Shelby GT500: Red, White and Old School
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    Post Shelby GT500: Red, White and Old School

    Shelby GT500: Red, White and Old School

    IN a rare alignment of the stars - and the bars - my test drive of the new Shelby GT500 took place over the Fourth of July. Parading along the streets of Brooklyn, Ford's retro muscle car became part of the celebration, a two-ton American flag with white racing stripes.

    Children pointed and teenagers urged me to light the fuse of this glaring red rocket. As I obliged, painting the scene with black rubber, it was enough to bring a tear to the eye of a laid-off autoworker.

    As every Mustang fanatic knows, the Shelby is a 500-horsepower homage to the Shelby GT's of the 1960's, an era when gasoline flowed like nickel drafts and, believe it or not, Japanese cars were clearly inferior to Detroit's - and a whole lot less cool.

    So you can almost forgive Ford (and General Motors and Chrysler) for wanting to time-warp back to that era. Which they have, reviving often slavish imitations of their greatest hits. Ford acts at times like an aging high school jock, finding it easier to rehash the glory days than to focus on the future.

    Now there's no doubt that the muscle-car revival has put some style and swagger back in the American car, and it has hatched some of the better new models on the market, including the Chrysler 300 and the Mustang GT on which the Shelby coupe and convertible are based.

    But even this car's target audience of boomers and blue collars may be a bit disappointed in this super 'Stang, which costs roughly $44,000, or $51,000 for the convertible. The Shelby goes fast and sounds appropriately menacing, but it doesn't feel as explosive as its lofty horsepower rating suggests.

    In contrast to the Mustang GT's 4.6-liter V-8 - with an aluminum block, three valves per cylinder and 300 horsepower - the Shelby gets a supercharged 5.4-liter V-8 with an extra valve in each cylinder. The GT500 will hustle from 0 to 60 in 4.5 seconds, its V-8 rumble overlaid with the whine of a supercharger. Second gear peaks above 80 m.p.h., and third around 110, with six speeds managed through a stiff-feeling manual shifter. Huge Brembo brakes with four-piston front calipers help rein in the wide-striped beast.

    On smooth highways, the Shelby feels something like a Nascar stocker escaped from the track. It rides well enough and goes exactly where you point it. Its sticky 18-inch tires deliver gobs of grip. Yet with 57 percent of its weight up front, the car is prone to understeer. Mute steering doesn't communicate the car's intentions, especially at the higher speeds where you'd like some reassurance.

    And if the Shelby loves creamy pavement, it has less taste for the chunky kind, on which the stiff suspension and low-profile tires transmit serious harshness into the cabin. On rough city streets, the Shelby is harder on your glutes than a Marine Corps Pilates instructor, and its tires chase after every hump and crack in the road. After a weeklong test, a persistent rattle had settled in near the right front wheel.

    In evolutionary terms, the Mustang's solid-axle rear suspension is still dragging its knuckles on the ground. Despite Ford's persistent claims to the contrary, the antique setup cannot match an independent suspension in ride and handling, though it does hold down costs.

    The best sports cars dance over bumps; the Shelby hammers them into submission.

    Inside, the GT500 makes half-hearted gestures to upgrade the Mustang's nostalgic cabin, including optional (and tacky-looking) red seat inserts and a hissing cobra on the steering wheel. Driving position and comfort make a huge leap from the last-generation Mustang, but that car's basic structure dated to the late 1970's. Plastics are poorly matched and lackadaisically fitted and have a greasy Brylcreem sheen.

    The retro attitude extends to the mileage, and the Shelby proved to be one of the thirstiest cars I've tested, at 12.5 m.p.g. over all. In one admittedly hard-charging 70-mile stretch, the Shelby returned just 10 m.p.g. - or well over $1 for every three miles of travel.

    After filling up, a mere 150-mile jaunt drained the tank nearly to "E," at which point my Visa card began to self-destruct. Babied on the highway, the Shelby hung around 19 m.p.g.; yet a Corvette Z06, with 505 horsepower, can manage 26 m.p.g.

    The Shelby's poor mileage wins it one distinction: a $1,300 guzzler tax. Of course, muscle car lovers will say that fuel economy is beside the point. And come January, the 325-horse Shelby GT-H - the H stands for Hertz, and the car is currently for rent in major cities - will offer buyers the Shelby mystique with better mileage at a lower price.

    The bottom line is this: the GT500 is an asphalt assassin, and if squeamish types don't approve of its methods, they'll be forced to admit that it gets the bloody job done. As with Mustangs past, this version will put a beat-down on many pricier speed machines.

    If administering those beatings is your goal - or you can't afford to collect the six-figure original - the Shelby's throwback act will hold some appeal. But buyers whose heads aren't permanently wedged under the hood of the 1960's will expect more poise and polish for their 44 grand (plus the likelihood of a stiff dealer markup).

    Ford has made much of how modern, safe and comfortable the new model is, compared with its predecessors. But how could it not be, considering its 40-year advantage? Finally, though, it comes across as less of a sequel and more of a rerun.

    INSIDE TRACK: The Cobra earns its stripes, but not everyone will salute.

    Looks like we will keep our Charger R/T with its 5.7L HEMI, eh, Ellie???

  2. #2

    Looks like we will keep our Charger R/T with its 5.7L HEMI, eh, Ellie???
    Yes it does...For now that is


  3. #3
    Only 10 MPG???

    Our HEMI gets 23 on the highway, and is still quick enough to blow away the competition.

  4. #4
    Our mid-life toy...

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