What Is A Super Muscle Car?
Wait…Is that even a thing? Well…if supercars are a thing, and muscle cars are a thing…can there be a super muscle car? I know, most of you are rolling your eyes because the Mustang is, of course, not a “Muscle car” by traditional standards. It has always been touted as a pony car. But, I would argue the Mustang is a modern muscle car. By today’s standards anyway, it is a late model muscle car. Factually, it is a v8 powered mid-size car…basically what a traditional muscle car was when the term was coined. In any case, if the modern Mustang is a late model muscle car, and the Shelby GT500 is, by performance standards, a supercar…then Ford’s Shelby GT500 is most certainly a Super Muscle Car.
Having said that, and defining some terms in doing so, let me explain why with performance specs as stated by Ford and dare I say – my own first-hand experience below.
Shelby GT500 North American Track Tour At Sonoma Raceway
Last year, Ford Performance invited us out to the Shelby GT500 North American Track Tour at Sonoma Raceway in, you guessed it, Sonoma, California.
Normally, people visit the little Bay Area town for its seemingly endless supply of wineries, sightseeing tours, and the like, but we were there to sample something much more thrilling than the finest vino.
Something viscerally gratifying that only the sound of a supercharged 5.2-liter cross-plane crank American V8 can provide.
Save the wine glass nose nestling and grape fondling for your wife’s book club, we’re here for Ford’s new Shelby GT500 and all of its 700+ horsepower. So, strap in, we’re about to get down to brass tacks.
Below are my first-hand account and initial impressions of the car from behind the wheel and in the passenger seat.
The track was damp from the morning fog. Sliding around turn two on my first lap reminded me I was in track mode and all the driver assists were turned off.
Backing off the throttle a bit tightened up the reigns and the torque oversteer became a non-factor. As the tires heated up and I became more comfortable with the track, it was apparent, I couldn’t push the GT500 to its limits. Rather, it far exceeded my own. By all accounts, I was flogging Ford’s flagship pony (yes, it can be both) car, but it was continually begging for more.
Elevation changes come rapidly at Sonoma raceway, but the car remained settled. From the onset, you’re up and down and all over, but the car wasn’t. It’s so well-mannered, it makes a novice driver look and feel like a veteran – and I should remind you, that was with the driver assists turned off.
The more I gave it, the more confidence I had in throwing it into the next damp corner – the Brembo’s would save me, the Michelin’s and Magneride would hold me, the Recaro would cradle me, and the 5.2-liter supercharged aluminum monster under the hood would certainly get me out of as much trouble as it could get me in.
See, the technology that goes into Ford’s new 5.2-liter baby isn’t unlike its naturally aspirated brother nestled between the frame rails of so many GT350. It’s just…ya know, supercharged. But where it really shines is how it puts that power and torque to the ground in such an elegant and linear way.
I’ll admit, the idea of Ford’s new dual-clutch transmission was a bit offputting at first, at least for this bang-shifting buffoon anyway..but I have to say, within the first few minutes I was a fan. It truly gave me the sensation that I was driving a manual without, well…manually shifting. I’ll explain…
With the car in track mode, it shifted as aggressively as I would, but it did so much better and faster. We’re talking buttery smooth shifts in less than 100-milliseconds. Yes, that’s faster than any manual transmission – ever.
The seven-speed is designed for a seemingly endless number of drive modes, including normal, slippery, sport, drag, and track. It also sports line-lock and an rpm-selectable launch control through various track apps which the Ford reps displayed for us quite capably.
To juxtapose my own driving, I also had the unique opportunity to ride in the passenger seat of a GT500 while it was in the hands of a highly-skilled professional driver from Ford’s camp. I can say it was quite a humbling experience. If I thought I was pushing the Shelby anywhere near its limits during the few laps I made around the famed raceway, all that was dashed aside as I grabbed for the “oh-shit” handle coming out of the back straight…Admittedly, I’m a much better driver than I am a passenger.
Before my seat time in Ford’s muscular missile was done, I had one last stop to make – the drag strip. Unfortunately for me, I guess they hadn’t heard I have an NHRA Class-6 license, because they made me ride shotgun – how rude!
