FIRST DRIVE: Shelby GT500 the wickedly wonderful "real" Mustang

That's what bolting a 2.7-litre supercharger on the 5.2-litre V-8 gets you

Published: November 24, 2019, 1:30 PM
Updated: November 23, 2021, 4:05 PM

2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500

LOS ANGELES – Kilowatts may be the spec that matters in the future, but today it’s horsepower that resonates with the Mustang faithful. And when that power number hits the 760 mark, they know you’re talking about the “baddest” stallion in the herd – the 2020 Shelby GT500.

Ford’s performance gurus have taken the 5.2-litre, flat-plane-crank Voodoo V-8 engine that’s made the Shelby GT350 such a hit, and bolted on a 2.7-litre, Eaton-supplied, supercharger that boosts every breath this awesome engine takes with 12 psi of compressed air. The results are those 760 ponies and a massive 625 pound-feet of torque. With that kind of power on tap, the GT500 can sprint to 100 km/h in about 3.5 seconds and rip through the quarter mile in less than 10.7 seconds with a speed through the timing lights in excess of 209 km/h.

I was fortunate enough to spend some time behind the wheel of a saucy lime-green GT500, driving on a famous twisty route to Angeles Crest. The roadway is cut into the mountains north of Los Angeles, with rock cliffs on one side and sheer drops to the canyon floor on the other. Speeding up and down the mountainside is called canyon-carving and it’s a popular weekend pastime with the locals — enthusiasts, sports car clubs and scores of motorcyclists take full advantage of the road’s challenges for a day of driving fun. On this day, however, the regulars were joined by a pack of visiting Mustangs – some regular GTs, a couple of base fastbacks with the new 2.3-litre High Performance package, and a handful of Shelby GT350s and GT500s, mine included.

Shelby exhaust sounds like music to the ears

The roar of the Shelby exhaust notes – most had been set for full song – reverberated through the canyon as this invasion of journalists enjoyed playtime in the mountains. It was especially apparent when a Shelby was nearby – you heard it long before it appeared on the road. Again, mine included.

I was fortunate to have a good buddy (and fellow enthusiast) Jim Kerr as my driving partner for this adventure, with both of us sharing time behind the wheel. In the interests of full disclosure, the legal speed on this road was 72 km/h, but neither of us spent any time at that limit. We both were pushing along at near double that threshold. Yet, despite the hot pace, the GT500 never hinted it was anywhere near its adhesion limits, even in the numerous tight, 40-km/h bends in the road (which we also exceeded by a ridiculous rate.) The Shelby simply went where it was pointed – no fuss, no drama. The car was so well balanced it felt totally planted through the corners. In fact, we both realized the abilities of the GT500 definitely exceeded the abilities of the drivers. (The fact it was a long way down to the canyon floor may have influenced that realization, too.)

For a car that weighs 1,916 kilograms, including 43.5 kg for the supercharger alone, the GT500 was surprisingly agile. Neither of us heard any complaints from the 20-inch Michelin Pilot Sport 45 tires, no matter how hard they were stressed by our high cornering speeds. When it came time to simply stab the gas pedal and go straight, the Shelby just hooked up and surged forward – no fishtailing from the 3:73 Torsen limited-slip rear axle, no hint that loss of control might be imminent. The torque pressed us back into the Recaro seats with significant force and the exhaust sound was pure music, but there was nothing dramatic to contend with, other than trying to keep the acceleration rate somewhere short of instant jail time. On the freeway, for example, the surge of power when I pulled out to pass had the speedometer spooling quickly past 200 km/h. We both agreed we’d soon be without our licences if we owned a GT500.

In fairness to the car, the place it should be able to really stretch its legs is a racetrack. Only there could you truly (and safely) explore the limits of the GT500. Yet it is surprisingly driveable on the street – the MagneRide adjustable damping system and overall suspension package smooth out rough spots effectively, yet you can still dial up the sport or track modes for ultimate handling dynamics when desired. The selectable-effort electric power steering is precise and quick, although a bit more feedback through the steering wheel would be nice. The Shelby’s brake system, with massive 394-mm ventilated rotors and 6-piston Brembo calipers up front and 380-mm ventilated discs with 4-piston Brembo calipers at the back, not only haul the Shelby down with authority, but showed no signs of fading during our speedy romp through the mountains.

The GT500 is only offered with a 7-speed TREMEC dual-clutch transmission – a first in a Mustang. Its shift mapping can be altered, depending on the driving mode selected – we stuck to either sport or track modes and the gear changes were lightening quick and solid, whether we were making the shifts using the steering wheel-mounted paddles or letting the transmission make its own decisions. The transmission also includes an electronic line lock and integrated launch control system, which we did not evaluate. Honest!

Having so much fun at speed didn’t permit much time to notice the surroundings inside the GT500. Aside from the Recaro seats, the Shelby’s interior isn’t much different than your normal Mustang – except for the special GT500 badge and chassis serial on the instrument panel.

Shelby GT500 - dressed to thrill

There are few other special trim pieces but basic features, such as power adjustable seats, 1-touch power windows, automatic dual-zone climate control, two smart-charging USB ports, rearview camera and reverse sensing system, two power outlets, SYNC 3 with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, and standard and available audio systems are common with lesser ’Stangs. The GT500 does get, as standard equipment, the full-colour 12-inch digital instrument cluster that’s available on some other models. The display changes, depending on the driving mode you select. By engaging the Track Apps, for example, a number of performance metrics are displayed in the cluster panel where they are readily viewable by the driver.

While the interior doesn’t differ much from its stablemates, the GT500’s exterior is well beyond the norm. There’s a massive snout up front that gulps in cooling air to feed the radiator and oil cooler, while functional venting in the hood allows trapped air to escape. Other vent openings abound, helping keep temperatures within this beast under control.

A wind-cheating splitter is attached to the lower front fascia to improve aerodynamics and reduce lift at speed, while a diffuser in the back end provides similar control over airflow. A spoiler, unique in design for the GT500, helps keep the rear of the car planted as well. Overall, the look is menacing and especially intimidating when the GT500 shows up in the rearview mirrors of vehicle ahead. Of course, the palette of available exterior colours help this Shelby get noticed, too.

The production run for the 2020 Shelby GT500 is limited to 5,000 units, with pricing in Canada set at $94,675. If you don’t think the base model is enough fun, Ford is offering a Carbon Fibre Track Pack ($24,995) that adds 20-inch carbon fibre wheels fitted with stickier Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires (305/30R20 front, 315/30R20 rear), adjustable strut top mounts, a massive carbon fibre GT4 rear wing, carbon fibre instrument panel trimmings, leather Recaro seats with a suede insert, splitter wickers – and Ford keeps the rear seat.

There’s no question the Shelby GT500 is one bad machine. It truly lives up to its billing as the most powerful Mustang ever offered to the public – power to spare, yet so well balanced. However, if I was able to afford a Shelby Mustang, I think I’d opt for the GT350 variety. I’ve driven it on the street and on a track, too, and found it to be an outstanding fun machine. It still has gobs of power – 526 hp and 429 lb-ft. of torque – that awesome flat-plane crank Voodoo engine with its distinctive exhaust note, and it comes with a 6-speed manual gearbox. Also in its favour is its pricing – at $76,425, it’s not quite as painful.

Still, if being the boss stallion in the corral matters most to you, the Shelby GT500 is the only choice.