Over-sexed, over-hyped and now over here. Why should I care about a hot Mustang?
Care? You should get down on your knees and give thanks to the Lord! OK, so we habitually write off American cars as a bad joke, all crummy build quality, lousy fuel economy and dreadful dynamics. But the Shelby GT500 is one phenomenally special motor car. Carroll Shelby was a bankrupt Texan chicken farmer turned racer who inadvertently invented the legendary Cobra when he shoe-horned a vast Ford V8 lump into a pretty AC. He had next to nothing to do with this 2006 Mustang, but that famous name on the boot-lid still counts for something.
And what would that be?
Truly rocket-ship performance, for a start. The latest Mustang is one of Ford's finest efforts in years, a fairly crude but still seductive retro update of one of the coolest cars ever. The Shelby GT500 - wearing the definitive go-faster stripe - pushes the Mustang's performance envelope to breaking point by stuffing a supercharged 5.4-litre engine under the 'hood'. It's good for between 475 or 500bhp depending on who you talk to, and hits 60mph in 4.5 seconds.
Doesn't it have all the sophistication of a billy cart?
It's not exactly cutting edge, if that's what you mean. In the US, the Mustang is a cheap car which means that a fair bit of expense has indeed been spared. It has a live rear axle, for example, something that was last seen on a European car in the early '80s. The early 1880s…
And yet here you are driving it on British roads for the first time. Are you a masochist or what?
Actually, it's astoundingly good. Never mind the fact that you look and feel like a million dollars (in America it costs a bargain $43,000), its steering is actually surprisingly direct and feelsome, its gearchange is positive and accurate, and it'll rumble down the motorway in sixth gear pulling almost zero revs quite happily while you blast out Tom Petty on the 1000 watt Shaker stereo. Ford's Special Vehicle Team (SVT) have done a great job ensuring that it all hangs together. Talk about a feelgood factor…
What happens when you push it on a typical British back-road? I bet you're not feeling so good then…
It is a handful, yes, and over bumps, crests and ridges it has a tendency to get chucked off line. But it has a huge amount of grip, and though its body control isn't top drawer you can still place it on the road with surprising accuracy. Good brakes too. And as for the way it goes… straight-line acceleration is simply humungous. It should feel spectacularly over-powered but there are way more sophisticated and vastly more expensive AMG Mercs that are more unruly than this.
Fuel economy? The environment?
Not primary considerations here. And with Ford not planning to import it, the GT500 is available on personal import only which will erode the value argument somewhat. Even so, this is one of the most truly memorable cars we've driven in some time.
So I should get me some then?
Yes. In fact, a member of the CAR Online team has already ordered one. Can't say fairer than that