models couldn’t not benefit from — more complete integration of the selectable drive modes (see Modus Operandi sidebar) that tune performance for specific road conditions or performance goals. This implementation is dubbed the Integrated Driver Control System.

“The pure capability of this transmission in terms of shift speeds rivals the best of the benchmarks with sub-100 millisecond capability,” Ed said. “We have always had drive modes, and on a manual GT350 the drive modes do vary steering, suspension, and torque progression, but the manual is the manual,” Ed said. “There is not much you can do. With the DCT we are changing the character of the vehicle by drive mode, and the transmission plays a big part in that.”

From hastening the shifts in Sport mode to smoothing the so as not to upset the car on the road course, these modes allow drivers to further make use of as much of the car’s available performance.

Track-Bred Performance
Even with the most effective powertrain, there is still the matter of putting it to the ground and Ford Performance engineers continued to push the S550 chassis and suspension development on this car. And, helping that process along was a continuing tech transfer from racing programs like the Mustang GT4 that competes in IMSA road racing.

The latest GT500 gained a new electronic power assisted steering system, lighter coil springs, and next-gen version of the MagneRide dampers, which can adjust the suspension to road conditions in milliseconds. All told, this latest suspension is said to push the latest GT500 to the highest lateral acceleration a Mustang has ever achieve all while making it more controllable, which is also thanks in part to a high-trail knuckle that improves steering response.

Some of that is obvious attributable to new Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires that are standard on the base combination and grippier Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires available on the optional Carbon Fiber Track Package (see Packaged Performance sidebar).

With that much power and grip, enough braking force to safely rein the car in is just as important. As such, this GT500 features front rotors the size of Medium pizza. Clocking in a 16.5 inches (420 mm) and clamped by six-piston, red-painted Brembo calipers, these are said to be the largest brakes offered on a domestic sports coupe. Better yet, they offer 20 percent more swept area and 30-percent more thermal mass in front than the stoppers on the Shelby GT350. The rear brakes feature four-piston calipers clamping 370mm rear rotors.

Like all facets of this vehicle’s development, these parts were developed in part using computer-aided design tools before engineers ever built real parts and cars to validate the car’s real-world performance. In addition to the computerized design, the Ford Performance engineers used the company’s racing simulator to prove out the vehicles in the virtual world first. This helped them get a jump-start on the process while prototypes were finalized and generally expedited the process in an efficient manner.

“We clearly use analytical tools on all of our vehicles, even outside of Ford Performance, on aero. It is typically focused on fuel economy as opposed to things like downforce, but is really different about this product is it’s the most aggressive that we have ever used our racing simulator in our tech center in North Carolina to do the aero development,” Ed explained. “We would send our vehicle dynamics specialists down there monthly to do the aero setting — set the downforce, drag, everything — before we even got to the track and did the development. All of the work around setting up our base and track package cars was done on simulator and then just validated on our prototype vehicles. That racing simulator was a fundamental enabler for us to deliver the performance of the vehicle.”

Form & Function
Of course, before the virtual GT500s could ever hit the simulator there, Ford’s designers had to create a fresh, aggressive look for the car that still met the performance goals of the vehicles. In this respect, designers and engineers worked hand in hand on a finished look that both were pleased with.

“With a double front grille opening and 50 percent more cooling pack airflow versus the Shelby GT350, along with the most advanced aero components and downforce we’ve ever offered, every millimeter of Shelby GT500’s fastback design is aimed at improving performance,” said Melvin Betancourt, Ford design manager.

Sure the aggressive front end and hood vents looks mean, but these features are not there to simply strike fear into Camaro owners. Instead, they are designed with performance considerations.

“Everything we do starts with the function and performance of the vehicle,” Ed said. “The styling team brings that into a package that we are very proud of as opposed to being given a design and then going to measure the function…” Ed said.

With all the air moving into the engine compartment and the power in there to push this vehicle high speeds, designing that functionality was more than just a nicety. It was a necessity.

“..You had to get air out to make the hood live and to manage downforce, we had to put a massive, fully functional hood vent on the vehicle, and that’s to help us with the aero loads at high speed and on track,” Ed added. “That was functionally derived and then the execution of it was absolutely brilliant. The design team is very proud of how the front end of the vehicle has come together while incorporating some of the engineering functional requirements.”

