Jackie is the first girl to fawn over the Shelby GT500 once it’s in my hands. Hadn’t expected that; make no mistake, it is a dude magnet without exception and the double-X-chromosome crowd usually goes for something cuter. Jackie appears to be the exception, so far. She’ll tell you she’s a bit of a tomboy. She likes cars, long boarding, and gangsta rap. Tonight, she’s traded her usual, Ralph Lauren-catalog attire (not-so-snug pants, a button up men’s dress shirt) for a dress that can only be described as one yard of Tensor Bandage that somehow made its way out of the factory with a muted floral print.
I’m hardly complaining, though it’s clear that she’s not used to wearing this kind of garment. I tell myself that it’s all because of my strong jawline, cleft chin and thick, flowing locks, but that’s a yarn of self-deception long enough to knit Jackie a twin to the sweater I’m glad she left at home.
It’s the car.
Jackie is comfortable looking at brake calipers and superchargers, but the dress is fighting her attempts to check out the machinery tonight. “Turn around,” she tells me, “I don’t want you to see me adjusting my underwear”.
“That dress is ridiculous.” I’m trying really hard to do the gentlemanly thing and focus on the car.
A pause. I’m facing away from her, but I can imagine her eyes running along the length of the racing stripes that trace the Shelby’s sillhouette. The car isn’t running, but I can hear the crackling and pinging of the cooling drivetrain against the humid, lifeless air of the August night.
“Not as ridiculous as the car,” she replies. “How fast did you say it is?”
Five point eight liters. Six hundred and sixty-two horsepower. There’s not much out there that’s more powerful than the 2013 Ford Shelby GT500. The Lamborghini Aventador. The Ferrari FF. Maybe one or two megabuck hypercars that will be gobbled up by our BRIC-nation overlords.
Jackie and I will not go much faster tonight than we just did. A quick blast into “lose your license” territory occurs in 3rd gear at around 3000 RPM – there is still so much power left on the table, I feel…impotent. “That did not feel like [exact speed redacted],” Jackie says, with the sort of contempt usually reserved for a prom night that’s come to a premature conclusion.
In 2012, where “green” is our secular religion, “carbon emissions” are a mortal sin and we worship at the altar of sustainability while flagellating ourselves about everything from our consumption habits to our role in the world, it truly is a miracle, in the most theistic sense of the word, that this car exists. A supercharged V8, a 6-speed gearbox, a 200 mph top speed, 10 mpg in town and an aesthetic so jingoistic it would make even the most ardent soaring-eagles-America-firster wonder if it needs toning down. If President Obama is forever identified with the Chevrolet Volt, then this car is Pat Buchanan’s likely chariot, a swift exit from the Nixon Administration into the severe right wing with all cylinders firing seven thousand times a minute. And yet, somehow, somewhere at Ford World Headquarters, someone approved this for production.
And still, it is thoroughly modern. A trip to Mosport, 60 miles away on the freeway, in 6th gear at 80 mph with the A/C blasting, returned 25 mpg. I played my music through my iPod via the dreadful touch-screen SYNC system (which I am unapologetic in declaring it to be the bastard spawn of Satan. It is awful, always has been, always will be, and it never, ever works for me). The 2013 model is an enormous improvement over the last one I drove, a 2011 that made “only” 550 horsepower. Despite being down over 100 horsepower over the 2013 GT500, that car was an absolute bastard to drive. As I wrote back in 2010
Floor it in 3rd gear and the car lunges forward like a starving bear on crystal meth. The low rumble turns into a demonic war cry as the big V8 makes its way through the rev range. At an indeterminate point, the supercharger starts to make boost, emitting a soft whine as the needle of the dash mounted boost gauge sweeps towards a maximum reading of 15 psi. The back of the Shelby starts to buck and gyrate like a spring break reveler dancing to a dirty rap song, and suddenly you realize just how fleeting life really is. The rush of the raw power is absolutely intoxicating, and it’s tempting not to up shift and do it all over again.
The new car leaves it in the dust. The 2013 Shelby doesn’t pop its booty sideways like the old car did. The new tires and improved traction control see to that. It just gallops forward while the exhaust bellows like a scalded silverback gorilla. There’s not even any audible supercharger noise. But what the hell am I supposed to do with it? Giving me the keys to this car is like Ford asking me to come shoot tin cans in their back yard, with the stipulation that I can only use a Stinger missle to knock them down. It is so powerful in any gear that anyone that needs to be passed is just vaporized by the omnipotent V8.
And this is ultimately what makes the Shelby GT500 so compelling, especially to “the generation that doesn’t care about cars”. The performance is astounding but irrelevant. The styling can be had on a $22,000 Mustang V6. A better drive can arguably be had with a Boss 302. But nowhere else can you give such a middle finger to the zeitgiest. It doesn’t want to check in via Foursquare at the Mexican-Korean fusion place. It doesn’t care about Car Free Sundays, or dubstep music or the newest celebrity chef. Exploding away from a stop light, hanging out the window, with a cigarette between our lips, without fear of the cops, or fear of another day of
indentured servitude unpaid internships, or having to compose a response to the latest text message from our significant other. Morals are relative, the middle class is shrinking, God is dead, our lives are lived in public, and a small part of us yearns for an era we never knew, where marriage, 2.5 kids, and a mortgage was not only attainable, but attained early. We’ve never had more freedom or opportunities, but we still find ourselves yearning for a past era, where things weren’t as fluid or permissive; it’s why we throw “Mad Men” themed dress-up parties where the guys get a free pass to make misogynistic remarks, pinch the girls’ rears and watch them giggle with guilty glee as they hand out baked treats and push feminism into the attics of their psyche.
The orgiastic past may recede before us, but this car – our one link to that bygone epoch – keeps getting better and better.