The quintessential pony car has come of age, and Ford’s 2009 Shelby GT500 is ample evidence that the Blue Oval has gone and grown its iconic and beloved coupe into a real sports stallion. No longer a mere muscle car, the GT500, which finally sports a horsepower rating fitting of its name for 2009, can sprint, slow and handle in a manner that belies its hefty 4,000 pound curb weight. No, you won’t confuse the Shelby for a Z06 Corvette, but then again you won’t be looking through the couch cushions to find some money for that much higher monthly payment for the Chevy.
1. The GT500 uses a Roots type supercharger, rather than the twin-screw unit in the Ford GT, to make 500hp and 480 ft-lbs of torque.
2. The Shelby GT500 is offered as both a hardtop and a convertible.
3. The GT500 also comes in a higher performance KR model with 540hp and 510 ft-lbs of torque but at a much higher price-point.
After countless laps in Mustangs, I have had the immense pleasure of getting to know Ford’s Pony car very well over the years. With that in mind, the Shelby GT500 is a whole different rodeo, and brings a step up in refinement, capability and overall enjoyment over previous and less enhanced Mustangs.
With a supercharged 5.4 liter V8 that fills that large engine bay, the Shelby boasts 500hp and 480 ft-lbs of torque that effortlessly propel the two door coupe down the road. Lean on the right hand pedal in earnest, and the roots type supercharger quickly builds boost. Come to about 3500 rpm and the manageable Mustang quickly turns into a thoroughbred that requires a fair amount of right foot sensitivity and a keen awareness of the energy that is harnessed in the amazingly quickly built velocity.
The Shelby sounds about as it good as it goes with a pleasant and characteristic Mustang rumble at idle. As revs build though, the rip of the exhaust is met and then overtaken by a high pitched and wicked supercharger whine.
The Tremec six-speed tends to be a bit notchy, especially when the car is cold. Gear ratios are well spaced however, and as with so many of the high horsepower Detroit iron these days, the Shelby’s first gear is tall enough to take it to 60 mph. The lack of a shift in the all-important 0-60 dash allows the Shelby to complete that sprint in just over 4 seconds.
While it’s the staggering rate of acceleration that initially surprises most people, and is perhaps the reason for the majority of GT500 purchases, it is the surprisingly strong braking that may well keep those owners out of the weeds. The massive Brembo front brake package feels engineered and integrated into the design of the car as opposed to the Ford SVT folks having simply slapped a big brake kit on the Shelby. Stopping power is immediate and with precise pedal feel, slowing the car with authority and impressive control. Surprising as it is, the 4,000-pound Shelby stops better than a brick thrown in sand, and I have the seat belt bruises to prove it!
KEEPING A HANDLE ON IT
The plain fact of the matter is that the GT500 sits high in almost every respect – and not in a good way. Even the massive 5.4-liter engine sits high and forward in the engine bay with reservoirs for various fluids also mounted high – good for accessibility, bad for overall Cg. Despite these rather obvious detractors to the handling equation, the Shelby changes direction better than would be expected. Vehicle attitude is remarkably level considering the ride height and weight of the SVT engineered vehicle.
Despite the pundits that insist that Mustangs must surrender to the world of IRS, the solid rear axle does just fine and really doesn’t show its apparent inadequacies until hard cornering over large and frequent bumps, or when axle hop accompanies big wheel spin. Chassis rigidity is excellent, and although spring and shock settings are stiff, they are compliant enough for daily use. The Shelby does however exhibit a porposing effect on freeways, and while it has afflicted many a Mustang, it may be as much a function of the short wheelbase of the car as the suspension tuning.
Decent handling notwithstanding, there is ultimately only so much a two-ton car with a relatively tall ride height can do, and when pushed to its limit, the Stang tends to understeer at turn-in and through much of the corner. If the car is still plowing leaving the apex, the immediate availability of torque can easily bring about a change to power induced oversteer. It’s certainly not the clean way around the corner, and most definitely not the fastest, but it sure can be fun.
LOOKING A HORSE IN THE EYE
While the GT500 is clearly a Mustang, there is just more there, especially when viewed head on. The grill is massive and includes a wide and tall air inlet along the bottom with a chin spoiler. The bulging hood provides functional heat extractor vents, and after a day of beating on the car in 80-degree weather, the temperature gauge never changed.
The model I drove was red with thick white stripes that gave the 500 a classic look that combined well with the bulging fenders and sharp lines of the vehicle’s profile. A strip along the rocker panels that matches the hood and roof stripe color sports the GT500 logo, and hearkens back to Shelby’s of yore.
The Shelby’s rear decklid has a discreet spoiler and the rear bumper has a Shelby specific valance. The entire back of the GT500 carries on the “larger-than-regular-Mustang” feel that the rest of the car so clearly imparts.
The interior is standard Mustang fare although the gray-backed gauges complete with SVT logos are a nice touch. There are a lot of vertical surfaces in the interior, with the driver dash area and passenger airbag area basically being a large wall with vents underneath a narrow slit of a windshield. Thankfully the leather seats with increased bolster support lift to allow us shorter folk the ability to see over the huge dash.
Although the Shelby does come with some other nice leather lined surfaces, they are met in many areas by cheap hard plastics. There is no reason to doubt that Ford spent the budget on the drivetrain and as such the value in the Shelby is certainly notable. However, a few more tactile sensitive surfaces would be a nice touch and would further refine this capable coupe.
The somewhat upright seating position in the Mustang actually makes ingress and egress easy and without much fuss. The Shelby has certainly not forsaken its every day drivability roots.
At an MSRP of $43,000 for the coupe, the Shelby GT500 represents an incredible bargain. Comparisons to the upcoming Camaro will have to wait, but the Shelby will give a base C6 Corvette more than a little concern at stop light runs, and at a price that puts it in the ballpark with an Mitsubishi Evo X or a Subaru STI. A more capable KR version of the Shelby is available, but at almost twice the cost.
The 2009 Shelby GT500 represents a great example of bang for the buck during an economic period where such qualities are of considerable note. The Shelby also offers a more comprehensive performance package than previous Mustangs, and while it is by no means a full on supercar (leave that to the Ford GT) in the hands of a competent shoe, it has the potential to embarrass its share of exotic car drivers.
Great power and sound Solid brakes Terrific value
Plastic interior Notchy shifter Occasional axle hop