Shelby GT500 Review – Counterpoint

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago

A small bump in the road traversed at the slightest discernible angle on dry pavement at 50mph will send the Shelby GT500’s rear end sideways with enough violence to engage the traction control. If you don't care, God bless you. I fully understand and appreciate your perspective: muscle cars are about power, not finesse. Finesse is for people who aren’t willing to risk their childrens' future to experience a few moments of high horsepower hoonery. Fine. But include me out.

Don’t get me wrong: I love monstrous horsepower. Whether it’s the painful jolt of a Carrera GT or an Enzo stretching the time space continuum, I’m a fervent fan of fast. But I also like to write about it. That means I only deploy as much horsepower as the car can handle without hitting solid objects. First, that requires stop-the-world-I-want-to-get-off braking power. Second, it requires a suspension that's several orders of magnitude better than the one fitted to a 1972 Chevrolet Monte Carlo. While the GT500 has sufficient stoppers for a nose-heavy, morbidly obese, 500hp two-door– provided you don’t mind standing on the brake pedal– it serves-up less chassis control than a [very] Flexible Flyer.

Let’s think about this. There you are at a stoplight. It turns green. You give it some. With its live rear axle suspension, the GT500 judders like a giant's attacking the entire car with a humongous pneumatic drill. Switch off the traction control and you're treading asphalt in a cloud of tire smoke. If you accelerate hard over a crap road, the juddering morphs into full-on pavement surfing. And don’t get to thinking that the bone shaking is reserved for those times when your right foot ignores your left brain. If the GT500 cruises over a stretch of broken pavement, it's another surfin' safari.

I know: who cares? It’s a 500hp rear wheel-drive muscle car! That’s like saying it’s OK to shag Adriana Lima even if you know she’s got herpes. Maybe you’ll catch it, maybe you won’t. Why worry when it feels so gooood? ‘Cause it will right until the moment it doesn't. In fact, the only way avoid tree trouble with the ferociously fast GT500’s loosey-goosy handling is either A) drive it on Germany’s glassine roads or B)– nope, that’s it. The TV actor who took the GT500 to Chrysler’s homeland because he couldn’t “find a speed limit he liked” actually made the trip because he couldn’t find a road he could keep it on.

Oh, and the GT500 may be electronically limited to 155mph– enough to get you spanked on the autobahn by any number of lesser-horsed automobiles– but take it from someone who had to get to Beantown in a hurry, I would NOT want to be the one testing Nanny’s leash. I could have made more rapid progress in an Acura TL. Ah, but the TL is an anodyne automobile, a gussied-up Honda Accord with about as much soul as chicken pot pie. The Shelby GT500 is a fire-breathing Mustang hopped-up by the master, with more spice than the homemade hot sauce at Leonard’s Pit Barbecue, 5465 Fox Plaza, Memphis, Tennessee. While I prefer the Mustang GT’s shark-like snout to the GT500’s center-mounted bookshelf, I’ll grant you that the Shelby is one sexy looking beast– from the outside.

From the inside, it’s a rental car. Forty large (without the sucker’s premium) buys you precisely nothing in the interior style department. You’re still ensconced in a car (as Frank Williams puts it) lousy with cheap. The cabin is dour, suffused with nasty ass plastic and bereft of the slightest joyful attention to detail. For example, the vanity mirrors are sub-Barbie quality and the electric driver’s seat reclines manually.

Even the bits where Ford could have made a real statement– the stereo, steering wheel, seats and shift knob– are po’ faced and pathetic. How much would it have cost to make the GT500’s interior special? At such low volumes, why don’t Ford’s "designers" simply ship the uber-Stang off to some aftermarket company to fit top notch ICE, a racing wheel, Recaro seats and a Hurst-style shift knob? Maybe they could even do something about that rear axle…

Now I know many of you are itching to wail on me in the comments’ section with all sorts of blather about retro cool and manly men doing manly things in maximum Mustang muscle cars. Not to mention the economic arguments: bang- for-the-buck and halo car. Besides, if people want to buy them, why not sell them? Because retro is one thing, repeating the mistakes of the past is another. The GT500 may be a die-hard (one hopes) enthusiast's catnip, but it also reveals the ongoing supremacy of Ford's beancounters, and the company's continued inability to produce a fast, affordable rear wheel-drive car that handles as well as it goes.

Read Jonny Lieberman's original review here.

Listen to my debate with Jonny by pressing PLAY below.

(Click on "Play in Popup" and continue reading as you listen.)

Robert Farago
Robert Farago

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  • Hacksawz Hacksawz on Feb 12, 2008

    Well I have heard alot of pros and cons of the GT500 and I went ahead and bought one. I have drag raced cars and motorcycles since 1980 and put hundreds of thousands of miles on our roads here in the USA. Before anyone bashes this car, one must drive one. It handles just fine on these roads. For about $2000. you can get absolutely awsome handling and add over 150 extra horse power to the wheels. As for looks, you may as well have Marilyn Monroe sitting next to you. I can safely say it is down right fast. You cannot buy a car like this for the money. I welcome fast cars but they just stay away.

