The 2013 Ford Shelby GT5000
Sorry, Ford, but your precious 200 mph boast couldn't matter less when the GT500 has only 1320 feet to make a statement. Which is not to say that it can't.
The scene begins in the water box. Turn off stability and traction control, and roll the car over recently hosed-down pavement until the rear tires are sitting in a shallow puddle of water. Right foot revving the engine, left foot comes off the clutch and touches the brakes. The rear tires break loose, spin and smoke, but the GT500 sits still, like a dragster with a front-brake line lock. There's only billowing white smoke and a perfectly poised, immobile car.
The scene continues, rear tires roasted, when the car creeps forward so quietly you'd think you were driving a hybrid. Pre-staged, it's time to enable the Shelby's launch control system, which is extremely simple. Turn stability and traction control back on, then press the little button to the left of the steering wheel marked "LC", and presto. Then just choose launch rpm and crawl forward to stage. Both feet are flat to the floor until you're ready to take off.
Up to this point, the GT500 has been as easy and as uneventful to drive as its tame competitor. The mise en scene is quite similar, but something feels much different. The green light pops on, the GT500 has a sudden mood change and is no longer as sane as it first seemed, and the scene completely morphs.
The 662-hp, 5.8-liter V-8 with a 2.3-liter supercharger on top screams and whines like a demonic toddler having a meltdown. The rear end starts to kick out, quelled by slight steering adjustments to keep the car's nose pointed dead ahead. The needle on the tach climbs as the car claws against the strip and begins its charge towards the finish line. And just when you've stopped worrying about getting the 3852-lb behemoth under control, you start worrying about shifting to second.
Unlike the ZL1, the GT500 can be had only with a six-speed manual transmission. It's a Tremec TR6060 as well, but the transmission in the Ford couldn't feel more different from the Chevy's. Shift action is shorter and tighter, and the gates are so close they feel like they're sitting on top of each other. Then there are the gear ratios. You can run an all-out quarter-mile in the GT500 using only three gears, but it takes four in the ZL1. The less shifting you have to do in the Ford, the better. The clutch pedal is very heavy, has a lot of travel, and is difficult to push all the way to the firewall. And if you tried the ZL1's "no-lift shift" technique in the Ford, you'd rip the body-mounted linkage right out of the transmission tunnel.
Quickly and successfully choose second gear with an old-fashioned yank, though, and the GT500 rewards you with terrifying straight-line speed. It's so fast that you start thinking the six-piston front brake calipers won't slow the car enough for it to exit the strip. Then comes third gear, which feels like it's in the same position as first, and you stay in it for the rest of the run. You cross the finish line -- in less time than it takes to tie your shoes -- and immediately get on the brakes. If you're brave, you can look down at the speedometer to see the needle start its descent from well over 100 mph.
The car slows down in plenty of time to avoid powersliding through the strip's exit, and it's a calm drive back to the staging lanes. And all the way back, you can't help but wonder how a driving experience so visceral and entertaining could come from this car, now as poised and sane as it was before the run. The scene ends. The Shelby has made its statement.
Hoods up, back in the pits
The ZL1 did its best pass in 12.38 seconds at 114.5 mph, while the GT500 turned the quarter-mile in 11.78 seconds at 125 mph. So there you have it, Ford beats Chevy. But like we said, drag racing is about more than time slips.
Chevrolet made a modern-in-every-way pony car, and Ford built something with the character of an old-school muscle car, overlaid with track-focused technology. The two have very distinct, individual ways of making it down the strip, but the common thread between the two is gratification. Every single pass in the GT500 and ZL1 was a ball, and was so involving that we couldn't care less about our time slips. Sure, we were happy to be turning times less than a second off those that require a full roll cage, but we cared more about soaking up every second we could with these two.
Everyone at Milan Dragway felt the attraction as well. Ford guys loved the look of the ZL1, the GT500's sub-12 second runs blew Chevy guys away, and everyone agreed that both cars are sensational. And since both cars have a base price of $54,995, there was much debate over which car was more of a steal. What surprised us was the ease with which Chevy and Ford guys admitted that. Warring factions of people finally fessing up to the fact that the other side can do something right -- that's pretty cool.