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2007 Ford Mustang Shelby Cobra GT500

Don ShermanwriterAlex Pphotographer

Curb your loin arousal. Dealers won't sell you a Mustang like the one depicted here for at least seventeen months. As rumors predicted, the crutch propped under this racy red rump is the same old live axle stuck under Grandpa's Crown Vic. And forget about flipping ahead for driving impressions and test results-you'll find none. This birthday cake is still in Ford's engineering oven.

Now for the good news. The spectacular success of the 2005 Mustang has put Ford in a giddy mood. The suits invited Carroll Shelby to Dearborn for consultation. The result is the Ford Shelby Cobra GT500 on these pages, a faithful preview of a 450-plus-hp 2007 production model you'll be able to purchase in the fall of '06 for less than $40,000.

If you crave Corvette speed but need a back seat, you might consider switching allegiance to the blue oval. Before he cleaned out his desk early this year, John Coletti and his loyal SVT coconspirators conjured up the makings of a Stingray spoiler: the revitalized Mustang muscled up with fatter rubber, bigger brakes, aero accessories, and a totally irresponsible load of horsepower. Shelby spent five hours riding Coletti's mule before filing this succinct assessment: "Wow!"

With eighty-two years under his hat, Shel has seen and done it all. When he says "Wow!" it's not because his bursitis is flaring up.

The Shelby tie-in is perfect, because this is another ride back to the glory days of Ford's Total Performance period. Ford's 1962-70 juggernaut left burned-rubber traces all over the drag, road-course, off-road, rally, stock-car, Indy-car, and Formula 1 racing worlds. In June 1962, Ford said "Screw you!" (in so many words) to the Automobile Manufacturers Association's ban on factory motorsports participation. Agents were dispatched to buy Ferrari; when that initiative failed, Ford signed a blank check to beat the Scuderia at Le Mans with the GT40 and its derivatives.

Shelby was equally low on Enzo Ferrari's Christmas-card list in the early 1960s. After being rebuked by GM, Shelby in 1961 asked Ford to supply engines for his Cobra sports cars. Four years later, he returned the favor by removing the back seats from Ford Mustangs to convince the Sports Car Club of America that the cars deserved eligibility in the club's B Production ranks. Three dozen R-model Shelby GT350s built with Ford's blessing gave amateur racers the ammunition necessary to break Corvette's lock on the B Production championship. The Ford-Shelby courtship also yielded an interesting run of steroidal Mustangs for street use. The second car in that series was the 1967 Shelby-Mustang GT500 fastback, powered by a 7.0-liter big-block V-8 that inhaled through two Holley four-barrel carburetors to produce 355 (gross) hp.

Forty years later, it's dj vu all over again. Ford and Shelby are still doing deals. The new Mustang is striped and spoilered as a salute to its illustrious forefathers. This time, the cast-iron block under the hood is gorged with double overhead cams, thirty-two valves, and an Eaton supercharger. And that old live axle is back for another dance.

Dolled up for this spring's New York auto show, the nuevo GT500 follows '60s-era recipes to the letter. It's the classic big engine stuffed into a barely modified standard car. Suspension alterations are mainly tuning tweaks. The only sheetmetal change is an aluminum hood bulked up like a football captain on prom night. According to Hau Thai-Tang, Ford's new director of advanced product creation and SVT programs, this project is the first tangible evidence of SVT's revised game plan. Instead of well-meaning but ultimately half-finished attempts to reinvent the high-performance automobile, SVT hereafter will focus on more circumspect alterations of mainstream products delivered with a significantly higher level of execution.

Even though SVT's leash is tighter, the new GT500 is a credible step beyond the last Mustang Cobra (2003-04). That 390-hp snake had a 4.6-liter four-cam V-8 at the core, whereas the new Shelby edition moves to the 5.4-liter block that powers the Ford GT and various large trucks. Mixing and matching parts, the GT500's powerplant gets the Eaton Lysholm screw-type supercharger, air-to-water intercooler, and four-valve DOHC heads from the Ford GT mated to the iron block found in the workaday trucks. As the result of a stroke that's 17 percent larger than the bore, this engine will be a growler, not a screamer; the redline on the show car's tach is stuck at the standard Mustang's 6000 rpm.

While the engineers are still tuning, expectations are that the 500 badge won't be that boastful. Today's spec sheet lists "450-plus" hp with 450 lb-ft of torque and 8.5 psi of boost (versus the 550-hp Ford GT's 12.0 psi). Don't be surprised if market conditions nudge the final figure upward. Backing up the blown motor is a wide-ratio Tremec T-56 transmission with six forward gears-two of which are overdrive ratios. (Standard and GT Mustangs currently get by with five-speed manual transmissions.)

Exterior alterations are more than two-tone frosting on the GT500's fortieth birthday cake. Chief designer Doug Gaffka re-beveled the grille opening, lowered the driving lights, and sent the horsey badge galloping. New twin apertures, filled with black diamond mesh and a side snake, mouth the appropriate "Outta the way, sucker!" visual statement. Two slots in the hood exhaust some of the air rammed through the intercooler, radiator, and A/C condenser heat exchangers. A discreet black splitter at the lower edge of the front fascia helps cancel high-speed lift. The black-skirt theme continues down the sides of the car and across the tail in a simulated diffuser panel. While the side and rear trim are nonfunctional, the requisite trunk-lid spoiler does cancel some of the aerodynamic lift at the rear. All four views of the exterior show a hissing snake, and the Shelby name is writ conspicuously across the trailing edge of the trunk lid in racetrack typeface. SVT identification is relegated to the wheel-center caps.

Patterned after the Ford GT's forged-aluminum wheels, the cast rims that adorn the GT500 concept are a meaty 9.5 inches wide. Goodyear Eagle F1 rubber in a 255/40YR-19 size plants a tread approximately 0.4 inch wider than the standard Mustang's seventeen-inch four-season radials. Expect eighteens on the '07, with nineteens optional. Neither will be enough; count on billowing white smoke trailing the GT500's every move.

When that cloud clears, there's a nice view of the upgraded braking equipment through the machined wheel spokes. Black-painted Brembo calipers-with four pistons in front, two in back-hug cross-drilled and radially vented brake rotors. The gain in rotor diameter is a substantial 1.6 inches in front (to 14 inches) and 1.5 inches in back (to 13 inches). Suspension changes, which currently are under development, likely will be limited to recalibrated springs and dampers, though preliminary specifications also list a stiffer rear antiroll bar. While we're skeptical about this much power delivered via a live rear axle, a race-prepped 2005 Mustang did win its Grand-Am Cup class at Daytona in February. Electronic traction control will continue (with a disabling switch), but there are no plans to add stability assistance.

The show car's interior theme can be summed up in one word: leather. The standard Mustang's molded-plastic surfaces are swathed by an uninterrupted layer of stitched black hide. It trims the door panels, steering wheel, shifter, parking-brake handle, dash top, and console. The seat center panels are red perforated leather in the classic tuck-and-roll motif. A matte-aluminum finish for the shift knob, steering-wheel spokes, instrument rings, and vent registers replaces the standard Mustang's blindingly bright metal decor. Metal trim plates running across the middle of the dash are subdued with a black-dot pattern, while the gauge faces-which Ford calls titanium-look pitch black to us. The 7000-rpm tachometer was moved from the left to the right tube to enhance its visibility.

Predicting how much of this hide and horsepower will make the leap to production is a fool's game right now. However, this much we can say: With the weight gain held to 200 pounds and the power curve clearing the 470-hp hurdle, the GT500 could arrive with a Corvette-trumping power-to-weight ratio. Carroll Shelby wouldn't have it any other way.