Your car has stole my heart away.
I'm gonna learn to drive it if it takes me all night and day…
Apologies to Chuck Berry for that clumsy paraphrase, but Carroll Shelby was rightly proud of the last car to bear his name in his lifetime: the Shelby Ford Mustang GT500 has the power to move you in mysterious ways, much like the Shelby Cobras of the early 1960s, and the Shelby Mustangs from later that same decade.
A 2013 Shelby Mustang has the punch of Sonny Liston, the charisma of Jay Leno and the desirability of (insert your choice of favorite hottie in here), yet its hp-per-dollar ratio is without comparison. For $55,000, you could have a very worthy 300hp-plus four-door sedan packed with a huge choice of options. Or you could have a reasonably practical 662hp coupe that reminds you that sometimes it's good to go driving for the sheer thrill of it.
Sure, there are days – especially once you're the wrong side of 40 – when you'd take the easy option, when you'd choose the luxury sedan that does everything except give you a foot massage and fake your résumé to include successful forays into atom-splitting. But unless you find the right road – twisty and radar-free – such cars feel sedate and sedated; after a long journey, they leave you impressed with their abilities, without ever allowing you the chance to flex your own.
A Shelby Mustang couldn't be more different; it's a born soul-stirrer, a challenge to drive well, but hugely rewarding. And the existence of such cars should be welcomed. You see, by the time you reach the second half of your natural existence, you've learned that the best things in life require some effort. A Mustang will never be as relaxing to drive as an Audi A6 or a Lexus LS. But if you can accept that, even this Charles Atlas-spec version is a remarkably easy machine to live with and run every day. And when you want to start using some of its talent (and a whole lot of your own), it rewards in a manner that few other new cars can do.
That doesn't mean it's a tame pony. Far from it. The Shelby lives up to the word “Mustang” which, according to my dictionary, is “a small breed of horse, often wild or half-wild, found in the southwestern U.S.” Trust me, the GT500 is fully wild. Exiting RACER's parking lot in the red menace for the first time, my right foot proved less delicate than necessary, and I abruptly found myself putting on an unintentional drifting demo. My inner Vaughn Gittin Jr. got things back in line and earned a thumbs-up from the SUV driver who pulled alongside me at the next set of lights. Yeah, totally intentional was the message I tried to convey in response but Thank you for not being a cop was what ran through my mind.
So treat this car with clumsiness or disrespect at your peril. Wheelspin in third on a dry surface is easy even with the traction control on, despite packing 20in. x 9.5in. rear tires (fronts are a mere 19in.). Sharp crests in fourth with the supercharger wound up will chirp the tires, too, especially if you've been foolish enough to set the Bilstein dampers to their hardest level. That setting should be reserved only for track work, since it not only sends itty bitty vibrations through the steering and your backside, it also causes the mechanically sympathetic driver to cringe whenever the car rolls over anything larger than a dime.
Asking the Goodyear Eagles' sidewalls to provide all the shock absorption seems a cruel step too far, given that they're taxed quite enough in transmitting all that power to the road. Some people have bemoaned the fact that the taller gearing (which improves fuel economy over the previous GT500) has stunted the Shelby's performance, but let's get things in perspective here: Car & Driver magazine proved this car will crack 60mph from standstill in 3.5sec, and hit 100 in 7.9. And with 631lb-ft of torque, it's got all the mid-range pick-up you could desire.
And that taller gearing truly is appreciated on a cruise. OK, you don't buy a Shelby Mustang for great gas mileage, but it's helpful when you're uncertain where the next gas station is and the car has only a 16-gallon tank. At a steady 85mph, the 5.8-liter (354cu.in.) engine is yawning on its divan at an indicated 1,750rpm, and the trip computer is telling you that you're returning 22mpg. Given the car's potential, those figures are fairly remarkable. In one regard, however, the engine's flexibility is a pity: the short-throw 6-speed gearbox is beautifully accurate and the clutch pedal is meaty without being overly stiff.