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Shelby GT500 wins on horsepower per buck

Published June 4, 2010


CALABOGIE, ONT.—If not as big a money maker as his onetime racing car rival Enzo Ferrari, affixing 1960s’ American racing legend Carroll Shelby’s name to a car has always had plenty of marketing appeal.

The rest of Ford’s Mustang lineup gets a thorough redo for 2011 with all-new six- and eight-cylinder engines. Yet the top-line Mustang-based Shelby GT500 coupes and convertibles — modern interpretations of Mustangs Shelby built and raced for Ford over 40 years ago — will only be getting by with minor tweaks to their engines, suspensions and chassis.

Unlike the first Shelby Mustangs, Ford’s inhouse Special Vehicles Team develops the modern versions. And SVT’s first goal for 2011 was to get some weight off the GT500’s front end, a problem that made the last version (that debuted in 2007) plough like a Massey-Ferguson combine whenever the road turned.

To wit, for 2011 Ford has replaced last year’s 5.4-litre iron block with an all-new aluminum-block version of the supercharged V8, making the 1,733 kg 2011 GT500 coupe about 52 kg lighter overall.

The big, blown eight now makes 550 hp — a piffling 10 horsepower increase over the 2010 model, mainly attributed to a wider exhaust pipe — and torque is unchanged at 510 lb.-ft. However, the old Roots M122 supercharger has been also swapped put for a new twin screw type that Ford says helps deliver low-end torque earlier in the rev range.

Instead of the all-new six-speed manual found in other 2011 Mustangs, the GT500’s lone gearbox is a largely carryover close-gated six-speeder.

Since the first Shelby-badged car (a 1965 Mustang-based GT350), putting the ol’ Texas chicken farmer’s name on various Dodges and Fords has always demanded a premium price. And the modern version continues this marketing tradition.

For the 2011 on-paper improvements, Ford wants about $5,000 more than the 2010 models and about $20,000 more than a Mustang GT — making that $58,999 for the GT500 coupe and $63,699 for the cloth-top convertible. Options are limited to a $2,3000 nav system, $1,000 audio upgrade, a $2,200 glass roof on the coupe, and the $2,000 SVT package.

Funnily enough, despite the extra ponies and less weight, this year’s GT500’s naught to 100 km/h time is still in the mid-four-second range, or about half-second quicker than a 2011 Mustang GT.

At least the Shelby’s new exhaust note is like canned machismo. Its classic low-speed burble will lift skirts and raise eyebrows.

Also new for 2011 is an electronic (versus hydraulic) power steering system, and an SVT Track Package (more on this later.)

I couldn’t tell the difference during our morning drive in a 2011 Shelby GT500 Coupe to Calabogie Motorsports Park, located about an hour’s drive northwest from our starting point in Ottawa’s high-tech Kanata suburb, but Ford says road noise is reduced by 20 per cent versus the 2010 Shelby.

Keep in mind, that didn’t include the yelps from the driver when the GT500’s solid rear axle skipped sideways over the less-than-perfectly-smooth Ontario back roads.

You have to wonder what the GT500’s curb weight would be without the plethora of Shelby Cobra badge and acres of vinyl racing stripes.

Or without front seats that offered more lateral support than a pair of Adirondack deck chairs.

Or perhaps — Carroll forbid! — without one of those newfangled impendent rear suspensions. But then, the GT500 wouldn’t scream its 1960s muscle car mantra like the Rolling Stones playing “Gimme Shelter” at the ’69 Altamont Music Festival.

Sure. Fully optioned, nearly $70,000 sounds like a lot for a “Mustang.” But the GT500 is a unique proposition. Neither Chevrolet nor Dodge offer comparably performing Camaro or Challenger models. And compared to other 500-plus horsepower cars — most with exotic names like Lamborghini, Aston Martin, or Porsche costing in the $200,000 range and up — the Shelby looks like a tire-shredding bargain.

Even against more local competition like the 505 hp $93,775 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 or $98,600 Dodge Viper SRT10 with 600 hp, the Shelby is one of the best bang-for-your-horsepower deals out there.

Trouble is, with the $38,499 2011 Mustang GT sporting a new 412 hp V8 and only a half-second slower to 100 km/h time, are the 2011 tweaks enough to warrant the $20,000 Shelby premium?

With the SVT package, the answer is a definite “yes.”

The SVT-equipped GT500 with lighter wheels, a higher rear axle ratio, lowered ride height of (11 m in front and 8 mm at the rear), stiffer springs and grippier summer-only performance tires, felt more planted, cornered flatter, and turned-in quicker than a cooking GT.

I’m going to give most of the credit to the package’s all-new Goodyear Eagle F1 SuperCar G: 2 tires that SVT engineers worked directly with the tire company to develop. They allow for quicker turn-in, the ability to get those 550 horses to the pavement faster, and more stability in high-speed corners — like Calabogie’s 2.81 km East Track’s delicate-but-dicey Corner 15 to 16 transition.

I didn’t get the opportunity to try a GT500 sans SVT package. But Ford made available the entire 2011 Mustang lineup. And back-to-back seat time in a new 2011 GT500 with the SVT package somewhat justifies the extra costs the Shelby name entails.

Of course, serious racers would probably opt for a Mustang GT and half the GT500’s premium on parts from Ford’s expensive racing parts catalogue. But that’s a different set of economics (i.e. no warranty; onroad civility; resale value) that most new-car buyers don’t have the stomach for.

No one knows if these modern cars will ever reach the acclaim or value of 1966-67 Shelby GT350s — some of the most collectible Mustangs out there. For those customers who can still remember the 1960s, though, Ford of Canada won’t have any problem selling each new GT500 they import from the U.S. to them

And now — at least when equipped with the SVT option — the 2011 Shelby GT500 can back up the previous model’s hollow boasts as the best-performing Mustang available.

2011 Ford Shelby GT500 Coupe

BASE PRICE/AS TESTED: $58,999/$64,299

ENGINE: 5.4 L supercharged V8

POWER/TORQUE: 550 hp/510 lb.-ft.

FUEL CONSUMPTION: 14.4 L/100 km city; 8.7 L/100 km (20/32 mpg)

COMPETIITION: Chevrolet Corvette Z06, Dodge Viper SRT10

WHAT’S GOOD: Classic muscle-car looks; straight-line performance; macho exhaust tune; SVT Track Package.

WHAT BAD: Unsupportive seats; bad-road behaviour; notchy gearbox; how much is that Shelby badge really worth?

WHAT’S INTERESTING: The 87-year old Carroll Shelby now only lends his name to Ford, as all new Shelby Mustangs are designed, engineered and built by Ford.