Levity aside, the ride was a blast. Anything that boasts an elapsed time in the sub-11-second range is more than enough to put an ear-to-ear smile on my face. If that’s not enough to convince you, just peep some factual performance bullet points on the new GT500 from The Global Director of Ford Performance Vehicle Programs, Hermann Salebauch himself.
- “The 2020 Mustang Shelby GT500 is the most powerful street-legal Ford ever with a supercharged 5.2-liter V8 producing more than 700 horsepower.”
- “The GT500 is capable of mid-three-second 0-60 mph and sub-11-second quarter-mile scores, Shelby GT500 features the best Mustang track times, the best cornering, and the largest brakes of any domestic sports coupe thanks to tech transfer from Ford GT and Mustang GT4 racing programs; this includes a segment-first dual-clutch transmission.”
- “Shelby GT500’s aero-led design increases downforce and thermal management, while Ford Performance race-tuned active chassis drive modes make this the most advanced performance Mustang to date.”
Super Muscle Car DNA
I mentioned some of the confidence-inspiring engineerings that went into making the GT500 so capable on the track. Interestingly enough, while we were there, Ford brought out representatives from each respective company or division to field questions about components like the track-bred Michelin Pilot Sport 4S or the even more aggressive and optional Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires the pony is shod with.
It got better – to tame the most powerful Mustang ever, Ford Performance gave the Shelby massively superior stopping power thanks to the gargantuan 16.5-inch two-piece rotors that are clamped to a halt by equally large Brembo six-piston binders.
The whole shebang comes full-circle with one of two handling packages for the GT500. Included in the first are strut top mounts and a wicked spoiler adorned with an aggressive Gurney Flap. The upgraded Carbon Fiber Track Package, which I was lucky enough to get my hands on, features exposed 20-inch carbon fiber wheels that provide a 0.5-inch-wider rear wheel, the Pilot Cup Sport 2 tires mentioned earlier, carbon fiber GT4 track wing, and splitter wickers with an integrated dive plane. Of course, all of this comes at the cost of a back seat…as if it could fit anything larger than an overnight bag anyway.
And can we talk about the looks of this thing for a second?
“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 design manager.
What’s that old saying about form following function? It’s so plain to see the design team had that in mind here. The GT500, in all of its swooping aerodynamic fighter jet glory, looks fast standing still and feels even faster in motion.
According to the reps at Ford, ” The car’s wider front fenders and stance housing Shelby GT500-specific 20×11-inch wheels proportionally align to its rear fenders that hug up to 20×11.5-inch wheels. A standard new rear spoiler and updated composite materials in the rear diffuser result in added thermal management.”
“Front fascia openings are more than doubled versus the Shelby GT350, while six heat exchangers are stuffed in to increase cooling pack airflow by more than 50-percent. A massive 31×28-inch louvered hood vent features a removable aluminum rain tray for better air extraction and increased downforce.”
For me, all that techno mumbo jumbo is very impressive and I can geek out on it as much as the next gearhead, but at the end of the day, I found myself drooling over the car, not for the performance capabilities that followed its exquisite form, but for the brash and ostentatious chances Ford took with some things super and hyper-car owners take for granted. Of course, the carbon package and aggressive aero aid in making the car faster, but it’s the color palette that first caught my eye.
I was lucky enough to wheel a Shelby in one of my favorite colors – Iconic Silver with black stripes. But how can you not love Rapid Red, Twister Orange, Grabber Lime, Ford Performance Blue, Velocity Blue, Kona Blue, Magnetic, Shadow Black, and Oxford White?
Once I got to wrap my hands around the suede and carbon-wrapped steering wheel and sit in the heavily bolstered Recaro – all was solidified…the GT500 was no longer a car, it had become my own personal F-22 Raptor.
As I navigated the instrument cluster and center console’s touch screen I really felt like I was moments away from getting a call for fire through my helmet-mounted headset. Instead, it was a call to “start your engines.”
As I wrapped up my pre-flight…er…pre-track checklist, I noticed everything I was touching was of the utmost quality. Certainly, something Carroll Shelby would be proud of and something one should expect from the GT500 – Ford’s almighty Super Muscle Car.