Ford Mustang Shelby GT Review

P.J. McCombs
by P.J. McCombs

As automakers continue their relentless pursuit of refinement, there’s precious little “magic” to be had behind the wheel of a new car. Sit down, and you instantly know where everything is and how to operate it. Start it up and drive and few sensations are overly vivid. In short, most new cars are about as surprising as a toaster. Ford’s Mustang Shelby GT is the un-toaster. I recently braved the perils of California’s Mojave Desert (e.g. bad road food) to sample the Shelby at the Willow Springs Raceway. The experience was not bland. On the contrary, it was, erm… memorable.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The Shelby GT is a for-the-people version of 2006’s Shelby GT-H, a special-edition ‘Stang available only for rental through Hertz. The same upgrades apply: a one-and-a-half-inch drop, stouter springs, dampers and anti-roll bars, a front strut tower brace, and a freer-breathing intake and exhaust. There’s also—wait for it— a numbered and Carroll-Shelby-signed commemorative plaque on the dash. Ooh. Aah. Sorry, just yawning.

Now, this may seem like the umpteenth special-edition ‘Stang Ford has released to pump life into its retro pony’s sales (Warriors in Pink Edition, anyone?). But the car’s pert, chunky lines still draw stares. And while Shelby’s visual additions put the “tack” in tack-ons (eighteen-inch imitation “mags,” hood pins, billet grille, the usual suspects), they can be taken in good fun. Early in the day, journalists waited in line to drive this car. When’s the last time someone got excited about a rental Ford?

I mentioned memorable sensations. The first arrives when you swing open the Shelby’s heavy door and drop yourself into the dark, leather-trimmed interior. Half-filling your bunker-slit view is a hood scoop. Not a WRX-style mail slot, but the real dream-cruise deal, racing-striped and stamped into place with rivets. It’s nonfunctional, of course.

At the base of the console sits another shameless, self-conscious grasp at the past: a cue-ball-topped Hurst short shifter. Try to grab a gear with this thing and it feels broken. Improbably high effort is required to scritch-scratch the lever through its tiny, gritty H-pattern, as if someone used sand as a lubricant. Stylistically, it gels seamlessly with the rest of the ‘Stang’s ‘60s-revival interior décor. And hey, at least the five-speed is a manual; the Hertz GT-H, as some may recall, was auto-only.

The salience of that last point becomes apparent upon turning the key. The noise that issues from the Shelby’s exhausts is the stuff of teenage fantasies: dense, rumbly, woofly and loud. Spine tingles come standard. And with a manual at your disposal, this luscious soundtrack inspires all kinds of delightful antisocial behaviors, from unnecessary revving at a stop to unnecessary displays of WOT on the move.

According to Ford, the exhaust and intake combo are good for an extra 19 horses versus the standard Mustang GT, for a total of 319. That’s more than enough for serious fun, especially since the 4.6-liter V8 pours on torque thickly and smoothly in the midrange (low-end grunt is surprisingly modest). Zero to 60mph runs take just about five seconds. But the Shelby’s dynamics are, um, less than contemporary.

Readers who’ve driven the standard-issue ‘Stang are doubtless already familiar with its light, numb steering, its proclivity to understeer and the general sense of squidge in its suspension. Truth is, the Shelby’s starched suspenders don’t improve matters much. Body motions are nicely taut, and its stride feels a bit more hunkered-down. But the Shelby still left my neurons reeling as its helm scribed gloopy, too-fast arcs into Willow Springs’ sweeping high-speed corners.

And braking? Talk about “memorable.” The middle pedal feels weaker than a wine spritzer and mushier than Mills & Boon. Worse, the Shelby GT evinces a spooky live-axle weave when you drop anchor at triple-digit speeds. Its rear end gets loose and queasy as the front end dives to sniff the pavement. I didn’t notice any pucker marks on the seat cushion’s leather upholstery. Must be tough stuff.

