I knew it would happen, just not when.
Blasting through the winding mountain pass an hour outside Las Vegas, let’s just say I hit “extra-legal” speeds in the cherry red 2020 Shelby GT500. Significantly extra-legal. Lucky for me, I’d already slowed down to, oh, maybe 20 over by the time I was back on straight and level ground and spotted the cruiser heading in my direction. His radar gun, of course, had already tagged the pony car and his light bar lit up like a Christmas tree. But it stayed on for just a few seconds as he kept on going. A warning and a reprieve.
Let’s face it: when you have 760 horsepower at the beck and call of your right foot, it takes work to keep things legal. Luckily, I was about to spend the rest of the day at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, splitting time between the sprawling venue’s dragstrip and its long road course.
The 2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 is the latest in a long line of performance cars to bear the snake logo of the legendary Carroll Shelby. It’s been a full half century since the first hit the road and one can only marvel at how far things have come since then.
The original GT500 was a remarkable product for its time – but, like the other muscle cars of its era, it was designed primarily for straight-line acceleration. As the old model Ford had on hand last week reminded me, those willing to strap themselves into the driver’s seat on a race track needed to make sure their life and medical insurance policies were paid in full.
A lot has happened in recent years. These days, muscle cars have grown both more powerful and more tame. For most owners, the familiar Mustang GT is an everyday driver that just happens to punch out as much as 480 horsepower. So, it’s no surprise that there’s plenty of demand for still more power. And Ford has been only too happy to deliver.
Earlier this year, we got a first look at the latest-generation Mustang GT350 and, for serious track enthusiasts, the GT350R. If that pair isn’t extreme enough, it’s now set to deliver an all-new version of the ultimate pony car, the Shelby GT500.
A first look gives you a good clue of what’s in store. Aerodynamics were essential to the project. “It was all about making the car slippery, fast, agile,” said Melvin Betancourt, the chief designer. Add “cooling” to that list, he stressed last January.
When we got our first look at the Shelby GT500 last winter, the Mustang team made a point of emphasizing all the work they’ve done to keep that powertrain cooled, meanwhile. To that effect, start with the front end which is completely new from the A-pillar forward. You realize the extent of the changes nose-on, where the openings have been doubled in size compared to the GT350 to bring air into the engine and six radiators.
That powertrain is an absolutely beast, its 5.2-liter V-8 punching out a neck-snapping 760 horsepower and 625 pound-feet of torque. Much of the credit goes to the big Eaton supercharger bolted into the “V” at the top of the engine. To add a little perspective, the blower itself displaces 2.65 liters, more than the displacement of the inline-four offered on a base version of the Mustang.
One of the advantages of supercharging is the way power comes on all but instantaneously, something you really get to understand on a drag strip.
Back on level ground at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, I slowly creep into position, using the special “snake” button the steering wheel to put the GT500 into “Line Lock” mode. This locks up the front brakes and lets me rev the engine to redline, spinning the back tires until a wall of black smoke fills the air. The Mustang creeps forward once more until the blue light on the track’s tree lights up. A momentary pause to shift to Launch Control and rev the engine up to 1,500 RPMs, what the track crew thinks will give me the best traction on this cool morning.
As the lights flash yellow, then green, I lift the brake and, with the pedal to the metal, launch down the strip. By the time I’ve shot through the traps at the quarter-mile mark the GT500 has topped 130. My best time after four runs: 11.116 seconds. And I’m no wiz on the dragstrip. By the end of the day, some of my colleagues will clock times in the 10.8 second range.
If you don’t have ready access to a drag strip, consider these numbers: Ford says you’ll sprint from 0 to 60 in 3.3 seconds and can launch from 0 to 100 and back to a full stop in 10.6 seconds.
Credit goes to more than just the supercharged V-8, of course.
For one thing, the engine is bolted to an all-new Tremec seven-speed double-clutch gearbox. Sure, there will be some folks disappointed by not being able to row their own transmission. They can rely on the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters, of course, but they’d have a hard time keeping up. The DCT can handle shifts in as little as 80 milliseconds – less than the time it takes to get a clutch pedal fully depressed, notes Mustang Chief Engineer Carl Widmer.
Other pluses: massive 16.53-inch front rotors on the Shelby’s Brembo brakes, as well as Michelin Pilot Sport 4S rubber on the “base” GT500. Opt for the Carbon Fiber Track Package and you get Michelin Pilot Cup 2 tires. The package also offers an adjustable carbon fiber rear wing and a variety of other composite components. Another way Ford reduces mass on the track package is by deleting the rear seat.
As with the Mustang in general, though, what’s particularly impressive is how the GT500 feels just as comfortable on a road track as it does the drag strip.
Here we switch the Driver’s Mode setting to, appropriately, Track, which limits all the nanny control settings, tightens down steering and the Shelby’s Magneride suspension, and eliminates restrictions on its exhaust system.
Like a four-legged Mustang, it’s off in a flash. And the ride is exhilarating. There’s no need to fight this pony. Steering is precise and predictable. If you’re adventurous enough, you can let the tail slide out a bit, but the Shelby will point precisely where you want it to.
Lap after lap, as my comfort level grows, I go deeper into each corner before applying the brakes. And, lap after lap, they give no sign of fade.
After my allotted run, I pull back into the bits and check the track gauge to see how well I have done. One indication is the fact that I have clocked a peak 1.40 Gs of lateral force without ever pushing the car’s limits.
The question, for those who’ll like at the GT500 with envy is whether it will push the limits of your bank account. You can order one of the 2020 models up at a starting price of $73,995 – before adding in delivery fees. That track package, however, will set you back another $18,000. If you’ve really got deep pockets, add the 12-speaker B&O premium audio system, the $10,000 “Over the Top” racing stripes, the blind-spot detection system and, surprise, you’ve got a six-figure Mustang.
Worth it? For most buyers, the familiar Mustang GT will be more than enough, and the new GT350 is a pretty impressive package, itself. But for those who want to take their pony car to the absolute limits, the 2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 is going to be the one to take aim at.