The rear axle behaves surprisingly well on a smooth road by obediently following the front end's lead until you get frisky with the throttle. When hammered by the full dint of engine torque during a sprint to the 155 mph speed limiter, the rear suspension is even more impressive. One lateral (Panhard rod) and three trailing links locate the axle securely without allowing windup, power hop, or the other hindrances some of us remember from our ill-spent drag-racing days.
Since there is no camber or toe change in back, you can burn rubber with this car more proficiently than the Goodyear factory's incinerator. With or without an aggressive clutch engagement, the rear tires melt in first gear on demand. Since this is a favorite pastime for the muscle car afflicted, O'Connell specified a driveline durability test requirement of 1000 drag-strip starts without cracks or failures.
Two launch modes are available. Switch off the traction control and modulate the throttle like a man, or let smart electronics minimize the wheel spin. With practice, you might be able to match the chips, but beating them is nigh impossible. Our best run hauled us to 60 mph in 4.9 seconds and through the quarter mile in 13.1 seconds at a heady 115 mph. No stock Cobra Jet could touch those figures. Nor could any Mustang built in 1968 match the Shelby GT500's 155 mph without shedding body parts or achieving flight.
Of course, there's a reason why few live axles have made the trip to the twenty-first century via automobile. Try as engineers might to make them behave, the unsprung weight issue eventually creeps out of its hiding place. The Shelby GT500 behaves while attacking smooth road courses, and it's a model of deportment on the drag strip, but one circumstance does hitch its stride: Steer smoothly into a fast bend, and all systems feel nicely poised until you encounter a significant heave in the road. When hundreds of pounds of unsprung mass are so excited, the rear axle momentarily loses track of what it was doing. There's a wonky feeling that must be addressed with steering corrections. Because of its Achilles' heel, the musclebound Mustang is unlikely to pose any serious threat to BMW's eminence.
Of course, the truly faithful don't give a hoot about unsprung weight or BMWs. In their eyes, the Shelby GT500 is the muscle car's second coming, a viable heir to the Ford GT's throne, and convincing evidence that SVT is here to stay. A few are putting their money where their heart lives by paying West Coast dealers $25,000 extra just to be first in line.
Their passion is understandable. The original muscle cars were one-trick ponies that ran out of options at the end of the quarter mile. This new one goes fast, stops well, corners hard enough to scare dates, and should be comfortable to live with on a daily basis. But best of all, the Ford Shelby GT500 makes Chevy and Dodge fans purple with envy.