Okay, so the typical Shelby GT buyer isn’t looking to run it around a track. More likely they’ll use it to cruise the main drag, luring envious glances from other aging rodders. Or maybe they’ll canter down a mountain road, reveling in the echo of its exhaust. Under such circumstances, I, too, would surely fall under the Shelby’s spell.

But hey, that’s easy to do while driving on someone else’s dime. The MSRP for this nostalgic bit of blue-oval bluster? $36,970. Seriously. And all of the performance parts are, as they say, “also sold separately.” Check ‘em off in your Ford Racing catalog and you’ll total $2,656. Budget a couple thousand more to have everything bolted onto your $25,840 Mustang GT.

Have you driven a $6,970 commemorative plaque lately? I told you it left an impression.

P.J. McCombs
P.J. McCombs

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  • StevoApex StevoApex on Aug 04, 2009

    I appreciate many of the comments of some here who have a clue about this car. The SGT is force in both performance and in the fun factor. I recently had the opportunity to drive a SGT and it was a blast. You won't confuse it with a WRX or the G37 thats for sure. I've owned two WRX's, not STI's, but still, all wheel drive is just lame unless its raining, or snowing; utterly boring unless driven at the limit, a torqueless nanny car. A turbo charged 4 banger just isnt the same as a free breathing V8. Buying a Shelby used for about 25-28k is so much more fun. Probably best suited as a second car and driven for fun only. If your looking for daily driver or gauge performance by a just specs alone you might as well get many other vehicles; however, if theres blood in your veins and any testoserone left in your body, you will immediately get the the point of the SGT.

  • Spiderj0e Spiderj0e on Aug 14, 2009

    OK I dont normally post on sites but I have to. Shelby what can I say the name is a legend. All the people here talkin crap about it dont know much about cars. Ok performance is not all a car is about. Style neither. Limited Numbers make a giant difference. I have driven more cars then most know exist. A base model gt is a nice car. I own a 2007. Sure I can get frrp parts that make it a shelby without the name plate but 60 years from now what car will sell at a bj auction for a ridiculous amount. Another thing I live in las vegas (world office of shelby) shelby is offering a s/c or s/r upgrade to a base model gt that will register it as a shelby Limited Number. Also you peeps baggin on handling and saying only good in strait line. Who is owning the drift circuit. Mustang. And take a look at other mods from other companies like griggs racing. Solid axel mustangs with less horse power are destroying corvettes porshe bmw!!! sorry for the rant but SHELBY will allways be a great investment.

  • Varezhka The biggest underlying issue of Mitsubishi Motors was that for most of its history the commercial vehicles division was where all the profit was being made, subsidizing the passenger vehicle division losses. Just like Isuzu.And because it was a runt of a giant conglomerate who mainly operated B2G and B2B, it never got the attention it needed to really succeed. So when Daimler came in early 2000s and took away the money making Mitsubishi-Fuso commercial division, it was screwed.Right now it's living off of its legacy user base in SE Asia, while its new parent Nissan is sucking away at its remaining engineering expertise in EV and kei cars. I'd love to see the upcoming US market Delica, so crossing fingers they will last that long.
  • ToolGuy A deep-dive of the TTAC Podcast Archives gleans some valuable insight here.
  • Tassos I heard the same clueless, bigoted BULLSHEET about the Chinese brands, 40 years ago about the Japanese Brands, and more recently about the Koreans.If the Japanese and the Koreans have succeeded in the US market, at the expense of losers such as Fiat, Alfa, Peugeot, and the Domestics,there is ZERO DOUBT in my mind, that if the Chinese want to succeed here, THEY WILL. No matter what one or two bigots do about it.PS try to distinguish between the hard working CHINESE PEOPLE and their GOVERNMENT once in your miserable lives.
  • 28-Cars-Later I guess Santa showed up with bales of cash for Mitsu this past Christmas.
  • Lou_BC I was looking at an extended warranty for my truck. The F&I guy was trying to sell me on the idea by telling me how his wife's Cadillac had 2 infotainment failures costing $4,600 dollars each and how it was very common in all of their products. These idiots can't build a reliable vehicle and they want me to trust them with the vehicle "taking over" for me.