Story and Photography: Will Sabel Courtney
Note: 2013 model pictured
When I was making a list of eight alternate sports cars you could buy for the same $65,500 it’d cost to buy the perfect 2014 Corvette Stingray, I touched on competitors from Dodge, Porsche, even a Ferrari—but somehow, I missed out on this car. A fact that became brutally obvious the moment I pulled out the window sticker tucked into the glovebox of the 2014 Shelby GT500 and looked at the pricetag: $65,470.
And it set me to thinking: Honestly, if I had $65,500 to spend on a new car, today, which would I buy? The Corvette, or the Mustang?
On paper, the Corvette’s the obvious choice. It’s brand-new, the product of the latest and greatest engineering GM could pack in while holding to the car’s price range. It stops, goes, and sticks as well or better than most sports cars costing twice the price. It has a brand-new interior that, unlike Corvettes of old, doesn’t make your hate your life, and a targa top that, while a little white trash at first, is actually a pretty sweet compromise between coupe looks-slash-rigidity and convertible airflow. It’ll do 0-60 in 3.9 seconds and get 30-plus mpg on the highway. It is, quite possibly, the most impressive new car of 2013.
The Shelby, on the other hand, is old school and old news. The model it’s based on dates back to 2005, and its overall look dates back to 1965. It has a solid rear axle. Like all Mustangs, it received refreshes in 2010 and 2013—and it’s the later date that matters most to the GT500, because that’s when Ford decided to quit screwing around and strapped a 5.8 liter supercharged V8 under the Shelby’s hood.
A 354 cubic inch, TVS supercharged-equipped, 7,000 rpm-revving, eight-cylinder engine, making 662 horsepower and 631 pound-feet of torque.
For 2014, as far as I can tell, Ford made no changes to the Shelby GT500. They didn’t need to. In fact, if the Mustang dropped the mic and left the stage after this year, never to return, with this as its high point, I’d be okay with that. Because while there may be Mustangs one day that are faster or more expensive than this one…there will never again be one with this much character. A 662 horsepower Ford with a solid rear axle? This thing is so ludicrous, it deserves to be an internet meme.
When you climb into the GT500 and start it up, you feel like your dick grew six inches. The exhaust note at idle doesn’t rumble, it threatens: illkillaillkillyaillkilya. It only gets more intimidating from there. North of 3,000 rpm, the engine roar is, quite literally, terrifying—like a spited lion, or a Tyrannosaurus with blue balls. I found myself revving my displeasure at shitty drivers instead of honking the horn at them.
The 5.8 liter V8’s good for more than just scaring wildlife, though. Be warned when you tap that keg for the first time, because this motor is under serious pressure, and it will bite you if you don’t know what you’re doing. The power is…obscene. On so many levels. The rear end broke loose at 60 mph in third gear…on a dry highway. It doesn’t do burnouts, it commits acts of incendiary warfare.
The GT500 comes with launch control – accessed via a dedicated button – but that just seems so ordinary in this day and age. Better to downshift to 2nd at 40 mph, nail the gas, and then look down five or six seconds later to see the car passing 90 at redline. There is no comprehending the acceleration of the GT500 until you experience it. Ever see that clip from Mythbusters where they fire a rocket sled at a compact car? It’s like that.
This is not one of those hippie-dippie new sports cars that lets you have your cake and eat it too when it comes to gas mileage. Sipping is for pussies, Russkies and Chevy drivers; this Ford chugs its high octane. Top gear turns 1600 rpm at 80; at that rate, the 7K red line could see this Mustang to 350 mph, if you could find a way to feed air to the engine without the rest of the car running into any atmosphere. Because that supercharged V8 is a deep breather. The Shelby doesn’t even have a grille; it’d just block the wind it needs to inhale.
And the lack of grille gives the Shelby an even more menacing look. The current-gen Mustang is arguably the best looking ‘Stang in history, and the Shelby GT500s are the most attractive of Mustangs, but the 2013/2014 GT500s are a breed apart. In spite of the badge, this car’s no horse; it’s pure predator. Like something out of James Cameron’s imagination—a two-ton, quadrupedal hunter that sprints from naught to 60 in 3.5 and can reach 200 miles an hour if given enough room. Its body is muscle and sinew, wrought in metal. It’s a work of art. Somebody needs to donate one of these to MoMA.
One ought to be donated to the Smithsonian, too, as an example of classic U.S. car making at its machismo peak. The clutch is heavy, the steering tight, the gearshift in need of a firm, decisive hand to guide it. Want an automatic? Fuck you. What kind of purdy-boy wants an automatic transmission? it asks in a thick drawl. Forget the obvious McQueen reference; the King of Cool could handle this car, but he’s too smooth, too clean to drive this. This car needs John Wayne straight out of a John Ford movie, or Clint Eastwood at his steely-eyed, Man With No Name best. This car needs a strong man to tame it. It’s the kind of car for the sort of man America doesn’t seem to make anymore…which is appropriate, because it’s the kind of car America doesn’t really make anymore.
When the 2015 Ford Mustang arrives in the very near future, a new SVT-made version is inevitable. It too will likely wear the Shelby name, But from what I hear, it’ll be more akin to the one-year-only Boss 302, or perhaps more accurately, the Camaro Z/28—a naturally-aspirated track terror, with less weight, better balance and handling, but a fair amount less power. No doubt, if those rumors are true, the 2015 Shelby Mustang will be an incredibly involving drive. Journalists will write things like ‘I can’t believe a Mustang could ever handle so well,’ ‘The Shelby Mustang has reached new heights of performance,’ and ‘Ford has built a pony car that finally doubles as a real sports car.’ But that car will be so far removed from its cultural roots at that point, it’s barely worth calling it a Mustang at all.
No doubt it’ll wear fresh, futuristic styling, too. Perhaps J Mays and crew will turn out a Shelby Mustang of incredible beauty, one that makes men’s jaws droop and their testicles sing the 1812 Overture whilst firing recklessly into their pants.
But nothing else will ever be this car.
When the dust settles, odds are good this car will go down in history as the most powerful production Mustang Ford ever built. A Ford with more power than three-quarters of Ferrari’s production lineup. (Hank the Deuce would be proud.) A Mustang that could go where no ‘Stang had gone before—straight to 200 mph. The once-rarefied air of supercars, crashed by a muscle–bound cowboy with a cobra tattoo and a mean look in its eye.
There may never be a car quite like this one again. So raise a glass to it, whisky for my men, premium unleaded for my horses. And should I somehow find a way to raise $65,000 or so in the next few months, you’ll find me down at the neighborhood Ford dealership, placing an order for a Shelby GT500.