With a history that dates decades to when Carroll Shelby first started shoehorning big motors into “secretary cars,” the 2013 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 is the direct descendant of a legend. Only this time, the performance level has been kicked up more than a few notches.
The late Shelby's direct involvement and his relationship with Ford Motor Company had more ups and downs than the Cyclone roller coaster at Coney Island. But back in 2003, things were patched up and he became the elder statesman of Ford performance, offering advice and input for many of the legendary Blue Oval hot rods as well as developmental help on the Ford GT halo-car.
Is this newest Shelby worthy of the name? Come along with Leftlane as we find out.
What is it?
The 2013 GT500 starts its life alongside humble V6-powered Ford Mustangs at the firm’s Flat Rock, Michigan, plant. But the mundane and the monstrous diverge quickly since the new car is powered by an Eaton-supercharged 5.8-liter mill that Ford claims is “the most powerful production V8 in the world.” Nothing secretarial about it, it makes 662 horsepower at 6,500 rpm and 631 lb-ft of torque at a mid-ranged 4,000 rpm. In a sentence: it’s old school muscle at its finest.
Weighing in at 3,850 lbs. overall, the 5.8, which is based on the 5.4-liter from the dearly departed Ford GT, pushes this Shelby GT500 to a top speed of 202 mph. Strangely enough, the engine has managed to skirt the dreaded gas-guzzler tax. As if it matters, the EPA says the Shelby can achieve 15/24 mpg, with an average of 18 mpg.
Habits are hard to break, and so it is with the live rear axle that has been on every Mustang from day one. Great for straight-line performance, it is amazing to see how refined the package has become through the years. Secondly, it is only available with a manual transmission and in the case of the included Tremec 6060, it’s about as good as you’ll find it anywhere. Power gets to the rear end through a carbon fiber driveshaft, while an electronic set of Bilstein dampers controls the ride by dash-mounted controls that vary settings from street to track. A Torsen limited slip differential with a 3:31:1 final drive ratio is a good middle point that handles the massive torque but doesn’t make the car undriveable during daily excursions.
What's it up against?
Within the GT500’s price range, two models come as the closest competitors. First up would be the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 with its 6.2 liter 580 horsepower, which the Shelby surpasses by 82 horses and 75 lb-ft of torque. Secondly, the Dodge Challenger 392 Hemi checks in with 470-horsepower and a matching 470 lb-ft of torque from its 6.4-liter engine. All together, they form the core of the reborn ponycar set, albeit in a highly tweaked fashion.
How does it look?
Start with a standard 2013 Mustang and strip it down. Get rid of all the tchotchkes, and add a few new ones: ground effects, including front and rear spoilers and diffusers. A liberal application of Cobra logos is also in order, as are a huge pair of LeMans stripes from front to rear. Vent the hood to release trapped air from underneath, and put a five-inch decklid spoiler to increase rear downforce, and it’s almost complete.
Along the way, the car realizes a 33 percent increase in rear load, which boosts vehicle stability at 160 mph and above. And lest anyone think this is just a Mustang, place big plated letters that spell out the name S H E L B Y across the rear trunklid.
Two LED light bars as seen on the standard Mustang make an appearance here, which adds to the badass aspects of the Shelby. But the real daunting look comes from the grille-or lack of it. Engineers realized that more cooling air comes through the grill area without a honeycomb insert so they left it out completely, resulting in a partially finished look. Finally, we like the reappearance of the sequential turn signals on the Shelby’s rear fascia.
And on the inside?
Vastly improved over the models of just two years ago, there are several occurrences of soft-touch materials in the interior. That’s not to say the hard plastics are nowhere to be found, because, frankly, they are. Then again, nobody is buying this car for its interior.
A pair of optional leather-covered and manually operated Recaro seats held the glutes firmly in place through hard acceleration and cornering. We were disappointed to find a lack of telescoping steering wheel, but more importantly no Bluetooth for hands free operation, which is required in California and other states that are writing such laws. It would seem to be a no-brainer, especially considering the fact the Shelby is a manual transmission car.
Controls are laid out in a retro-looking T-bar dashboard that looks as though lifted from a mid-'60s Thunderbird. That’s a good thing. A Shaker audio system controls the tuneage when the music underhood is just not enough, but we were more excited to find push buttons that allow the driver to fine tune operations such as shock stiffness, and traction control.
But does it go?
From the moment you grab the pool cue shifter knob, you suddenly become aware that this is not the Mustang that old Uncle Bob used to flog on those back roads of summer. Instead, what we have is a high performance hot rod that is as rough and controversial as the man it is named after. Putting aside for a moment the jewel of a blown 5.8-liter V8 engine, the car is just plain unrefined. It’s the motoring equivalent of showing up at the Homecoming dance in a tuxedo but with dirty shoes.
And with that lies its charm.
With power to plant you firmly into the leather swathed Recaro seats, the GT500 is one of the ballsiest rides we will ever experience. Using the available track package delivered our own mobile drag racing Christmas tree, which counted down to green and then 1,320 feet later informed us that we had just completed a quarter mile in 12.7 seconds at 117 miles per hour. Mind you, we don’t profess to be Don Garlits or Antron Brown, but high twelves in a perfectly streetable car is nothing to scoff at. And for those who like to turn left and right as well, the adjustable Bilsteins manage to keep the Shelby tracking flat through turns, with just a push of a dashboard-mounted button.
The exhaust note is one that is a basso version of the noise that comes from a Harley Davidson twin-V, except for the occasional pitch of the supercharger vanes under the ventilated hood.
Give it some juice and the sound rises to full chaotic tremors that shake the clothing that passersby are wearing. That’s what 662 horsepower and 631 lb-ft of torque do. The precise feel of the Tremec 6060 manual transmission seems to have improved over time. Perfectly spaced, and with a moderate throw, we banged through the gears as though we were regulars on the NHRA circuit.
In our own minds, at least, we were.
Why you would buy it:
Because it’s all about bragging rights, and this Shelby GT500 gives you lots to brag about.
Why you wouldn't:
Because you have been a Bowtie loyalist or Dodge boy since birth and see a change in favorites as bordering on sacrilege.
Leftlane's bottom line
Rough, unrefined, and full of compromises, the 2013 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 continues to be the go-to car for muscle car fanatics.
That is, unless the Dodge Challenger SRT392, or Camaro ZL1 are not your go-to cars already.
No matter how you slice it, it's still a great time to be a car guy or gal.
2013 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 base price, $54,200. As tested, $63,475.
SVT Performance Package, $3,495; Red Candy Metallic, $395; SVT Track Package, $2,995; Recaro seats, $1,505; Destination, $795.
Words and photos by Mark Elias.