Ford Mustang Shelby GT-H Racer Review

Jonny Lieberman
by Jonny Lieberman

The new Shelby GT-H is not only one of the world’s most desirable cars, it’s also one of the rarest. Not rare in the Pagani Zonda F sense of the word (i.e. only the five wealthiest Kings of Europe can afford one). Rare because Ford’s limited total production to six hundred units, Hertz gets all of them, and at LAX at least, the GT-H is booked through October. Thanks to a manufacturer-sponsored press event (disclaimer done) your intrepid TTAC reviewer managed to get his mitts on the “Hertz rent-a-racer.” I don’t think I’m giving anything away to say that pistonheads’ wives can consider their husbands’ birthday present sorted.

To create the GT-H, Ford once again asked legendary Texas tuner Carroll Shelby to raid the company’s "Go-Fast" parts bin. Yes, for the second time in forty-odd years, FoMoCo, Shelby and Hertz have cornered the weekend warrior rental car market. Predictably enough, Shelby Automobiles’ president Amy Boylan claims the GT-H “looks, accelerates, handles and sounds the way a high-performance Shelby-ized Ford Mustang should.” For once the hype doesn’t go far enough; this is the Mustang GT Ford should have built.

The GT-H is, as the Brits say, the dog’s bollocks. By lowering the car an inch and a half, the base Mustang’s good points– the long hood, the aggressive stance– are brought into sharp focus. Unlike Shelby’s famous white-with-blue-stripes combo, the GT-H’s deep-black with gleaming gold Le Mans stripes looks distinctly menacing. Even non-believers will be wooed by the nipple rings holding the hood down, the shiny aluminum grill with its off-center running horse, trick side scoops and big chrome Hertz badges. The view over the hood is sweeter than syrup; the GT-H’s power dome looks the business. Pull the sparkling pins, pop the hood and the dolled-up engine shows its pride with a bevy of Ford Racing stickers and some seriously sparkling plumbing.

Inside, the badge party continues with a big “Hertz Shelby GT-H” plate mounted on the sill. There’s even a numbered plaque between the air vents with Carroll’s signature– should you forget that you didn’t rent the painfully slow V6 model. The rest of the interior is sadly identical to the regular GT, though there is a big, ugly Sirius control unit glued behind the gear selector. The good news is that the “pick a color, any color” mood lighting is still available for when the sun goes down.

Never mind the interior; check out that burble. Thanks to Ford Racing parts– a muffler pack, an X-pipe like the one used on the even more powerful GT500 and a cat-back exhaust– the GT-H’s soundtrack at idle is a trip back to the days when dinosaurs gargled gas with glorious abandon. Crack the go-pedal and the GT-H’s roar is Slayer to the stock GT’s Dishwala. Take it to redline and you get the feeling you’re sitting inside an explosion. Ford GT Marketing Manager John Alguire told the junketed throngs that FoMoCo’s engineers spent plenty of time and money tuning the Hertz model’s exhaust-note. Good work boys, now go play with all the other models.

Not for nothing is all that noise. A new cold-air intake and some ECU chipping combine with the breathing bits to bang out 325 hp and 330 foot pounds of twist. That’s up 25 and 10 over the standard GT mill, respectively. It’s not a mammoth increase in oomph, but it’s enough to overcome the “yeah, but…” feeling GT drivers experience during full-on stoplight sprints. While you can only rent the GT-H with a 5-speed slushbox, it has most of the grunt most of the people need most of the time. Otherwise, aside from the holdover not ready for primetime brakes from the regular GT, you can’t switch off the traction control. It’s a real tease, too; the button’s there, but you can’t push it. Only weekend track day warriors determined not to win would rent the Hertz Racer.

Which is a shame. The GT-H handles much, much better than all the other Mustangs, including Shelby’s own GT500. Lowered springs, tuned-dampers, fatter sway bars and the prettiest strut tower brace ever installed on a production vehicle nimble-up a chassis that is usually hoggish. Even with the babysitter forever on, there’s enough grunt and oversteer to initiate tremendously satisfying, deductible-threatening power slides. At low speeds, too. The steering feels much faster, firmer and accurate and the ride is pleasantly, sportingly harsh. Hey, you’re only going to have the car a few days, right?

I also drove the pre-production Shelby GT, which is essentially the GT-H but with silver stripes, a five-speed Hurst shifter and bigger 18" wheels. Will this harder-core sister model decrease the GT-H's desirability or rareness? Not one iota. No matter who you are, you can't buy the rental model. Sometimes the truth Hertz.

Jonny Lieberman
Jonny Lieberman

Cleanup driver for Team Black Metal V8olvo.

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  • Ricky Spanish Ricky Spanish on Sep 27, 2006

    5 speed slushbox ? only 25 extra hp from all those modifications? meh, beats renting a Cobalt.

  • Xder345 Xder345 on Sep 27, 2006

    I just had a GT-H pass me yesterday on I-40 in Durham, NC. I almost got into a wreck because of it. I'm just cruising along in the Freestyle (GREAT vehicle by the way) on my way home from work...I notice some gold stripes in the rearview, then the hood pins register in the brain...and before you know it, it's flown by me must of been at 95 or so (I was running 80). I almost crapped myself. One because I am currently building a scale model of the original GT-H, and two, because I was paying too much attention watching it weave in and out of traffic and started wandering lanes... It really does look quite aggressive. The body mods have done something great to the car (the regular GT just looks so plain now) and the grill is fabulous...

  • VoGhost Fantastic work by Honda design. When I first saw the pictures, I thought "Is that a second gen Acura NSX?"
  • V16 2025 VW GLI...or 2025 Honda Civic SI? Same target audience, similar price points. Both are rays of sun in the gray world of SUV'S.
  • FreedMike Said this before and I'll say it again: I'm not that exercised about this whole "pay for a subscription" thing, as long as the deal's reasonable. And here's how you make it reasonable: offer it a monthly charge. Let's say that adaptive headlights are a $500 option on this vehicle, and the subscription is $15 a month, or $540 over a three year lease. So you try the feature for a month, and if you like it, you keep it; if you don't, then you discontinue it, like a Netflix subscription. In any case, you didn't get charged $500 up front the feature. That's not a bad deal.In my case, let's say VW offers an over the air chip reflash that gives me another 25 hp. The total price of the upgrade is $1,000 (which is what a reflash would cost you in the aftermarket). If they offered me a one time monthly subscription for $50 to try it out, I'd take it. In other words, maybe the news isn't all bad.
  • 2ACL A good car, but - at least in this configuration -not one that should command a premium. Its qualities just aren't as enduring as those of Honda's contemporary sports cars. For better or worse, this is a formula they remain able to replicate.
  • Jalop1991 I just read that Tesla's profits are WAY down "as the electric vehicle company has faced both more EV competition from established automakers and a slowing of overall EV sales growth." This Cadillac wouldn't help Tesla at all, but the slowing market of EV sales overall means this should be a halo/boutique car. Regardless, yes, they should make it.