  • Bradelaine13 Bradelaine13 on Mar 07, 2008

    I cant agree more Hacksawz... You have to drive it to understand what it is before you can say anything. The Shelby GT500 is not a luxury liner. It does not have the interior that you would want to set up an apartment in or drive your 2 kids and your schnauzer in unless maybe you dug retro glimming plastic and wall to wall plush carpeting without the plush. But who cares? Trying to compare it on interior cosmetic merits is silly and will just lead to frustration as that’s not what its about. If it is a tidy leather and walnut trim you’re looking for move to England. If it’s a big heavy in your face American ball of fire that you can’t help but smile when you drive it, then this cars for you. Trying to compare the Shelby GT500 to flashy European and premium sports cars is missing the point. All have their merits and it is not an apples to apples comparison. If this were people it would be like comparing John Wayne to Elton John. The Shelby is all grit, cool and swagger. It’s not flashy, glitzy and wearing funky glasses or carbon fiber for that matter. The exterior has classic lines that throw you back to yesterday and make you feel like your driving a piece of automobile history in a modern engineering forum because I guess you are. The convertible is relatively comfortable, with a clean retro interior and a nice upgraded cloth top. Where it really shines is it can send a chill down your spine and put your heart in your mouth when you stomp on it and all hell breaks lose. You can feel its personality really jump up. The outrageous whine of the supercharger is like a scene out of Mad Max : “last of the V-8 interceptors” and the brutal pull of rare power can’t help but make you giggle like a kid if your not too busy wondering if you’re going to die or not. How many cars are out there that can invoke such personality and nostalgia so intensely for the price? For a relatively inexpensive bolt on and mod. I had mine tuned to 630hhp with 552hhp at the wheels and 550 torque. I am thinking that’s all I will probably need most days to keep up with my fellow commuters in their hybrids and Corollas. And it’s got a little extra for the weekend road warrior in me. Yeah it guzzles gas like a bad ass muscle car should but no more than other big blocks. It makes me think about how much fossil fuel I am burning more than any other car I have. I guess that helps make me environmentally aware at the same time. Therefore, it even has a socially redeeming trait ha ha. Even at the going prices you are getting a lot of engine,(and yeah you can throw an extra small kid or two in the back and even the dog on those days the wife needs you to behave like a responsible adult. You can’t do that with a corvette unless you have plenty of rope to strap them on the hood). There is plenty of power, tight enough suspension and over steer to give you that seat of the pants on edge thrill ride and if you really are looking at the plastic interior when you’re going 0-60 in 4.6+ seconds, its shinny enough to see the grin on your face in it which you can’t say for all that dark expensive trim on those fancy pants cars. The ride in the vert. is quite solid and although this thing should be on the “biggest loser” when it comes to its bloated weight, it’s still nimble enough and handles surprisingly well. Unless you a serious driving expert you won’t notice it in the ride on the live axle. Most of the time you won’t be doing over 60-70 in it anyway unless you make it a garage museum piece and it drives plenty modern enough at those speeds to be an everyday commuter by day and then a fire breathing dragon by Weekend. It feels far more stable and stiff body wise than previous stang vert. bodies. The Top flips down with ease after a quick flick of the two roof latches and sets nice enough behind the rear seats that it looks almost better without the boot over it. Again trying to rationalize this car is really not going to get you anywhere. There are going to be those that like John Wayne movies and some that love Elton John songs. And some that get both I guess. Its one of those that you love because it invokes something when you drive it. If you feel it and get it you will love it. If you’re trying to pull a Sigmund Freud analysis on it to justify it against other cars you will go crazy and should hold off buying. I personally love mine. This car says America all over it with a hint of nostalgia, a lot of cool and just plain gritty fun. All American Swagger - get some.

  • Lorenzo I don't see any problem with electrifying a city car. That's basically all a 500L is good for, and it was a nice touch using the L instead of the short wheelbase model - it can hold three grocery bags instead of two, or $300 instead of $200, saving an extra trip.
  • Lorenzo Why aren't American firms trying to grab some of that loot, er, tax money? Either way, it's nice of them to create American jobs so people can earn back some of their tax money - after taxes, of course.
  • Lorenzo I think it's time to retire the adjective 'electrifying'. It will only cause confusion now.
  • Daniel J Until we get a significant charging infrastructure and change times get under 10 minutes, yes
  • Mike I own 2 gm 6.2 vehicles. They are great. I do buy alot of gas. However, I would not want the same vehicles if they were v6's. Jusy my opinion. I believe that manufacturers need to offer engine options for the customer. The market will speak on what the consumer wants.For example, I dont see the issue with offering a silverado with 4cyl , 6 cyl, 5.3 v8, 6.2 v8, diesel options. The manufacturer will charge accordingly.