Let’s get the obvious out of the way: 200 mph is an absurd number. Jet airliners take off and land at slower speeds. 200 mph is twice as fast as most Americans will ever drive, and it requires twenty-five times the power needed to go 60 mph. The staff of this magazine has driven some of the fastest, most exotic cars in the world, and yet only two of us — European bureau chief Georg Kacher and contributor Ezra Dyer — have driven 200 mph.
The 2013 Ford Shelby GT500 can do 200 mph. Yes, that’s right. We now have a 200-mph Mustang. By deductive reasoning, the Shelby is absurd. And it’s surprising, since the GT500 appears just as we were thinking Ford had gone all yuppie with the Boss 302 — the impressively multidimensional Mustang that’s so well-rounded it could conceivably find its way into the garage of a BMW owner.
The GT500, on the other hand, has one purpose: to go fast. The Shelby can hit 60 mph in 3.7 seconds and blow through the quarter-mile in 11.7 seconds at 125 mph, and it’s got the most powerful series-production V-8 ever. Yep, the 2013 Shelby GT500 is the biggest, baddest bragging machine this side of a Chevy Corvette ZR1 or an SRT Viper — especially since it costs less than either and has more horsepower than both.
The outcome of a twenty-month development project, the GT500 was engineered to meet three main developmental targets: 650 hp, 600 lb-ft of torque, and a 200-mph top speed. Ford’s SVT team overachieved on the first two, reaching an SAE-certified 662 hp and 631 lb-ft of torque on premium fuel. To get to that number, the aluminum GT500 block was bored out from 5.4 to 5.8 liters. A larger supercharger (2.3 liters versus 2.0), driven more quickly (2.64 times crankshaft speed versus 2.33:1) and allowed to sustain higher boost pressures (14 psi versus 9), was bolted on. The V-8 has a bigger intercooler and got high-lift cams from the Ford GT supercar, and it uses a higher-capacity oiling system — including piston squirters recently removed from the 5.0 Mustang — to help keep all the metal in a solid state.
Another program requirement was to continue to avoid the gas guzzler tax, which seems ridiculous on a car with 662 hp. Then again, who wants to send a thousand bucks to the IRS when you can spend it instead at the Chevron station? To that end, SVT increased the compression ratio from 8.4:1 to 9.0:1, ditched the center driveshaft bearing, and installed gearing so long that it feels like the tachometer is only reading half of the cylinders — try to hit 2000 rpm in top gear and you’ll be at triple digits. As a result, the EPA highway rating has crept up 1 mpg despite the extra 122 hp.
Unfortunately, the fun factor crept down a chunk, too, thanks to those tall gears. Fans of frequent shifting won’t love the GT500 — you could easily survive using just two of this Mustang’s gears: first gear for around town, second for highway. First gear is good for 62 mph — a ratio chosen to eliminate a time-consuming shift on the mostly wheelspin-free 0-to-60-mph run. Second gear takes you to 95 mph. You can reach more than 130 mph in third at 7000 rpm, the GT500’s lofty new redline.
Seven grand from a huge stroker of an V-8 means piston speeds approaching those of a NASCAR engine, so all of the rotating masses are forged for lightness. And strength: at maximum load, the supercharger takes some 150 hp to run, so the engine block is actually supporting more than 800 horsepower. The high revs and enormous power output come with a corresponding buildup of heat, and for that reason the GT500’s engine can be revved past 6250 rpm for only eight seconds at a time. Each second spent over 6250 rpm must be redeemed with a second under 6000. If the full eight seconds are used up, the engine computer will lock out the overrev function until the engine has been under six grand for fifteen seconds and has ventured once under 5000 rpm.
Since the 662-hp rating occurs within this overrev band, you can technically have all 662 hp only for eight seconds at time. That would be a problem except that the only gear in which you’d be able to exceed 6250 rpm for more than eight seconds would be fourth while going uphill — as you approach the shift point into fifth at 173 mph. The GT500’s top speed is reached in fifth just below the 6250-rpm limit. In other words, the eight-second limit is irrelevant.
