Courtesy of Ford Motor Company
July 1, 2009
Photos By: Jim Fets

When Ford Motor Company linked up with Carroll Shelby to bring back the Shelby GT500, there was hope of rekindling the magic found in the early GT350s and GT500s. What resulted was something special, as many consider the 500hp GT500s to be the best Mustangs ever.

While they are amazing machines, top-dog status lasted only until Ford upped the ante with the 540hp '08 special edition GT500KR. The rare KR could clock 11-second quarter-mile times and run through the twisties like no other Stang before it. The KR features many high-end qualities, but also a high-end price tag at just under $80,000.

For about half that price ($46,325 for the coupe and $51,225 for the convertible), many more can enjoy Ford's latest Mustang with 540hp and 510 lb-ft of torque. We're talking about the 2010 Shelby GT500--now refined with amazing handling, Earth-rotating torque, updated styling, and active handling, to name a few upgrades.

"The muscle-car segment is becoming even more competitive," says Jamal Hameedi, chief nameplate engineer for SVT. "The GT500 was designed to compete with other supercharged cars [the Camaro and Challenger]," he adds. "We need to uphold the Mustang badge with honor, the Shelby badge with honor, and most importantly, the Ford badge with honor. This is the car that will do all of that."

Most noticeable is the big reshaped grille, which is reminiscent of the original Shelby A/C 427 Cobra. There is great function in the grille--it routes air directly to the filter box for a true ram-air effect (which is why the snake is moved over). The revised front fascia now blends seamlessly into the aluminum hood (which prevents air from bleeding underhood) and has a single heat extractor to vent hot air. The GT500 also has a unique rear fascia with a non-functional air diffuser and cutouts for the proud 4-inch exhaust tips.

Those who get weak in the knees over earlier Shelbys need only a few minutes in and/or around the '10 to realize how spectacular it is. We had our chance during a press event at the Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, California, where we tore up the NASCAR road course, the NHRA strip, and a timed figure-eight track. In addition, we logged over 160 street miles up the Coast Highway from San Francisco to Napa Valley. And thanks to the amazing supercharged mod mill, there was plenty of whine and wine during our trip.

A good portion of the steering wheel (and the seat bolsters) is stitched with Alcantara, a simulated suede that's more durable. It provides a comfortable and racy feel that we love.

Maximum Mechanical
The '10 abounds with technical features. Its heart is the 540hp, supercharged, 5.4L, DOHC engine. It looks the part with the big Eaton up top, but it now sports a cold-air inlet fed directly from the grille. The GT500 we tested also has dual-knock sensors, AdvanceTrac active suspension, navigation, satellite radio, and SYNC. Environmentalists will love the improved fuel economy (14/22 mpg) and capless fueling system.

Engineers worked hard to reduce NVH (noise/vibration/harshness) and it shows. "You still hear the supercharger, but not so much that it's intrusive," says Kerry Baldori, chief functional engineer for SVT. "It's the same with the exhaust. You want people to know you're driving something special, but you don't want an exhaust note that overpowers the whole interior."

Transferring power is a featherlight and silky-smooth twin-disc clutch. The clutch, along with the six-speed Tremec, are significantly upgraded, improving driveability and NVH. For '10, the clutch discs are larger--250 mm in diameter compared with 215 mm on the outgoing model--and the material is copper and fiberglass.

The White shifter ball is made by a billiard-ball company and has cool Le Mans stripes.

Power flows from the clutch to the revised six-speed Tremec transmission, which has taller Fifth and Six gears to increase fuel efficiency. "Gears One through Four remain the same, but Fifth gear changes from 0.80 to 0.74, while Sixth gear goes from 0.63 to 0.50, meaning that the '10 Shelby GT500 will turn lower rpm in those gears and deliver improved fuel efficiency. The new final drive ratio (3.55 versus 3.31), improves acceleration, while complementing the revised Fifth and Sixth gear ratios," adds Hameedi.

