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The Baddest Stang meets a Badder Ram

I recently got my hands on a GT500 and decided to use it in its rightful element: the drag strip.

At first glance, it would seem that the Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 is a car that’s all about the numbers, with the most prominent one being the “500” that’s emblazoned on its flanks. That’s 500 horsepower, or at least an approximation thereof. Not that I really doubt that this thing is pushing that much power, but it’s interesting that the initial horsepower target was more like 450, and Ford kept revising it up and up until the magic number was attained. Looking through the GT500’s owner’s manual (an activity you resort to when you’re stuck in line at a drag strip, which I’ll elaborate on in a moment), the spec page on the engine rates it at 485 horsepower. In any event, it’s more than enough.

I recently got my hands on a GT500 and decided to use it in its rightful element: the drag strip. Also, I am an attention *** and knew that bringing this particular car to New England Dragway in Epping, New Hampshire, would be akin to showing up at an anime convention in a Skyline.

At the drag strip, I made a surprising discovery: This car isn’t about the numbers, at least as far as quarter-mile times go. It all comes down to the tires, or lack thereof. To channel Wooderson in Dazed and Confused for a moment, the GT500 got no shoes. The 285-section width rubber out back is utterly, horribly overmatched by Captain Insano under the hood. For comparison, the other two domestics cars in the 500-horsepower club, the Corvette Z06 and Dodge Viper, have 335- and 345-width rear tires, respectively. That’s about two more inches of rubber, per tire. Most reviewers of the GT500 have seemed surprised that the mightiest Mustang doesn’t post a better 0-60 time (4.5-4.9 seconds), and most of the blame has been placed on its near two-ton weight. I point the finger at those tires, because off the line the GT500 can’t use its full power any more than a 300-horse front-driver could.

Prior to my first run down the strip, I talked to a Camaro driver about the track and launch technique. “The track’s nice and grippy,” he said. “I let the clutch out and then I was able to floor it and it hooked right up… Then again, I’ve only got 330 horsepower.” Still, I figure I’d try Camaro Guy’s technique and see what happens.

Here’s what happens: I let the clutch out at low revs and then roll quickly onto full throttle. The GT500 pulls smartly away for a split second, and then the beast awakens. The boost needle flies to the right, the blower shrieks, and an unholy amount of power annihilates forward progress in a puff of tire smoke and a shudder of axle tramp. I give up and grab second gear, the car squats on its suspension and… déjà vu. Suddenly I’m countersteering at about 40 mph, at a 20-degree angle to the track, the rear end again shaking like a Polaroid picture. Did I mention that I turned off traction control, since I figured I’m much more capable than a silly launch-control algorithm? I did, and, as it turns out, I’m not.

I ended up with a downright ludicrous time slip: 15.5 seconds… at 106 mph. That time and that trap speed tell you a lot about the Mustang GT500’s power and the usefulness thereof. To be fair, it was a cool night-good for horsepower, bad for traction-but;dayumn if this thing isn’t the biggest handful on the road right now. I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that a fair number of GT500s are going to end up on WreckedExotics.com, most of them spun off the road backwards to the tune of supercharger shriek and wailing tires.

And yet, I don’t think the GT500’s hoary nature is necessarily a bad thing. Serious drag-racers will fit proper tires and knock a half-second off the best published times you’ve seen. And everyone else will get to revel in the idea that their car requires a delicate touch, because it’s simply too much of an animal in the first two gears. They’ll take friends for rides and say, “Watch this,” before mashing the throttle in second gear and hurtling forward while the;arse end fishtails. The GT500 driving experience feels more like a 454 Chevelle with skinny Red Lines on the back than a modern high-performance sports car. The fact that the traction control allows you to indulge in your 60’s Woodward Ave. wheelspin fantasies while keeping a safety net in the background is fantastic.

Anyway, near the end of the night I got a lesson in why you should never bet money at a drag strip. Lined up next to the Mustang was a Dodge Ram Cummins diesel 4×4. Extended cab. Huge 33-inch tires. It looked like it should have a snow plow, or at least naked-lady mud flaps. The ‘Stang made this run with traction control on, and thus launching as hard as conditions allowed. One of these two vehicles ran a 12.8-second quarter at 105 mph. It was not the GT500.

Click here for video of the run.

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