In order to prevent the Mustang’s driveshaft from literally vibrating itself apart at the high rotational speeds (more than 8000 rpm) it experiences at 200 mph, SVT replaced the old two-piece steel unit and with a one-piece design made from twelve layers of carbon fiber. Not only does the new tube tolerate 3500 lb-ft versus the old one’s 2250, it weighs 14.4 pounds less. And, get this: even with CV joints at each end to lessen NVH, the carbon driveshaft costs less than the old steel one. This might be the world’s first use of carbon fiber for cost savings.
The last GT500 was electronically limited to 155 mph, but were it set free, it would have topped out between 175 and 180 mph. To hit 200 (reasonably) safely, the SVT team revised the Shelby’s aerodynamics, achieving a slight reduction in overall drag with a considerable reduction in front-end lift. To ensure that the engine receives maximum cooling, the Shelby survives without a radiator grille. Sometimes, that makes it look extra menacing. At other times, it looks like the Ford sustained an injury while punting a Prius out of the fast lane.
The GT500’s suspension has been thoroughly revised, and models equipped with the performance package include two-mode adaptive Bilstein dampers that provide a compliant ride even in their firm mode. The package also replaces the standard clutch-type limited-slip differential with a Torsen unit that Ford found to be more consistent on track. A track package goes one step farther with coolers for the diff, engine oil, and transmission.
SVT engineers assured us that the extra coolers are only necessary for serious track use — for which the GT500’s 15.8-gallon fuel tank might be slightly undersized. On a road course, the monster V-8 will suck the tank dry in just over twenty minutes. If that seems fast, then ponder this: at top speed, the upgraded injectors will spray enough fuel into the cylinders to empty the tank in just thirteen minutes.
Make that thirteen very hard-core minutes. From behind the wheel, there’s nothing delicate about the GT500 — each and every one of the controls is heavy, and despite the addition of an over-center spring, the clutch pedal is monumentally stiff. The shifter is slightly lighter than before thanks to longer throws, but it still requires a hefty shove, and the robust six-speed manual gearbox penalizes rushed shifts with a grind.
The Recaro seats are comfortable and extra-grippy, thanks to new Alcantara bolsters, but the Shelby’s interior is dominated by the sound of the engine — it’s as if the NVH experts at Ford added in an extra dose of each, all of them rough, gruff, hoary, and tough. The GT500’s shifter vibrates in your hand, and the engine’s immense mechanical noise is drowned out by a thunderous roar from the quad exhaust tips. Even when you’re cruising on the highway in top gear, with the engine barely above idle, the booming exhaust note means you won’t forget what this car is capable of.
What the GT500 is capable of is 200 mph for $55,000. In that regard, it’s unquestionably in a class of one. Ford feels that the Shelby GT500 doesn’t compete in any way with the Boss 302, despite the fact that they’re both Mustangs. We agree, because as sophisticated and well-rounded as the Boss is, the GT500 is equally muscle-car brash. It’s neither rewarding nor particularly involving, but it’s unbelievably fast. If cheap speed is your thing, boy, does Ford have a Mustang for you.
Surprisingly, we liked the convertible better, even though it’s limited to 155 mph, because with the top down you can clearly hear the supercharger screaming, and the brutal exhaust note combines with the rushing wind to mute all of the engine’s harshness. Best of all, the droptop’s dramatically softer suspension allows the big Mustang’s front end to rear up under acceleration, which makes the GT500 feel even faster and more extreme. Let’s be honest — you’re not going to drive a car with a live rear axle at 200 mph. We certainly didn’t. So get the convertible, lower the top, press the button to put the shocks in soft mode, and go a summer evening cruise in the fastest car in town.
2013 Ford Shelby GT500
ENGINE 32-valve DOHC V-8
DISPLACEMENT 5.8 liters (355 cu in)
HORSEPOWER 662 hp @ 6500 rpm
TORQUE 631 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm
TRANSMISSION 6-speed manual
STEERING Electrically assisted
SUSPENSION, FRONT Strut-type, coil springs
SUSPENSION, REAR Live axle, coil springs
BRAKES Vented discs, ABS
TIRES Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar G:2
TIRE SIZE F,R 265/40 YR19, 285/35 YR20
L x W x H 188.2 x 73.9 x 54.8
TRACK F/R 61.9 / 62.5 in
WEIGHT 3852 lb (mfr)
EPA MILEAGE 15/24 mpg
0-60 MPH 3.7 sec (mfr. est.)
TOP SPEED 200 mph (mfr. est.)