2007 Ford Shelby GT500 Road Test
It rained the whole day.
We were invited to the newly renovated Ford Proving Grounds in Dearborn Michigan for a chance to put the new 500 horsepower Shelby GT500 through it's paces, but the claps of thunder served as a constant reminder that mother nature was not with us that day.
Because of the weather, we learned something about the new Shelby GT500 that we would have never suspected. Despite the 1/4 inch film of water that covered the entire 43 acre Vehicle Dynamics Area, this car demonstrated that the spirit of the original Shelby Cobra GT500 is alive and well.
The Vehicle Dynamics Area was as flat and level as a pool table, so there was no place for the rain water to go. It just sat there making it look like the largest reflecting pool I have ever seen. We were actually surprised that the Ford personnel gave us the green light to take the GT500 out and snake it around the cones. It was a weird feeling to look out the windshield and see all the water as though we were in a boat instead of a high performance car.
The first lap of the course showed me that my concerns were unfounded. These cars gripped the corners with a vengeance and the 500 horsepower was making itself felt in no uncertain terms. By the second lap, I completely ignored the water and tried for some decent lap times, which were easy to achieve. By the third lap, I was feeling a bit over confident when I felt the rear end start to let go, but as soon as I let up on the throttle, the car came back into line with nary a cone out of place.
After getting out of the car at the end of my three laps, my first inclination was to see what kind of tires this car was wearing. As I watched, most of the other journalists had the same inclination after finishing their laps. I have driven many cars in the rain, so I can tell you that the GoodYear Eagle F1 tires on this rocket sled were impressive. There wasn't a hint of hydroplaning for any of us and traction around the course remained consistent. I'm sure that our times would have been better if the pavement were dry, but not by much.
On the handling course, which simulated a winding country road, the GT500 was balanced and had a good steering feel. The ride was firm, but surprisingly compliant and directional stability was spot on. The front seats had extra bolstering to hold you in place during spirited driving. The driver's seat is 6-way power with manual recline and power lumbar support.
The Shelby GT500 is essentially a Mustang GT that has been massaged by a team of grand masters. In fact, most of them were at this event to answer our questions, including the maestro himself, Carroll Shelby. The folks at the SVT (Special Vehicle Team) arm of Ford worked together with Carroll Shelby to put together a no-holds-barred super car for a price considerably less than anything else in this mega-performance category.
Nowhere on the car does it say Mustang, nor is there any mention of the word Cobra, although the logo of the venomous snake prominently displayed in the grill and front fenders leaves no doubt as to its heritage. Up close, the emblem looked like an exquisite piece of jewelry.
|With the Mustang GT as a starting point, a number of body modifications were made to give the Shelby GT500 its own unique identity. These changes include:|
- Powerdome hood that was needed to make room for the supercharger sitting on top of the engine
- Heat extractors on the hood to help remove heat from the engine compartment
- Unique upper and lower grill openings
- Over body Le Mans racing stripes
- Rear ducktail spoiler
- Cobra gas cap emblem
- Special 18 inch wheels with Goodyear F1 performance tires
Under the hood, SVT engineers were able to extract a full 500 horsepower out of a 5.4 liter Ford Triton V8 making it the most powerful factory built Mustang ever. Much of the design for this engine came from the pioneering efforts by the SVT group when building the $150,000 Ford GT sports car. In fact, the Ford GT was another project that Carroll Shelby had his hand in. (not to mention the Dodge Viper some years back)
While the 550 horsepower Ford GT engine was all aluminum, the engine block for the Shelby GT500 was done in cast iron in order to keep the costs down. However, the DOHC, 4 valve per cylinder aluminum heads from the Ford GT were used for exceptional breathing.
A Roots-type supercharger complete with air-to-water intercooler keeps this powerhouse well fed. A new intake manifold channels the pressurized fuel-air mixture to the cylinders and is fed by a dual-bore electronic throttle body from Fords 6.8-liter V-10 truck engine.