It looks great and seems built to perform, so the engineers and designers definitely meshed on this one. While there is still much to be learned about the 2020 Shelby GT500, it looks to be an engineering and performance tour de force that equally at home on the road course, street, and strip. We can’t wait to get behind the wheel and tell you how it feels, but for now revel in the supercar-slaying triple threat that Ford Performance let loose in Detroit.

Taking inspiration from fighter jets, Ford’s designers fit the 2020 Shelby GT500 with massive angular grille openings said to be 50-percent larger than those on the GT350. It also features building front fenders designed to allow for 20x11-inch wheels in front and up to 20x11.5-inches in back to support the wider rear wheels offered in the Carbon Fiber Track Package.
Motivating the most powerful Mustang yet is a 5.2-liter V8 that is similar to the engine found in the Shelby GT350 but with some notable upgrades, including a cross-plane crank, longer head bolts, higher-flowing headers, a boost friendly valvetrain, and a 2.65-liter TVS supercharger in the valley, which is topped by an air-to-water intercooler. Its final specs are pending, but Ford is promising more than 700 horsepower.
This car looks fast even when it is sitting still thanks to an aggressive, but functional design. It is available in several new, eye-catching colors as well, including Grabber Lime, Iconic Silver, Red Hot Metallic Tinted Clearcoat, and Twister Orange Metallic Tinted Clearcoat. Vinyl stripes are available and painted stripes are optional.
The centerpiece of the GT500 interior is the 12-inch LCD instrument cluster, which is paired with an 8-inch SYNC 3 touchscreen on the infotainment side. Owners can choose between power seats or Recaros and the carbon fiber interior treatment is optional with the Carbon Fiber Track Package. The door panels wear Dark Slate Miko suede inserts with accent stitching.
In back the Shelby is equipped with a standard rear spoiler and a composite rear diffuser. The Handling Package replaces the standard wing with a version featuring a Gurney flap. Moreover, the Carbon Fiber Track Package comes with an exposed carbon fiber wing that was largely carried over from the Mustang GT4 road racer. The end plates are slightly tweaked on the GT500, but the wing design is essentially the same as its racing compatriot.
Rather than a plastic honeycomb grille as employed by other Ford Performance variants, the new GT500 utilizes a stainless steel grille to maximize the airflow across its six heat exchangers, which include differential, engine oil, and transmission coolers. The open is twice the size of the GT350’s and It is said to have 50 percent more airflow through this opening, which helps even the base GT500 support sustained track laps.
The 31x28-inch louvered hood vent isn’t just for looks. It is fully functional and features a removable aluminum rain tray. With the tray out of the way both air extraction and downforce are said to increase.

Packaged Performance
In addition to the base Shelby GT500 Mustang, there are to optional packages designed to add a bit more performance, particularly for the road cause — the Handling Package and the Carbon Fiber Track Package.

The former adds adjustable upper strut mounts to facilitate dialing in alignment setting for the track, and a rear spoiler with a Gurney flap for a bit more downforce.

On the other hand, the latter package aggressively targets reduced weight with ample use of carbon fiber — splitter wickers, rear wing, wheels, and interior bits — and by omitting the rear seat. It also gets those stickier Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires. All the carbon fiber bits, including the 20-inch wheels show off the technology with exposed carbon fiber weave.

“We have the base setup that comes with the spun-cast aluminum wheels and the new Michelin series of Pilot Sport 4S tires. The powertrain is for the most part common from the calibration is the same, the engine is the same, the transmission is the same, and the axles are the same,” Ed explained. “The difference is really in the tires the weight, and the aero that you are getting with the Carbon Fiber Track Package…”

While those are the main benefits, one area did need tweaking to accommodate the reduced weight, increased grip and, in the case of the Carbon package, half-inch wider tires. That area was the electronic power assist steering calibration for each variant — base, Handling Package and Carbon Fiber Track Package.

“They are certainly calibrated uniquely by mode, so you get a different EPAS calibration by drive mode, but because of the differences in tire, grip, and vehicle weight there are modifications through the suspension and steering for the differences in vehicle specifications,” Ed said.

