It might have a Shelby name but the old man isn't really building Mustangs these days. The real engineering heroes behind the facelifted GT500 are the blokes at Ford’s SVT (Special Vehicle Team).
The original 2007 car, you might recall, was powered by a supercharged 5.4-litre V8 delivering 500bhp to the rear wheels. It was quick, but hardly sophisticated, overweight and the interior was bad enough to make a Neighbours set designer blush.
So what’s new about the Ford Mustang Shelby GT500?
Using 2008’s GT500KR (King of the Road) special edition as a base, Ford has given the standard car the same 540bhp and boosted torque from 480lb ft to 510lb ft. The sprint to 60mph falls slightly to around 4.5sec, the V8 rumble is even better thanks to a cone air filter the size of a jumbo popcorn bucket and the slow gearshift is satisfyingly precise. The final drive is shorter but sixth longer than before to help with fuel economy.
So it feels mighty quick unless you’re in top and you have to think carefully about deploying all 540bhp in the wet. Fortunately there’s a multi-stage traction control system and a lot of throttle pedal travel to help you unleash the right amount of power.
What about those inconvenient bits between the straights?
This time the bits between those straights aren’t quite so inconvenient. There are revised spring and damper rates, tweaks to the steering system and a bespoke Goodyear tyre which help improve grip and steering feel. We’re not talking reference quality feel here, but to anyone who’s ever driven an original ‘60s Mustang, it would be a revelation. You’re not left totally in the dark about what’s going on, it's well weighted and usefully responsive around the straight ahead.
Sadly the 2010 revisions don’t extend to getting rid of that Bronze Age-tech live rear axle which still causes the GT500 to hop about on bumpy B roads and generally ruin the ride. If you’re trading up from a 2.8 Capri though, you’ll love it.>> Click 'Next' below to read more of our Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 first drive
So I’ll be a half a car length ahead of the old GT500 in a fight from the lights and half a mile ahead through the twisties, but how will everyone know mine’s the new and improved GT500 before I’ve wasted them?
The new GT500 benefits from some of the design tweaks made to the regular ‘Stang earlier this year including the segmented tail lights whose bars flash in sequence, just like the original ’67 Shelby’s. The wheels are up an inch from 18 to 19-inches and there’s a mildly revised front end incorporating a huge bonnet bulge and a new single bonnet scoop instead of the previous model’s two. Anoraks will also notice that the snake grille badge has swapped sides because that giant air filter now sucks hard from left hand side of the grille.
And is the cabin still the sort of petrochemical nightmare that would give a Tata Nano driver cause to recoil in horror?
No, it’s much improved, if still a million miles off even a Vauxhall Astra’s, never mind a BMW M3’s. There’s soft touch plastic on the lower dash but it’s cunningly treated to look almost the same as the rock hard stuff on the doors. The retro instruments are hard to read and the striped seats, while comfortable, look more in keeping in a Mustang V6 than a 540bhp range topper. Recaro? Who are they?
It’s not all disappointments though. The gearknob is made by a company that makes real billiard balls and feels great, and the retro steering wheel has really benefited by a lashing of suede on the rim.
Where can I get one in the UK?
Not from your Ford dealer, sadly. But there are plenty of companies willing to source you one from across the Atlantic. Trouble is, what costs $47,000 (£28k) in the US ends up as £47,000 in the UK, and often more. And all Mustangs are left hand drive remember.
Okay, first the rational verdict. At the £28k the GT500 costs in its home market you could probably forgive the Transit-quality cabin plastics, ordinary seats, paucity of rear headroom and crashy live axle suspension for the fun styling, thumping soundtrack and straightline punch. But at the near £50k importers are asking, you’d be mad to choose it over the faster, more sophisticated and much more capable BMW M3 or Porsche Cayman S.
But if you’re UK based and seriously interested in buying a GT500, there’s not really much point in me banging on about how better a BMW M3 is. You’ve probably already discounted the BMW, Porsche and Nissan GT-R for being too ordinary. If you’ve got your heart set on some retro muscle then what matters is that the new Shelby is much improved. But you might want to check out the cheaper (but just as quick) Chevrolet Camaro SS, or consider a regular Mustang GT before you open your wallet.