Donald Farr
Former Editor, Mustang Monthly
March 21, 2011
Photos By: Jerry Heasley

Even though he turned 88 in January, Carroll Shelby still thinks like a young man. He doesn't dwell on the past, instead preferring to look ahead to the future. In a Mustang Monthly interview three years ago, Carroll told us, "I never worry about what happened before. I'm interested in what we're going to build next." With Shelby American pumping out GT500 Super Snakes with up 725 hp, he went on to say that he was pushing for 1,000 hp.

Now he's got it.

Although still in the prototype stages, Shelby's twin-turbocharged GT500 Code Red generates nearly 900 hp at the rear wheels with "only" 16 pounds of boost, easily topping 1,000 hp at the flywheel. And there's more to be had. With a 5.4-liter engine built by Nelson's Racing Engines and a dual-feed fuel system that can blend in high-octane racing gas when needed, Code Red is ready to take on 25 to 28 pounds of boost.

"It's a concept so we're still working on it," Carroll says. "It's easy to do something wrong when you start fooling around with something like this, so we're doing some test work on it. Some people say you don't need over 1,000 hp but you don't need over 200 either."

According to Shelby VP of Operations Gary Patterson, the goal was to create the pinnacle of Shelby Mustangs. He compares it to Shelby's 427-powered '67 GT500 Super Snake and the Green Hornet, an experimental '68 Shelby hardtop used to test fuel injection and independent rear suspension. Code Red could become a very limited-edition Shelby in the future, or parts of it may be incorporated into future models or offered "ala carte" through Shelby Performance Parts.

The heart of Code Red is its specially-built 5.4-liter engine, which Patterson says has been "significantly changed." That's an understatement. Designed to handle the boost from the pair of 61mm Turbonetic turbochargers, Tom Nelson at Nelson's Racing Engines in Chatsworth, California, completely reengineered the engine with an O-ringed and magnafluxed block, specially machined crankshaft, Oliver billet connecting rods, and JE forged pistons with file-fit rings. In the valvetrain, everything from camshafts to valve springs was selected for a turbo application. Even the bearings and gaskets were chosen for their ability to withstand the pressure of high-boost turbocharging.

Key to Code Red's ability to safely make 1,000 hp is the fuel system, starting with the billet intake manifold. Specifically designed by Nelson's for Code Red, the CNC-machined intake incorporates individual runners, a 1,700-cfm throttle body, built-in fuel regulators, and 16 fuel injectors to accommodate the dual fuel system. Around town, Code Red runs on standard injectors with regular fuel from the Mustang fuel tank. But when the boost kicks in, a secondary set of 60-pound injectors blends higher octane fuel from a secondary fuel cell in the trunk.

Electronics play a huge role in Code Red's ability to produce such high horsepower numbers, not only for the elaborate dual fuel system but also to help put all that power to the ground. Shelby American is working with AMS to develop an electronic, speed sensitive boost controller for Code Red. Patterson explains, "If you only have so much grip, say with street tires, you may be able to use only six pounds of boost at 60 mph. But you could use 12 pounds at 80 mph and 25 at 150, so that will be programmable and adjustable. We haven't perfected it yet but it's something we continue to develop and finalize."

Turbochargers generate a lot of heat, so Code Red utilizes a Ron Davis radiator with dual electric fans and a water-to-air intercooler to remove heat from the incoming air before it reaches the intake. Even the hood is designed to assist cooling, with NASA-style scoops up front, similar to '69-'70 Shelbys, to cool the turbochargers and extractors at the rear to pull heat out of the engine compartment. Patterson says he's been stuck in Los Angeles traffic on a hot day, yet Code Red kept its cool while idling for over an hour.

As you might expect, the drivetrain has been totally reworked. The original transmission has been replaced by a Transzilla six-speed, which is capable of withstanding up to 1,200 hp according to its manufacturer, Rockland Standard Gear. A four-inch, one-piece aluminum driveshaft sends the monstrous power to a Currie 9-inch rearend with 3:50 gears, Air Locker differential, and 35-spline axles. The locking rear can be switched off and on. "If you're running around town, you wouldn't run the locker so the car goes around corners nice and easy," says Patterson. "Flip a switch and the posi kicks in. If you accidentally leave it on, it slips the inside wheel when you go around a corner. For some people it's annoying; for me, it's entertaining."

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Code Red started life as a standard '08 Shelby GT500. While it's easy to look at the car as a Super Snake on steroids, it's technically not a Super Snake, although many of the components, especially the suspension, come from the post-title GT500 package. The Shelby/Eibach adjustable suspension is Super Snake, although set up more for road racing or high speeds. Brakes are Shelby/Baer six-piston calipers on 14-inch rotors, which look great behind the 20x11- and 20x9-inch Super Snake Alcoa wheels. Tires are Pirelli P Zeros at the front and stickier Nitto NY555R drag radials at the rear.

Inside, safety is paramount with Mastercraft six-point competition harnesses securing driver and occupant into the custom racing seats. Forget about back seat passengers because the rear seat has been removed to provide space for the Shelby-designed 10-point rollcage. Gauges galore keep tabs on what's happening under the hood. A center-dash gauge pod mounts a boost gauge and two fuel pressure gauges-one for each fuel system-plus there's a trio of gauges mounted to the cage under the passenger-side visor for oil pressure, water temp, and oil temp.

