Despite the recent incursion from Ford in the EV world with the Mustang Mach-E, an introduction that coincides with the first “branching out” of the Mustang since its creation 50 years ago, one must remember that the “real” Mustangs are still alive and well. Yes, there are officially all kinds of Mustangs now, from four-cylinder turbocharged to electric and, of course, good ’ol V8-powered models. But the top dog of the Ford Mustang Lineup – and the most powerful – is inevitably the Shelby GT500.
It used to be that the most efficient traction control module in the GT500 was located between the seat and the steering wheel. Indeed, plummeting the accelerator pedal and taking delivery of the 480 lb-ft of torque in the last generation of the 500 was not something everybody could handle. The countless videos of GT500s rolling out of Cars & Coffee events in a “calm” fashion can attest to the gruelling reality that the S197 platform-based GT500s were hard to tame.
For 2020, Ford brought back the GT500 with not only a supercharged V8 5.2-litre engine that makes 760 horsepower and 625 pound-feet of torque but also important upgrades in terms of suspension and handling, and technology that put it up there with other “over-100k” track beasts.
Ford handed me the keys to a brand spanking new example of the 2020 Shelby GT500 and cut me loose in the Angeles Crest region near Los Angeles, where miles of winding roads caress the mountains and offering a series of high speed turns – and a great playing ground for the GT500.
With the GT500, the fun starts as soon as the ignition button is pressed. The raw and uncut exhaust sound that roars from the tailpipes is as bold as the car’s overall design. Yes, the GT500 looks like Mustang GT on steroids, and that’s the whole point. But beyond looks, the GT500 carries a few active esthetic details that are worth mentioning. For instance, choosing the carbon fibre track package will add lightweight, exposed carbon-fibre wheels, a high-performance swing spoiler and lightweight, active elements that keep the GT500 light and on the ground.
Inside, the GT500 incorporated the best of what the Mustang lineup has to offer. But the most important when your riding that capable of a horse is a set of bolstered, highly supportive seats. But in the center console lies not a short-throw shift stick, but a plain, boring selector for an automatic transmission…
An automatic transmission, in a GT500?
One of the most fun parts of the drive experience with the old S197-based GT500 was to slam the gears in using the 6-Speed gearbox, letting all the torque push the car sideways and 4-speed burnouts. Let it be known that I was, like many other Mustang purists, very disappointed when I learned that the 2020 GT500 would be deprived of a manual gearbox. Buyers have only one choice, and it’s the Tremec 7-speed Dual Clutch transmission.
Canyon carving through Angeles Crest requires agility and speed, but it is imperative to always be in the right gear with taming 760 horses. And I was astonished by what the Tremec unit could provide in terms of speed. This gearbox provides PDK-like precision with just a little wait while upshifting and downshifting. Depending on the drive mode (there are five), the Shelby GT500 becomes incredibly permissive, giving way for spirited drives and maximum torque through track corners.
Like many modern high-powered muscle cars, the GT500 is not only about power – a lot of work goes into keeping these track beasts on the road and steer them where they need to be. While producing large amounts of ponies under the hood has become quite easy, but matching the herd with a balanced chassis/suspension/braking combination is where it gets tricky.
After taking on the sinuous roads of Angeles Crest, I quickly noticed that the 2020 Shelby GT500 was given surgical precision handling capabilities; a rare phenomenon when driving a factory-stock muscle car. This astonishing agility, even when being thrown around spiritedly around tight corners, also came without the bumpy ride compromise. This is thanks to, in part, the model-specific suspension that recalibrates dampening according to drive mode.
Bonus points go to the braking system; a set of 16.5-inch rotors paired with 6-piston Brembo calipers that halted the whole 4,225 lbs the GT500 when I made the occasional mistake with the steering.
All in all, the Shelby GT500 gained in precision, in a remarkable way. And it also supports an important milestone: the American muscle car is not confined to the straight line club anymore!
2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500