Extensive work was also done on the exhaust to get the sound of this engine just right and also to reduce back pressure, Remember, it won't do any good to have a great capacity to inhale if you can't exhale.
Floor the throttle and pop the clutch and you are greeted with a symphony of sound that is music to the ears of every red blooded performance car lover. You will, of course, hear a few hundred miles of rubber being burned off the rear tires as they try in vain to bite into the asphalt, then you hear the ever present supercharger whine as the blower force-feeds each cylinder. Finally, you will hear the wonderful exhaust sounds bringing up the rear. Within an instant, the bright orange SVT light glares from the tach face telling you that it is time to give second gear its turn at managing the 500 galloping ponies.
Despite the awesome power that the new Shelby GT500 has on tap, it is as docile as a kitten when driven conservatively. At idle, you can't even hear the engine running. Accelerate normally from a light and the engine is as smooth as a Lincoln. This is a far cry from the Shelby Cobras of the sixties where the idle was course and loping and you had to be careful to feather the throttle and clutch to prevent the car from lurching forward or stalling. Some people might like this "tiger by the tail" feeling, but with today's computerized engine management technology, it is simply a thing of the past. Not only is this modern day version of the Cobra more civilized, it is considerably faster than the fire breathing Cobras that came before it.
The Shelby GT500 transmission is a special animal as well. There are not many gearboxes that can handle the power generated by a 500 horsepower engine. The SVT folks upgraded a Tremec TR6060 six-speed manual box and set up the gearing to make the best use of the supercharged engine's power band.
When it is time to shift, the SVT logo on the face of the tachometer becomes a very handy shift light. When the engine RPM pushes into the red line, SVT lights up a bright orange, telling you it's time to shift.
While we are on the dash, let me point out some differences between the GT500 and the standard Mustang. The most obvious difference is the use of light-faced gauges. This is a tradition on SVT vehicles and Ford says that it can improve readability under a variety of lighting conditions. Another, not so noticeable change is that the speedometer and tachometer are swapped to the opposite sides of the gauge cluster. The SVT engineering staff insisted that the tach be on the right because the Shelby GT500 is only available with a manual and a tach positioned on the right, according to Keith Rogman, SVT design manager, was easier to use while shifting.
When the new Mustang came out a couple of years ago, there was considerable talk about possibly going to an independent rear suspension system for a performance version in the future, but the original suspension layout on the new Mustang proved to be very competent, so it was retained for the Shelby GT500. There were simply not enough gains in handling to warrant the added expense of a custom independent rear suspension.
SVT chassis engineers went to work on the Mustang GT to come up with a chassis setup that was able to handle the immense power output of the new engine and give it handling capabilities that Carroll Shelby would approve of and be willing to put his name on.
The first problem they encountered was the added weight of the larger engine with the cast iron block. Since the ideal weight distribution, front to rear is 50-50, this was going in the wrong direction. To maintain neutral steering characteristics and prevent the car from plowing straight ahead (understeering), stiffer stabilizer bars were used front and rear. The rear bars were different for the coupe and convertible to give each car the proper balance.
When I had the GT500 out on the handling course, I was very impressed with the result, but the surface was completely smooth, so there was no way to evaluate whether the live rear axle would cause side-stepping problems on rough pavement cornering. That will have to wait for a more extensive drive on real world roads. For those who are not sure of what I am talking about, Click Here for an explanation.
Stopping power is handled by Brembo brakes with four-piston calipers and huge vented 14 inch rotors up front, and with single piston calipers riding on 11.8 inch vented rotors for the rear.
The brake pads are also special to this car and can handle some heavy stopping during competition driving, while remaining civilized for highway and around town use.
Of course, the brakes are only there to stop the wheels from spinning. It is the tires that stop the car, and to that end, the shoes selected for the Shelby GT500 are more than up to the task. As we mentioned earlier, the test cars were equipped with Goodyear Eagle F1 tires mounted on 18-inch x 9.5-inch wheels. The tires were different sizes front to rear for a balanced feel with 255/45ZR18 tires on the front and meatier 285/40ZR18 tires on the rear.