Modus Operandi
Like all modern Mustangs the 2020 Shelby GT500 benefits from Ford’s selectable drive mode technology, dubbed the Integrated Driver Control System. It allows drivers to choose a suite of calibration tweaks to maximize the car’s efficacy in a variety of environments, including Normal, Weather, Sport, Drag and Track. It also features drag-strip friendly features like Line Lock to help heat up the rear tires and a launch control to help the car apply maximum traction off the line.

“We have always had drive modes, and on a manual GT350 the drive modes do vary steering, suspension, and torque progression, but the manual is the manual,” Ed said. “There is not much you can do. With the DCT we are changing the character of the vehicle by drive mode, and the transmission plays a big part in that.”

“The transmission hardware is fundamentally capable, but it’s obviously the software and controls that enable all of that,” Ed added. “It’s where we spent a lot of time really tying the transmission into the character of the vehicle by drive mode.”

These modes not only tweak the transmission’s performance but that of the engine and suspension as well. So, for example, when you want to have some fun on the street, you can click on Sport mode and get the quickest possible shifts to keep the car in its power band.

“In Sport mode, what we are trying to accomplish is the fastest possible shifts. We are trying to highlight the pure capability of the transmission,” Ed elaborated. “That’s the mode that you get into these sub-100 millisecond upshifts. It’s just instantaneous. That comes with a massive engine torque cut. We are targeting somewhere around 13,000 rpm per second to enable these fast shifts. It’s something we have never done in Ford before.” “Normal mode doesn’t offend,” Ed said. “It is something you can spend all day driving and it’s going to be smooth, quick and the best of everything without being overly aggressive in any specific attribute.”

When it comes to the racetrack environment, however, you don’t want to upset the car at the wrong time. This can happen easily if you were to shift to abruptly at the wrong time, but Track mode has your back.

“In Track mode with this much power and torque, the last thing you want to do is spin the wheels at 100-plus mph going around a bendy. So the transmission is designed for upshifts and downshifts in Track mode that will not destabilize the vehicle,” Ed explained. “You are looking for the smoothest possible shifts and a shift schedule that matches what our best performance drivers can do with the paddle shifters. Our metric is that when you are doing a lap at VIR, whether you are in full auto shifting or full-manual paddle shifting the results are identical. The transmission is as smart as the expert driver and smarter than everyone else.”

In short, the performance of the GT500’s hardware coupled with the intelligence of its onboard tech continues in Ford Performance’s tradition of flatter novice drivers and rewarding those with more skill.

“The character of the shifts as far as how you bring clutches on and off and how you cut torque in Track mode it is as smooth as possible and puts you in the right gear. It doesn’t destabilize you,” Ed said.

And staying stable at triple-digit speeds is definitely a good thing.

Printing The Envelope
You might recall that Ford recently shared news about its Advanced Manufacturing Center in Redford, Michigan. A big part of the efforts there focuses on 3D-printed parts, and one of the first parts printed out there was an electronic parking brake bracket for the 2020 Shelby GT500. It might not seem like a big deal, but it is significant.

“It allows us to use more of our investment on the parts that you are writing about — the coolers, the engine, the transmission,” Ed enthused. “It really allows us to focus the money that we have on the stuff that the customer appreciates while creating the most strength-to-weight-ratio parts you can given the materials that are available to us.”

Not only does this process allow engineers to create lighter parts at a lower cost, but it continues to let Ford Performance innovate in a way that keeps the program vibrant and one that will likely trickle down to more mainstream vehicles in the future.

“It’s something that, if you were really just purely focused on the vehicle itself and its performance characteristics, it really wouldn’t be, necessarily, a talking point, but it shows that we use these vehicles to push our limits of technology and innovation to really develop these things for the company in total,” Ed added. “It’s one of the benefits that Ford Performance provides to the business of Ford — providing technology and innovation. We are always pushing those limits. Even if those parts don’t contribute to straight-line performance, track-lap times, or V-max (top speed), they do provide a tangible, measurable benefit to the business moving forward.”

That business case is pretty important, because low-volume hot rods can be expensive to produce. Any technology that helps them go faster while keeping the budget numbers in line is one that we should all get excited about.

“It allows us to demonstrate the capabilities of designing for 3D printing. It absolutely comes with a weight reduction and eliminating the investment in hard tooling on relatively low-volume products moving forward is a huge advantage for our products,” Ed said. “It is really about developing the capability of designing more consequential parts and looking at the cost reduction of not having to invest in hard tooling components for low-volume programs…”

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