Ford certainly raised the ante with the production of the Mustang Shelby GT500 that snarls at the competition with 760 horsepower and crosses into supercar territory with aplomb. Demonstrating it’s a menace whether it’s at the drag strip, pegging the apexes on a road course or terrorizing the youngbloods at the corner stoplight, this is Ford’s biggest, baddest and most powerful Mustang to date.
“Carroll was always working on the next faster Shelby, I think he would love this Mustang more than any other,” said Jim Farley, Ford’s former chief operating officer and current CEO.
Inspired by Carroll Shelby, who recognized the Mustang’s potential by experimenting with a pair of ’67 coupes dubbed Green Hornet and Lil Red, the 2020 Shelby GT500 is a result of some intense development by Ford Performance and a select group of partners to produce a holy terror on wheels that matches the agility of a Ferrari.
The two original prototype Mustang coupes, used by Carroll Shelby to show the higher-ups at Ford the pony car’s potential, were recovered and restored by Craig Jackson’s team at Barrett-Jackson Auction Company. These experimental coupes, lost for nearly five decades, were thoughtfully restored using information from people who had intimate knowledge of the prototypes. Upon close examination, it’s evident that the GT500 is a showcase of high performance — then and now.
Lil Red and Green Hornet showed off Shelby’s forward-thinking with independent rear suspension, rear disc brakes, fuel injection and a blower under the hood. To put things in perspective, I remember the 662 horsepower supercharged 2013 Shelby GT500 stuck in the dark ages with its solid rear axle.
Fast times at Ford Performance
A first for a Mustang or Shelby is the GT500’s lightning-quick, seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, co-developed with the help from engineers at Tremec. Third-pedal purists will lament the lack of a six-speed manual—which is still available with the GT350. However, the advantages are clear: 80-millisecond shifts and anticipative programming that selects the right gear whether you’re diving into a corner or accelerating to the moon.
Consequently, the driver doesn’t have to fiddle with the paddle shifters or think about which gear is the right one. A few laps around Sonoma Raceway proved that the DCT knew better than I how to keep the supercharged 5.2-liter V-8 in its optimal power band.
Integrated design features
The Ford Performance GT500 engineering and design teams worked to bring together three key aspects critical to performance: Cooling elements, coefficient of drag and downforce.
“With a double front grille opening and 50 percent more cooling pack airflow versus the Shelby GT350, along with the most advanced aero components and downforce we’ve ever offered, every millimeter of Shelby GT500’s fastback design is aimed at improving performance,” said Melvin Betancourt, Ford’s design manager.
There is a fine line between building insane power output and maintaining reliability, which is why each supercharged aluminum alloy Predator engine is hand-built at the Romeo Niche line. Utilizing the same 5.2-liter aluminum block from the GT350, some changes took place to achieve 760 horsepower and keep it from grenading into shrapnel. Notably, it is upgraded with stronger cylinder head bolts, has an improved cylinder head and block structure to handle the increased pressure, new head gaskets with more active layers, a revised cooling system, stronger connecting rods, forged pistons, and enhanced lubrication and piston cooling.
Better internal cooling and an active oil pan cribbed from the Ford Racing program enables higher volume and enhanced oil control under hard braking and cornering maneuvers. Externally, there are no less than seven heat exchangers at work to optimize cooling that starts at the front and flows to the rear — two radiators, two oil coolers, a charge-air cooler, an extra-large hood vent, brake duct vents, and a rear axle cooler built into the undercarriage.
The $18,500 Carbon Fiber Track Package might seem like an expensive option, but those splitter wickers with integrated dive plane at the front and the GT4 track wing — which can apply 550 pounds of downforce at 180 mph — provide important stability at speed.
Assisting with traction is the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 and Pilot Sport 4S tires developed explicitly for the GT500’s upward capabilities. A unique tread design and tire compound were co-developed with Michelin that’ll help lay down the power when blasting down a quarter-mile strip or setting a PR on your favorite road course.
So, it comes down to this: Does the 2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 add up to more than a muscle car that rivals the exotic superstars, such as Ferrari, Lamborghini, McLaren or Aston Martin? In my humble opinion, the answer is yes.
An overabundance of power and torque are deliriously addictive but having a hyper-reflexive dual-clutch transmission is the ticket to bridling that mighty combination into fast times. The exhaust note, which has a volume control ranging from quiet to an obscene roar, will make any gearhead laugh uncontrollably. But assess the mighty Shelby as a sports car with its next-generation active MagneRide suspension, revised suspension geometry, new electronic power steering unit and custom Ford Performance-spec Michelin tires, and it qualifies as a true supercar.