The steering was beefed up with an added brace that connects the lower control arm bushings side to side. The steering gear was also modified to improve steering feel and precision. Extensive testing was done to make sure that the steering feel would bring a smile to Carroll Shelby's face. It did.
The Shelby GT500 comes as either a coupe or a convertible, but only the coupe will be available with the wide over-the-top Le Mans racing stripes. Taking a cue from the original GT500 in 1968, only the coupe was available with the stripes, so the designers decided to pay homage and leave them off the convertible this time as well.
Another difference with the GT500 convertible is the top material. They went with a premium cloth top like the ones used on more expensive cars like the Thunderbird and Jaguar for a better quality look and feel.
When I look at the convertible with its top down, I keep thinking that it would look so much better if it had a built in roll bar like the '68 GT500 had. In fact, when ford first unveiled the Mustang convertible concept more than a year before it went into production, it had a very nice roll bar. I guess for the number of convertibles they expect to sell, it wasn't economically feasible to invest in the engineering to make it happen. Hopefully, the aftermarket folks will come up with a remedy for this shortcoming.
You would think that with the federal standards for rollover protection, a convertible would need a roll bar to keep the occupants safe. I checked into that and found that fewer than 1% of rollover deaths happen in convertibles. This is because convertibles have a much lower center of gravity than other vehicles. For this reason, convertibles are exempt from federal rollover standards. Click Here for more information on these standards and where they are heading in the future.
I remember my first experience with a Shelby Cobra in the late '60s (yes, I'm dating myself) when a neighbor friend of mine purchased a new one in 1967. It was the smaller engine version called the Shelby Cobra GT350. When I asked him why he didn't go all out and get the GT500, which had a larger engine with considerably more horsepower, he told me that the smaller engine was lighter and the car would feel more balanced. Well, the first time he took me for a ride in that "smaller engined" car, I gained immediate respect for Mr. Shelby and his ability to wring unbelievable performance from a small Ford V8. The car was absolutely fierce and snarled at anything that would dare to get in its way. You had to be a good driver in order to control this snake. If you made a mistake while blasting around with this monster, you would have found it very unforgiving.
My friend was the type of guy who could not leave well enough alone, so he added his own personal touches to his new ride. He customized the body with a flat black paint treatment on the rear and the rocker panels, added racing seat belt harnesses and replaced the original shocks with exotic Koni shocks, among other things.
I believe that the original Shelby Cobras were only sold by authorized Shelby dealers. The modifications were made at the Shelby factory to a new Mustang coupe or convertible that just rolled off the Ford assembly line. Once the upgrades were made, the car was shipped to the dealer. The 2007 Shelby GT500 is a separate Ford model now and is built from the ground up on a Ford assembly line. Carroll Shelby helped with the engineering and signed off on allowing Ford to use his trademarks, but otherwise, these cars are all Ford.
Color choices for the new Shelby GT500 include:
- Torch Red Clearcoat (which can be paired with White or Silver stripes)
- Alloy Clearcoat Metallic (with Silver or Tungsten stripes)
- Vista Blue Clearcoat ( with White or Tungsten stripes)
- Performance White Clearcoat (available with Vista Blue or Tungsten stripes)
- Tungsten Grey Clearcoat (with Silver stripes)
- Grabber Orange (with White or Tungsten stripes)
- Ebony Clearcoat (also with White or Tungsten stripes).
Most of those colors were available on the original GT500 as well. Beside the seven exterior colors, you have a choice of two interior colors, All Black or Black with Red seat inserts and door trim panels
The only transmission is the 6 speed manual. An automatic is not available. Ford plans to build between 8,000 and 10,000 Shelby GT500s for 2007. Not nearly as exclusive as the '60s Cobras, but my guess is that there will be a waiting list for some time.
If you are looking for a super performance car, but need four seats and have a limited expense account, the 2007 Ford Shelby GT500 is hard to beat. Remember, this car turns lots of heads, so don't get yourself into trouble trying to show off its capabilities to your friends.