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King Snake

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On: Mon, Jul 12, 2010 at 10:47AM | By: Lou Ruggieri

King Snake

The Ford Shelby GT500 is a car that has garnered about as variable a reaction as any one car could receive. Corvette guys will say the Shelby is overweight. Camaro guys will say the GT500 can't handle. German fans will just laugh at anything that doesn't have an independent rear. Italians will go into a fit of rage about any car that wants to be a Grand Tourer that doesn't come from the red, white, and green; quite honestly, up until 2011, all previous iterations of the GT500 did fit into most of those stereotypes. The 2007-2010 models were full of power, but they were also full figured (and not in the places you'd like the weight to be). But the 2011 Shelby has put almost all of those naysayers to rest. Almost.

The newest version of the old favorite is the fastest, most powerful mass-produced Mustang ever. Go back as far as you like—1965, 1968, 1969, 1995, 2000, 2003, doesn't matter. Even many of the mighty tuner cars this side of a Saleen S7 (which doesn't count as a Mustang, anyway) can't compare to the GT500. You won't find a production Ford pony car with better numbers than 0-60 in 4.1 seconds, 0-100 in 9.1 seconds, and a standing 1/4 mile in 12.4@117mph. Go look, we'll wait ...


... See? This car is a beast.

Like we said, the newest version of the last living Shelby shuns almost all of its previous knocks. Almost. The biggest improvement is in the weight department. The GT500 won't be mistaken for a Lotus Elise anytime soon, but it did drop weight where it counts most: Over the front axle. Of the 146 pounds the GT500 lost from last year's model, by upgrading its 5.4 supercharged DOHC V8 to an aluminum block instead of the iron anvil it replaces, the engine alone drops 102 pounds off the front end. That lighter motor also puts down a staggering 550 horsepower (a ten pony boost over last year) and the same, yet still impressive 510 lb-ft of torque albeit at 250 rpm lower than the 2010.

The issue of handling has been addressed with the addition, specifically, of the SVT Performance package option, though we wonder how a muscle car that has a base price of 50 grand could really ask for an extra $3500 to make it perform better than it already should at that price. But there is almost no way not to get the SVT package, which adds in 20% stiffer front springs, 10% stiffer rear springs, larger 19-inch front and 20-inch rear aluminum rims, a shorter 3.73:1 rear end, and upgraded Eagle F1 G:2 Supercar tires. The only other perk of the package are the obligatory racing stripes, differentiated by their thinner width than the base GT500, for those that really want to prove they spent just a bit more on their Mustang.

All of the suspension tuning pays off, however (relatively speaking), on the track to the tune (pardon the pun) of 1.00g on the skidpad, which is about as good as you can get. That beats some pretty impressive competition including everything from GM short of a Z06 and a ZR-1. Only the now defunct Viper can match it from Chrysler, and even beats the might German super stud M3. The one issue that has not been resolved is the rear end. This is where the GT500 starts to develop an identity crisis. When the 2003-2004 SVT Mustang Cobra (the predecessor to the GT500) came out, it actually had an independent rear end. This, in theory, seemed like a huge upgrade to the pony car, but Mustang faithful stayed true to form and raced the supercharged beast so much they were actually breaking the independent rear ends and, consequently, actually retrofitting solid axle rears to handle all the power at the dragstrip.

Ford should be given credit for realizing this and listening to the demand of their loyal customers, but it is the one Achilles Heel of this very impressive Mustang. Anyone who has driven a car with a solid axle and then an independent rear will notice the difference almost immediately. If they don't, a large bump in a fast corner will wake them up to the difference real quick. So, for all its advancements, the GT500 remains stuck in the purgatory of performance cars. It isn't a true Grand Turismo, because of its very prominent muscle car roots. Yet at the same time, yet at 50+ thousand dollars, it can't qualify as a fun Pony Car anymore, and at that price is playing in the Corvette, M3, IS-F category. Perhaps if GM comes out with the rumored Z28, the GT500 will have more of an identity with a direct competitor.

It is no surprise that the 2011 Shelby GT500 gets mixed reactions everywhere it goes. Some just think it's a hopped-up Mustang, and yet others herald it as the ultimate Ford prize fighter since the Ford GT, and still others see it as a great car that has yet to find its true place in the automotive ranks. The irony is that all of these reactions are very valid and, for the most part, completely accurate. The one place that the 2011 GT500 does belong, however, is on the street. So the next time you're at a traffic light and make the mistake of thinking that the you're going to smoke that very subdued and understated Mustang next to you, don't be too surprised if it roars off with a 550 horsepower blower whine and leaves you slack jawed and embarrassed. The GT500 elicits a lot of reactions, but the one it demands, and deserves, is respect.

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