Still, you have to accept that this is a car centered around its engine. How could it not be when it's packing the most powerful road car V8 in production? The GT500 predictably sounds like a NASCAR stock-block on start-up and, once idling, those standing at a rear three-quarter angle will be treated to aural oscillations that bear a striking resemblance to those from a two-bladed Huey helicopter. When not providing 'Nam vets with lurid flashbacks, though, the car sounds aggressive, brutish but never strained, even as it heads toward its 7,000rpm redline. And from inside the car, you have a bonus treat – the addictive warble of the supercharger laid over that rolling thunder. Imagine locating yourself in the timpani section of the Vienna Philharmonic orchestra but with the flautist sat just a couple of feet in front and you get some idea of the scale and range of sounds transmitted to the cabin when you're flexing the muscles of what is a true muscle car.
If the 2013 Shelby Mustang's straightline performance is way beyond that of its 45-year-old forbears which, even in 7-liter (428cu.in.) form, had some 300 fewer ponies under the hood (at least, for official ratings), those who have driven both old and new say there are two remarkable similarities. For instance, that engine remains too far forward for anything but understeer to occur if you go into a corner too fast and have to come off the gas. But resolving that situation is where new emulates old once more: 662hp sent through huge 21st century rear tires bears a striking resemblance to 360hp through skinnier '60s-standard rubber, and so understeer can be counteracted (and over-compensated for!) by punching the gas pedal. You need quite a bit of room to do it, though.
These sorts of antics wouldn't be possible if the steering in the current GT500 wasn't so accurate, but while it lacks feel (why do so many car manufacturers mistake increased steering weight with true feedback?), the Mustang's steering in the two heaviest of its three settings can learn to be trusted. A horribly raised and diagonal road “repair” on I-5 – encountered at night while changing lanes at typical freeway speeds, I should add – launched the car, and obliged me to apply what felt like a quarter-turn of opposite lock for what felt like a full second. Memory has certainly exaggerated the extent and length of the correction, of course, but my point is, that wasn't as unnerving a moment as it would have been in a less trustworthy car. Equally reassuring is the car's behavior under hard braking: the Brembos are wonderfully fade-free in hard use on the road, and the car doesn't nose-dive or shimmy its rear end.
If familiarity makes the Shelby Mustang predictable, still it could never be described as tame. It's slightly unfair for me to directly compare the GT500 to its chief rival because I drove them some five months apart, but hey, life ain't fair. The Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 is the more docile machine, and not only because it's 82hp lighter and 236lbs heavier than the GT500. The ZL1's c-of-g feels lower and its track wider, which builds confidence on initial turn in, its rear feels more solidly planted at the apex, especially on uneven surfaces, and its power delivery is slightly more linear on corner exit, despite also packing a supercharger.
If practical considerations really are considerations, then the Mustang has the edge over the Camaro with a bigger trunk and a less claustrophobic cabin due to its larger glass area. As for their interiors, well, neither is going to make a Bentley driver jealous in terms of quality, nor even a Dodge Challenger driver envious of the space available. (Unlike the Challenger, the Camaro and Mustang shouldn't even pretend to have rear seat accommodation.) Thereafter, it comes down to personal taste in design: personally I prefer the Camaro's dashboard because of its unashamedly retro appearance, but the Mustang's is a model of clarity, despite a few retro cues.
But what really sets the ZL1 and GT500 apart are their natures. The Camaro is very evidently a supercharged super-quick version of its lesser V8 and V6 brethren. By contrast, the regular Mustang driver who encounters the Shelby model for the first time will recognize it by its appearance, both exterior and interior – but its multiple organ transplants have put the driving experience on a whole different level. A great level, one that demands some commitment, but one which also raises your game as a driver, keeps you on red alert…basically, turns you into the driver you're supposed to be every time you drive any car.
If that makes you think this very special Mustang is a high-maintenance hothead, rest assured that it can cruise as well as bruise; I drove a 1,000-mile round trip (interrupted by just three fuel stops, by the way) and the Recaro seats were comfortable, the steering perfectly weighted, the pedals perfectly placed, and I emerged as fresh as if I'd driven a Mercedes-Benz S-class. Sure, maybe the stereo was a little loud to compensate for the noise intruding into the cabin, but it wasn't a hardship and to expect anything less would be absurd. In fact, my only enduring aggravation with the GT500 is one that afflicts all stick-shift Mustangs: a Venti Starbucks in the cup-holder prevents you changing gear.
So what some drivers might assume would be issues – the hard suspension, the numb steering, the-end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it soundtrack – became mere foibles that form the GT500's character. Or at least, that's my opinion and I admit I'm biased. After a few days, I'd grown addicted to this car, had found any and every excuse to drive it and was truly gutted when Ford took it back. The Mustang Bullitt of five years ago had a similar effect on me, to the extent that I still regularly check used prices and dream. But that was a car I felt comfortable taking to its limit. With over twice the Bullitt's power, the GT500's potential far exceeds my own, but occasionally corralling this Mustang is an unforgettable experience, and one that I'd urge every car enthusiast to try.