First Drive: 2019 Shelby GT
Same nameplate, same memories
Sometime during the spring of my junior year, I arrived early to my high school one Monday morning to find a Vista Blue Shelby GT sitting parallel to the front door. It was gala season, and event organizers had finagled a way to raffle the then-new 2008 Shelby GT, hood pins and all. It ended up going to the band teacher, who actually decided to opt for the $35,000 check on offer instead.
Even after the blue coupe was trailered back to the dealer, the Shelby GT persisted in my life. An acquaintance from my former school, located right down the street, muscled his way to class every morning in his Shelby. I've driven faster, louder, rarer, and sexier Mustangs, but Shelby GT SN197 endures in my memories.
Four states, two colleges, and more than a decade later, I get my chance at a Shelby GT. Only this time it's a brand new model from the Las Vegas-located company, based on the 2019 Ford Mustang GT. Officially launched earlier this year at the Woodward Dream Cruise, I got a short stint in California before the public debut.
Same hero, different super suit. Given the brand's long history, it feels odd to call the 2008 GT the "original," but there wasn't a prior Shelby package that fits in the same category. Instead of focusing on block-busting, head-warping power figures, the O.G. Shelby GT was more of a Mustang GT "Plus", incorporating usable performance upgrades without threatening the reign of Ford's big-boy Mustang GT500. The 24-valve 4.6-liter V-8 breathed easier through a revised intake and louder exhaust that protruded out back beneath a modified rear bumper, pushing horsepower from 300 to 319. No gaudy, overcompensating ground-effect kit here-the upgraded bumper and clean front grille were improvements over stock, as was the hood and aforementioned hood pins. Shelby even tore off the rear spoiler in favor of a smooth decklid.
Chrome five-spoke Torq-Thrust style wheels filled the wells, complementing the lowered profile that was dropped 1.5-inches thanks to Ford Racing dampers and springs. Inside, a cue-ball shifter managed the five-speed transmission, sending power to an upgraded ratio in the rear, now with a 3.55 gearset.
I only go into such excruciating detail on the bygone Shelby GT to best frame the new one. I have a sneaking suspicion without the proper introduction, it's easy to miss the point of the 2019 package, especially if you're caught up in the crossfire of the ongoing horsepower war.
Just like the old one was built on the bones of the contemporary Mustang GT, this package is available for the present generation. Not much is done to the 5.0-liter Coyote V-8 aside from a less-restrictive Borla cat-back exhaust, but that's enough to boost power by 20, to 480 hp. The stock exhaust already possessed a caramel-smooth rumble, so you can imagine the Borla opens things up a little more.
Aesthetically, changes are subtle, restricted to an upgraded front fascia, new wheels, side skirts, and requisite stripes running the length of the car. In person, this is a marked improvement on the downward scowl of the regular GT, especially with the GT350-esque lower portion. Inside, each Shelby GT is outfitted with a full branding kit, extending to the dash and the headrests.
Most of my seat time was in a gold-over-white drop-top, equipped with the 10-speed automatic transmission, trickling through less-colorful traffic to meet up with Shelby's photo crew in Malibu, which was hard at work capturing the gold-over-black GT-H coupe for the car's impending debut.
Even playing the role of rumbly, easy coastline cruiser, there's an appreciable separation from the bog-standard GT platform. It's a hefty car, both in size and on the scale, but it features neutral handling, even in the spandex-tight canyon roads overlooking Malibu. The wide 20-inch wheels and tires help scrub any wandering from the rear end, while Ford Performance springs and sway bars reduce roll.
Here's the clinch point: you'll pay $61,345 to park this car in your garage. In an age where $65,000 nets you a wrapper-fresh 707-hp Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat, that's a tall order. However, consider Ford's newly minted Bullitt Mustang. Like the Shelby GT, that Highland Green coupe serves as a semi-reserved aesthetic package for the Mustang, incorporating only minor changes to create a noticeably different experience. While Ford stickers the Bullitt at $47,590, you'd have to have the detective skills of Frank Bullitt himself to track down one for MSRP—think a minimum figure closer to $55,000.
The same goes for the mighty GT350, and while that's on a different performance level, the Shelby GT is much more usable day-to-day. If you do have a hankering for more guts, Shelby promises us an optional supercharger kit is on its way, boosting horsepower up to 700. Look at it this way: the Shelby GT might not have the cache of the forthcoming GT500, but you can enjoy it now, and get really wild down the road.