At the moment, living with 1,000 hp means giving up creature comforts. The current dry-sump oiling system leaves no room underhood for an A/C compressor, although Patterson says Shelby American is looking into an available wet-sump system or even an electric-driven compressor. And there's little room in the trunk for luggage or golf clubs. The already smallish Mustang trunk compartment is packed with fuel cell, air tank for the boost controller, and a compressor for the Air Locker posi unit.

So, how does it feel to drive a GT500 with 1,000 hp? Just ask Patterson, who has been spending a lot of time in the black beast, all in the interest of testing. "It's a rocket-ship," he says. "You've really got to pay attention because, quite frankly, it drives like a regular car until the tach swings past four grand, then everything changes. It goes from mild-mannered Clark Kent to Superman in the blink of an eye, and you don't need a phone booth."

The black exterior is menacing but doesn't scream "fast car." Other than the red stripes and carbon-fiber splitter and side rockers, Code Red looks very much like a regular 500hp GT500. But that can be fun, as Patterson relates when he tells the story about an encounter with a new Hemi Challenger: "The Mopar Nationals were going on at Las Vegas Speedway. I was coming up from Vegas and there was a guy in a Challenger with big Hemi decals on it. I just cruised around him nice and easy but of course he had to have a piece of this GT500. That was a mistake, even though I didn't have the boost cranked up much. We rolled on at about 80 mph. I dropped it back into third and the tach went from 4,000 to 7,000 rpm. The rear tires were smoking as I went around the guy. I almost felt bad for him."

Obviously, should Code Red eventually go into production, it won't be cheap. Shelby American realizes that it can't be a high-production car like the '07 Shelby GTs or even Super Snakes. Price is estimated between $80,000-100,000, not including the car.

"It was never intended to be a vehicle even close to the Super Snake in terms of volume," says Patterson. "However, there are still a fair amount of people out there, even in this economy, who can write a check for a car like this. It's for the guy who wants the ultimate Shelby Mustang bragging rights."

With Code Red, Carroll Shelby has his 1,000 horsepower. But, as expected, he's not done yet. Code Red may be just the beginning. "We might even do a couple under different configurations," he told us. "I'm preparing to build several more."

Carroll Shelby: Future of Performance

If you want to get Carroll Shelby riled up, just ask him about electric cars. He doesn't like the fact that "They're trying to stick them up our you-know-what" (our wording, not his, because this is a family magazine). He's waiting until someone with sense asks, "What are we going to do with all these batteries? This stuff is ruining the atmosphere! These batteries are causing global warming! We've developed the auto engine to be very clean and now we might be creating a horrible mess with all these batteries. They're toxic! And the electricity has to come from somewhere too."

Like the 1970s, the performance industry is facing stricter emissions, high fuel mileage standards, and increasing fuel costs. In the 1980s, Shelby worked with Chrysler to build smaller performance cars with turbocharging, so we asked him if he thinks we're headed in that direction again.

MM: Do you think turbocharging is going to be the wave of the future-again?
CS: It's still free horsepower, except for paying for the mechanical parts. Supercharging has its advantages and turbocharging has its advantages. With supercharging, you lose a lot of horsepower at the top end. Why not a little of both of them? Then you have instant response and top end.

MM: Do you see us headed back to a time when performance cars will be smaller?
CS: It's inevitable with us spending billions of dollars a year on something the Arabs have that we won't develop in this country when we have it. I'm not trying to get into politics, but we don't have a choice. I still go out and drive my Dodge GLH every once in a while. Those pocket-rockets are still very interesting to me.

MM: It almost feels like 1970 all over again. We've got 412hp GTs, 725hp Super Snakes, and Ford is coming out with a new Boss 302, yet we know things are going to tighten up not too far in the future.
CS: Yeah, they are. GM says they are going to develop an engine for Indianapolis. They're saying we've got to go to smaller engines and turbocharging so Indy is the place to develop it.

MM: Obviously new technology continues to help performance.
CS: It all goes back to electronics. During the latter part of the 1970s and early 1980s, we were lost out there in performance because they were sticking that crap back into the crankcase and trying to get rid of it with a catalytic convertor. We still use that process in a sense, but electronics have turned performance completely around with variable valve timing and all the other things that are possible. Where electronics can take us, nobody knows.

MM: With the new GT350 you're starting with 412 hp.
CS: Yeah, with a 5.0-liter engine, which would have been practically impossible a few years ago with this octane of fuel. With just a little boost in supercharging, you can get 525 or 550 hp. Even 600 if you want to. And I hope the 5.4 doesn't go away. They've got 1,200-1,500 hp in Ford GTs with a turbocharger on top of the supercharger. SVT has done a tremendous job in developing that engine. People at Ford like Alan Mulally, Mark Fields, and Jim Farley are working hard to carry on with what they've started.

MM: What's the future of performance at Shelby American?
CS: As far as Las Vegas is concerned, I'll never build 8,000 to 9,000 cars a year again. I'll probably never build 1,000 cars a year. I want to build fewer cars. I'm interested in getting back into the performance business with the smaller cars. I intend to concentrate on parts and a few high-horsepower cars with both small and large engines. I want to spend what time I have left developing things we're working on with electronics. Thank God I'm back with Ford. I'm glad to know that I'm going to die being in good stead with Ford.