Vellum Venom: 2012 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta

I always wondered what it takes to make the top drawer trim level of a car…any car. From what I saw from my friend Jeff Sanders’ sketchbook for the (yet-to-be created) Ford F150 Harley Davidson, very little of what a designer actually “designs” makes it into production. A flare side bed with leather bags like a real Harley? Not a chance in hell, Mr. Sanders. Enter the lipstick on a P…Pony: the outgoing Shelby GT500 for 2012.

Fair warning: I don’t care for any Mustang design after 1994, as the Fox Body Mustang from 79-93 was a surprisingly well designed tribute to the original. The size and spirit were right, with a touch of Mercedes 450SLC in the beginning, and a lot of 1986 Taurus at the end. The new Mustangs are bloated, half baked, Fat Elvis tributes to the original: a caricature for sure, but doing the bare minimum and hiding under “retro guise” was something I was regularly criticized for in design school. Ouch.

Since my work was less “Fox” and more New Mustang, well, perhaps I really like Shelby’s aggressive take on the Mustang. Just like the 1967 Shelby, this schnoz is far more aggressive and earth hugging than what you get from a regular Pony.

But here’s the fly in the ointment: if you have to block off the grille to accomplish some engineering requirement, your design failed. This practice needs to end, almost as much as the black triangles made to lengthen the DLO of a greenhouse. A blocked off grille looks…cheap.

And more blocked off grilles? Hey, when in Rome…no matter, the chin spoiler looks pretty cool. Perhaps this brick-nosed facade is a smooth operator, as some of the details do look sleek. Or perhaps I am just a huge fan of terrazzo flooring. Either way, there’s something pretty in this photo.

Oh come on, son! There are probably several valid reasons to block off the grilles on the front clip, but the hood vents? How much does this car retail for again?

With the macho-looking charcoal hoops, downward sloping grille with drop jaw bumper speed hole, and the tapered sides clearly seen in the headlight contours, the Shelby GT500 is…well, it’s pretty damn macho. Which is great, especially when you consider the ‘Stang is the smallest and lightest Pony car on the market.

No wait, that’s actually quite depressing.

When you consider this is still an SVT Cobra, do we really need Shelby’s name on it too? This car is a branding and badging nightmare, compete with the obligatory Brembo stoppers. The marketing people at Brembo really did a good job getting the company name out there. No matter, the side sculpturing is quite taut, but the horrendously chunky (soon to be chalky?) side skirting needs a re-think.

I love how the A-pillar, door and fender all meet at a logical place, looking sleek in the process. The side view mirrors sport a forward leaning profile much like the front schnoz. It looks mighty fine. Then again, if the Mustang had a lower beltline and a taller greenhouse, I betcha these appendages wouldn’t need to be so darn large.

This is arguably the best part of the 2005+ Mustang: the deliciously retro C-pillar, reminiscent of the original fastback Mustang. I love it.

But when you step back…oh my, this is Fat Elvis again. I see less of the original fastback design and more of a chunky GM colonnade treatment over an almost CUV tall body.

Oops, sorry about the camera phone fail. From here you see the Mustang’s scalloped side treatment between the door and the rear wheel, the colonnade roof and the bandsaw trimmed corners: a clumsy but obvious homage to the Porsche 928. But bandsawing is a good thing, considering the visual heft of the previous model. The extra thick black chin on the rear bumper also does an admirable job of reducing visual heft.

Even better, how about making a Mustang that’s small to start with? Then there’s no need to try to make it look sleeker and smaller!

If that thick black turtleneck looking thing didn’t exist, we might have a seriously trim, sleek and sexy Mustang. Alas, that wasn’t meant to be, for reasons we may never know!

These taillights look great, a styling feature that stands on its own feet. There’s so much surface tension, complemented by the triangulated lower half. And since these babies light up sequentially, you’re done: this is a great piece of engineering and design.

Good thing they never made that oversized gas cap in red, as it would make the Mustang look like a clown. Oh wait, that’s a non-functional tribute to the original’s gas filler…so it actually IS a clown!

Combine the gas cap’s size with the surrounding concave negative area and you get a design feature that’s far too big for its britches. Well maybe not as obnoxious as a Mustang II King Cobra graphics package, but that’s not the point.

Plus, big SHELBY lettering is great for the car show crowd.

Wait…another SVT badge? If there’s a worse case of “red headed step child” automotive divisions than Ford’s SVT, I’d like to know. Because aside from the wonderful Contour and Focus SVT, these folks always have a far more catchy name attached to their products. (cough, Lightning…cough, Cobra…cough, Shelby GT500, cough Raptor)

Assuming SVT did the lion’s share of work to make this vehicle, is the Shelby name just another useless bit of retro on the retro Mustang? I wager a wholehearted guess of “yes”.

Sajeev Mehta
Sajeev Mehta

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  • Rudiger Rudiger on Apr 16, 2012

    Seems like I read somewhere that the 'Fat Elvis' look of modern cars (especially the retro-mobiles) is a direct result of federal regulations (bumpers, side impact, CAFE, etc.). IOW, even if an automaker (Ford) wanted to build and sell an exact copy of an original 1964½ Mustang, it simply wouldn't be possible with today's mandatory rules and guidelines. Does anyone know if this is true? It sounds plausible, considering how complicated modern cars seem to be to meet all the regulations.

    • Faygo Faygo on Apr 16, 2012

      compare the BRZ/FT-86 to the original Mustang. BRZ is a touch smaller, lighter, wider, but otherwise similar in size. so yes, one can build a car that small and meet current regs. one might not be able to make it look exactly like the original, but I suspect one could get it close. someone could probably overlay one in photshop and show us how not close it would be.

  • JMII JMII on Apr 16, 2012

    The problem I have with the look of the current Mustang is that its want-be fastback. The original had a big back window and a tiny rear deck. The Mach 1 version took this to the extreme and that says "Mustang" to me. For awhile in 80s they made true hatchback Mustangs and separate sedans with more upright rear windows and traditional trunks (icky! I owned one). Now we've got something in between: where the rear window doesn't slant down enough to say "fast back" and trunk lid is too long. In fact the whole rear end is just too much (baby's got BACK!) Its seems even Ford realized this and quickly did the bandsaw trim around the back as visual liposuction, but its just not working for me. The original Mustang had a flat back section where the tail light cluster and gas cap was so the back of this version is a real mess in comparison. However the sequential tail lights rule, I wish more cars had this feature, especially those without yellow turn signals. I like the forward slanted nose as well, gives it a look like its ready to jump, somewhat shark-like.

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