California Speedway, Ontario, USA; the warm spring air is pregnant with nitro fuel and loud NASCAR music: $99 for a five lap ride, $499 and the wheel is yours, $999 even pays for the collision damage waiver.
This review was originally published in MOTOR’s July 2006 issue
While the big oval is dotted with the good old boys giving their best, the tight in-field track is today in the hands of the Ford PR crew. After a stopover night in Detroit and a total time of 15 hours flying time, I sign my life away for two laps in the new Shelby GT500. Two laps: one recce, one quickie.
Fixing us with a steely glare, one official explains that those who don’t crash may get a second go. No one laughs.
The track is quite well laid out considering the limited acreage inside the bowl, but unfortunately the tarmac is decorated with enough slow-down cones to make a Pommy feel homesick, and there is always a Mr Nervous in the passenger seat. Are you really sure you want to deactivate traction control? I am, mate, I am.
Let’s face it: my allotted two laps are a huge disappointment. The 354kW Stang is all over the place, the brakes feel woolly, the steering never connects the way it should, and the live rear axle is obviously proud of its black belt in kick boxing.
Sure, the engine drums up heaps of torque at the word go, but the hot tyres sweat rubber at a smelly rate, and the directional stability shines only on the two long straights and through the two fastest corners.
There’s no doubt about it, this is a crude car. A machine whose genes seem to date back to some distant industrial revolution. And yet this is the brainchild of the legendary Carroll Shelby, now 83, who describes himself as a hopeless hot rodder, who looks 30 years younger the instant he gets behind the steering wheel.
There’s only two cars for 16 hacks, and they all love Detroit muscle. Standing by the fence and listening to the Richard Petty Driving Academy instructor, I allow some second thoughts.
The new Shelby Mustang does look cool. Very cool, even in the eyes of the 54 year-old rookie from Austria who did not grow up in white T-shirts with double blue stripes, and who never went to Laguna Seca or to Elkhart Lake with his dad.
Jay Mays, who is the best translator of retro shapes into contemporary design language, excelled with the new Mustang. It is spot-on from every angle. If the standard GT is porn on wheels, then the GT500 is the Hugh Hefner version of it.
It boasts an eye-catching paint job no matter which shade you prefer. It has the sexiest stance this side of an Eva Longoria centrefold. Its front spoiler is deep enough to create kind of a personal jet-stream. The extra-wide 18-inch tyres peel tarmac in first and second gear.
Eventually, the guys in their embroidered Team Badass denim shirts start wandering off to lunch, so I jump at the opportunity to pry seven more hot laps out of my protesting co-driver. The GT500 needs adjusting, and it deserves a bit more patience.
The second time around, it is still all over the shop, but it ain’t too hard to tidy up the rough edges, although the steering is light and a little loose. A precision tool it certainly is not, our GT500, but it keeps inviting you to take full advantage of the generous amount of compliance, especially through slowish second-gear kinks.
Turn in early, lift off with vigour to trigger the weight transfer, squeeze the throttle while you take back some lock, stick to the wide line where glide and slide bond, step on the gas way before the next straight opens up and it all comes together.
Fast corners are an even more natural task. It’s a momentary lift-off on the approach, but then you sail through pedal to the metal on an arc with a modest radius, wheels straight again one micro-instant before the hammer drops and the Brembos bite for the next right-hander.
Much too soon a fat woman with a red flag starts jumping up and down, so we head back to pit row. Did that second stint change my opinion? Yes and no. Weighing 1782kg, the Shelby Mustang is fun in a short-sleeved, traditional style.
It is fast and it can be furious, but it is neither well educated nor fine-tuned to perfection. More steering feel would be appreciated, as would a firmer brake pedal and a better behaved rear axle. As it is, that big fat lump of iron shrugs and bucks like buggery whenever the road surface sends a teaser in its direction.
Although there is no shortage of grunt on either side of the 644Nm torque peak, the supercharged V8 is neither as responsive as a modern high-revving normally-aspirated unit nor as explosive as one of the better turbos. It doesn’t sound all that special either.
Compared to the last SVT project, the seminal GT supercar, the GT500 is an anti-climax.
2006 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500
Engine: 5408cc V8, DOHC, 32v supercharged
Power: 354kW @ 6000rpm
Torque: 644Nm @ 4500rpm
Just before the GT500 went on sale, the SVT crew was hesistant about its power output, claiming 475hp (354kW). A last minute dyno run confirmed the full 500hp (373kW) as the badge suggests. Carroll Shelby (below) insists there’s more to come: “A $25 chip will make 700hp (522kW) which the engine can take because the crankshaft is strong like concrete.”
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