Carroll Shelby and the Ford Mustang are knocking on immortality, and with age comes the wisdom to invent new variations of the classic pony car theme.
Ace snake charmer Shelby, who's eighty-six and still kicking, thrives by teaming with Ford's Special Vehicle Team (SVT) to scare interlopers off their hot coupe turf. Chevrolet Camaro, Dodge Challenger, and, yes, Hyundai Genesis coupe, stand back; there's a new GT500 in town, and the supercharger under its humped hood isn't for blowing smoke.
SVT was born in 1991 to spoil the debut of the fourth-generation Camaro. With and without Shelby as an accomplice, SVT has created some of the best performance models ever blessed with a blue oval. Now, following a long coffee break, the SVT gang is back on two feet - tending one car and one truck - and itching to kick asphalt.
The 2010 Shelby GT500 is the recently face-lifted Mustang armed with the Ford Motor Company's most powerful engine and comprehensive chassis, driveline, interior, and exterior modifications. A 5.4-liter DOHC V-8 similar to the engine that powered the late Ford GT delivers 540 hp at 6200 rpm - a 40-hp gain - thanks to the addition of knock sensors, a more efficient air intake, low-restriction mufflers, and fresh fuel and spark calibrations.
A dual-plate clutch, revised transmission ratios, and a shorter (3.55 replacing 3.31:1) final-drive ratio pass the newfound punch to nineteen-inch (up from eighteen-inch) Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar radials. Chassis alterations include stiffer springs, tighter damping, and a softer front antiroll bar. Steering compliance has been reduced, and there's a touch more power assistance.
The widest racing stripes in Christendom sweep back from a prominent fascia, over a rear spoiler augmented with a downforce-generating (Dan) Gurney flap, and between four-inch exhaust pipes. Forged Super Alloy aluminum wheels brighten the side view and showcase the (front only) Brembo four-piston brake calipers. The tuck-and-roll upholstery is also striped to a fare-thee-well. Metal dash plates are finished with a polka-dot pattern, and there are strategically positioned Alcantara grip patches in the steering wheel and seat bolsters.
Another round of tuning helps suppress the shortcomings of the rudimentary strut-front, live-axle-rear suspension system. Turn-in is linear, the Tokico gas-pressure dampers keep body motions in check, and the new tires provide tenacious grip with a surprisingly supple ride. But, compared with the new Camaro, this Shelby is a work in progress. Minimal road feel reaches the driver's fingers, and mixing hard cornering with heaves or bumps still spells trouble. When we negotiated quick left/right transitions at Infineon Raceway, the GT500 felt like it had bowling balls strapped to its roof, the result of an iron engine block piled high with heavy supercharging gear.