Ford’s Mustang has been considered an iconic American “pony car” since the first cars were sold back in 1964. Call it a pony car, call it a sports car, whatever. The Mustang is Ford’s bread-and-butter fun-on-wheels and has been built and sold in countless iterations for the better part of sixty years. Shelby American partnered with Ford back in the 1960s to create the first Shelby GT500, a Mustang with a huge 7 liter V8 engine meant for one thing – speed. Shelby made some other modifications to the GT500, but the intent of the early cars was clear. Once the Ford/Shelby partnership dissolved, the nameplate was discontinued for decades, then revived around 2007.
Though the “revival” Shelby Mustangs were impressive in their own right, they were still straight-line cars above all else, with a solid rear axle out back. Ford dramatically changed Mustang for the current generation and added an independent rear suspension to every model of the lineup, including two Shelby models – GT350 and GT500. Though the GT350 has been discontinued, Ford invited me to join other media at Charlotte Motor Speedway recently to sample the 2020 Shelby GT500, their highest-performance and baddest-ass gasoline-powered Mustang.
What Is It?
The 2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 is a Ford Mustang coupe turned up to eleven. Powered by a 5.2 liter V8 (but missing the flat-plane crankshaft found in GT350) with a 2.7 liter supercharger bolted on top, the Shelby GT500 produces 760 horsepower and 625 lb-ft of torque. All of that power is fed solely through a Tremec 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission (it’s good, get over it) and a limited-slip differential to some very wide wheels and tires. If you’re looking to reduce unsprung, rotating mass, Ford will upsell you a carbon fiber package that includes carbon fiber wheels – really.
Of course, keeping all of this power applied to the ground requires more than fat tires, aerodynamics play a big part in stability. Ford engineers increased airflow for both cooling and aero benefit. That Carbon Fiber “track pack” also adds a front splitter with “wickers” (little bits to help keep the nose planted during cornering) and rear wing to help keep the car stuck to the asphalt.
MSRP of the 2020 Shelby GT500 starts around $73,000, and optioned with the Carbon Fiber package, reaches $92,000. Yes, the Carbon Fiber package is an $18,000 option.
How’s the 2020 Shelby GT500 Handle on a Road Course?
Ford gave us time with the GT500 on both Charlotte Motor Speedway’s road course (part of the infield and part of the oval) and ZMAX Dragway drag strip. I was excited to sample the car in such dueling roles, as a car that’s typically good at one may not be good at the other. Having diced it up with so many older, solid axle Mustangs in my E36 M3, I can report the older cars must be drifted to complete turns and are a bit like driving very fast U-Haul trucks at any sort of speed.
Although our road course time was limited to lead-follow laps behind an instructor (at a pace I found slow, but was safe for drivers who’d never taken a green flag before), I could still suss out some basics of how the GT500 handled tight cornering. The infield course was more like a big autocross than anything, and eventually dumped us onto the oval for some full-throttle time on the banking.
Without much speed to go on, it’s hard to say too much about turn-in, but the GT500 felt composed no matter where I pointed it. Power built steadily, and it was easy to keep the rear end under control even with cold tires (my group went out first, on a 45° morning). Most impressive were the brakes, which provided great confidence even with cold pads and tires, and allowed for easy modulation through ABS engagement.
Having had a taste of the GT500’s manners, I’d love to get one out at a trackcross in the spring, for a more honest evaluation at speed. Hint, hint, Ford.
We took a breather after our road course time and joined a presentation about the hardware that makes the GT500 so impressive.
Ford had a GT500 mounted on its passenger side, so we could see underneath. Every important component was marked, with some also shown off of the car in various states of disassembly.
Most impressive was Ford’s Aerobuck GT500, a running and driving car that used 3D printed plastic pieces to help engineers design the aerodynamics of the final production car. Time to make changes was, apparently, reduced quite a bit thanks to 3D printing.
Ford also had an original 1968 Shelby GT500 on display, which was pretty cool on its own. They’d set up one of the original GT500’s wheel and tire combos next to the 2020 GT500 brake rotor and caliper. The new GT500’s rotor is bigger in diameter than the old car’s wheel. That’s not a “Shelby-exclusive” new car thing, but it’s really, really wild to see how far the industry has come – Shelby or otherwise – in fifty-some years.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, Start Your Engines, and May the Best Woman… Win”
I’d be remiss if I didn’t give this section a heading that’s perhaps the most basic quote from RuPaul’s Drag Race. Following the product presentation, Ford took my group to the ZMAX Dragway drag strip, so we could take the cars down the strip three times each. Heels, hair, and makeup were optional.
Though I’ve tried my hand at all sorts of motorsport, this was my first time ever at a drag strip. My instructor walked me through the basics of Launch Control (floor brake, floor throttle, build revs, let’s go) and how to approach the launch. We left the Tremec dual-clutch in Drive and the GT500’s drive mode in its special “Drag Strip” setting.
My instructor coached me on releasing the brake pedal so the dual-clutch would engage right on the green light. I let off, kept the throttle matted, and held on. The Tremec clicked off quick shifts down the strip and the GT500 remained pretty composed, with just a little shimmy on each upshift. My initial reaction time was pretty lousy, nearly a full second passed between the green light and the car leaving the line. On my third and final run, I followed the instructor’s coaching to a T and released the brake on the second yellow light. Sure enough, the car launched immediately on the green. I’d done it and managed a 0.06 second reaction time! We didn’t get any time slips to brag about our ET or trap speed, but these GT500s are capable of a sub-11 second quarter mile in the right hands, according to Ford.
We also got a demo of Line Lock, which locks only the front brakes so the driver can warm up the rear tires before their runs.
Making a Great First Impression
Though my time with the 2020 Shelby GT500 was relatively brief, it was a nice chance to feel the car out in a variety of scenarios. Yes, most drivers will spend most of their time driving the cars on the street and using Launch Control to leave a green light occasionally. But for people buying these cars to use them, it’s refreshing to see a performance car that made such a great first impression in two very different scenarios.
Ford Performance invited Out Motorsports to the Shelby GT500 Track Tour. We were not compensated for travel, lodging, or meals, nor were we compensated in any way for this content beyond a goodie bag that included a supercharger-shaped paperweight.