What is it?
Anybody who thinks the “golden age” of the American muscle car was back in the ‘60s hasn’t been tracking the action. Sure, those classic lead sleds may be gone but there’s a new generation of performance machines rolling out of Detroit and the big action is in the pony car market where Chevrolet, with the Camaro, and Ford, with the Mustang, have been rolling out the heavy weaponry.
Ford is firing the latest salvo with the introduction of the 2013 Shelby GT500. Don’t confuse it with the 950-hp beast from the late Carroll Shelby’s Las Vegas tuner house. The one rolling off the Ford assembly line does just fine with its, ahem, more modest 662 horsepower burbling out of its big 5.8-litre supercharged V8. By comparison, the new Camaro ZL1 looks positively anaemic at “just” 580 hp.
What's it like?
Ford claims a 0-60mph time of 4.0sec with the Performance Package, which includes a trick Launch Control system for the manual gearbox, but we experienced something more on the order of 3.6sec. The Launch Control package, triggered by a button on the steering wheel, picks the ideal RPM, letting you hold the pedal to the metal before dumping the clutch. Top speed, incidentally, is 202mph for the coupe but the ragtop is electronically limited to 155mph.
And it's the ragtop that is the source of our biggest complaint. When’s the last time you needed to manually operate double lock-down toggles on a £41,000 car?
Back "in the day", straight-line acceleration might have been all you’d ask for from a pony car. Not today. One expects to be able to give good chase to a BMW M even when you’re on the back roads. And that’s where Ford has pulled off a second technological coup. The new Bilstein adjustable shocks are operated by a push of the dash-mounted button and can be instantly switched from “Normal” mode to “Sport,” which speeds up response time, while reducing both body roll and pitch under braking. And braking is markedly enhanced over a more mainstream Mustang thanks to the Shelby GT500’s big Brembos.
Shifting to Sport mode does have its drawbacks; the ride is harsh to the point of jarring, especially on the broken tarmac that passes for most Michigan roads. The GT500 is reasonably well mannered in Normal and could be left there for all but the most aggressive driving, in fact.