Carving Asphalt
SVT engineers have improved handling with the use of stiffer springs, revised dampers, 19-inch wheels, the latest Goodyear F1 Supercar tires (18s on convertibles), and improved aerodynamics, however, they did so while maintaining excellent street manners. We pushed the Shelby hard on the street and the track, and only experienced a slight bit of understeer on the tightest corners.

The updated front office gets unique Shelby seats with stitched-in striping, a racy shifter ball with striping, and a performance-inspired steering wheel.

The AdvanceTrac has three modes (Full Active/Sport/Off), but we like the Sport mode best. In this position the computer allows a fair amount of slip before it reels you back in. On the strip, however, we turned the system completely off. Overall, the '10 GT500 was better connected to the road. The steering is weighted nicely and gives you good feedback.

We also like how the rear suspension hung in there. It was sucked down better than earlier models, and the tail followed the nose without any drama. Handling balance leans toward understeer, but the Shelby seems more neutral than before, and with 510 lb-ft of torque, we could use the throttle to steer the car if needed.

The 5.4L supercharged beast has been helped out with a factory cold-air package, along with a new calibration. It now makes 540 hp and 510 lb-ft of torque.

"Using data from the wind tunnel and the track, the GT500 is near neutral at 120 mph--it makes about 20 pounds of lift," says John Pfeiffer, product development engineer. "This is 50 percent better than the KR and 75 percent better than the outgoing model. The new Shelby GT500 reacts the same at 120 mph as it does at much lower speeds because the center of gravity doesn't change from aerodynamic forces as you get up to speed.

"One of the new tunable components on the Shelby GT500 is the addition of a wicker bill or Gurney Flap on the rear. Introduced by racing legend Dan Gurney nearly 40 years ago, the Gurney Flap is a tunable element on a low-drag spoiler. It sticks up about 6 mm and is positioned at a right angle to help create downforce."

We put the power to the pavement at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, California. The '10 GT500 performed flawlessly, with enhanced handling and much-improved balance.

"The front damping and spring rates were increased (13 percent in the front and seven percent in the rear), and share the same setup on the front end as the KR. Overall, the goal with the '10 Shelby GT500 was to maintain the high-performance attributes of the KR, but in a more-refined manner," adds Baldori.

While there was plenty of power on tap, our impromptu strip test didn't produce what we feel are representative numbers. During our test day at Infineon, we faced an unprepped track, cold conditions (50 degrees), and a stiff 20 to 25-mph headwind. Our best e.t. after repeated tries was a 12.67 at 115 mph. Still, not bad considering I spun all the way through First, granny-shifted and spun though Second, and even hazed the tires in Third! Considering the KR ran 11s with virtually the same setup (it had slightly stickier tires and 3.73 gears), we think the GT500 will run 12.10 or better at close to 120 mph. Of course, we plan to prove this at a later date.

What's On The Inside
For '10, the GT500 interior design team challenged themselves to raise the bar to create the ultimate Shelby Mustang interior--they succeeded. The instrument panel is quite sporty in design, and functional, too. Ford used genuine materials such as real leather in all seats, real aluminum on the instrument panel, and Alcantara suede inserts on the seats and steering wheel (which we love). The seats offer comfort and a fair amount of side bolstering, and you can opt for sewn-in racing stripes to add some style. The cue-ball shifter is sporty and moves through the gates with short throws and decent feel.

The center stack is also improved. It has clear controls, a big info screen, and flows smoothly into the console. There's also a flush cup-holder door and lockable console stowage with Shelby engraved into its Satin Liquid Chrome release button.

A neat touch is the Shelby cobra, which appears at startup on the navigation screen, and the familiar red SVT logo utilizes new Ambient lighting to illuminate the door scuffplate.

Overall, we love the Shelby GT500. Of course, not everyone can afford a mid-$40,000 Mustang, but this one is so good that once you buy it, you won't have to do a thing except drive fast.