THE GT500 SUPER SNAKE
By Donald Farr
Thirty-five years after the Shelby Mustang program shuttered in the late 1960s, Carroll Shelby and Ford made a big announcement at the 2005 New York International Auto Show: the Shelby GT500 was returning for 2007. Standing alongside a bright red prototype with the famous Le Mans stripes, Shelby beamed as the spotlight returned to the legendary alliance between Shelby and Ford.
It was no secret that Ford SVT was working on a high-performance Cobra model for the updated and retro-styled S197 Mustang that had been introduced as a 2005 model. But with Shelby on board, the Cobra name, used off-and-on by SVT since 1993, was replaced by Shelby GT500, one of the most iconic names in the Mustang’s storied history. To provide the new GT500 with a Shelby look, SVT designers revisited the 1968 Shelby in giving the new model a more aggressive front fascia, a rear spoiler, and those beautiful stripes, both over-the-top LeMans and GT-style for the lower body sides. An offset Cobra snake in the grille and “S-H-E-L-B-Y” lettering across the trunk confirmed the heritage.
In the 1960s, the Shelby was the top-of-the-line performance Mustang. The same was true for the new GT500, only this time modern technology propelled the Shelby to new heights. It started under the hood with a 32-valve 5.4-liter V8 topped by an Eaton screw-type supercharger with intercooler. Rated at 500 horsepower, it was the most powerful production Mustang to date. SVT enhanced the GT500 for both street thrills and track attack with a six-speed manual transmission, race-tuned suspension, huge Brembo brakes, and 19-inch aluminum wheels in a 10-spoke nod to vintage Shelbys. SVT described the unique interior as “sophisticated” with its leather trim, perforated leather-wrap steering wheel and brushed aluminum dash panels.
The Shelby GT500 was both a marketing and sales success for Ford. The high-performance, top-of-the-line Mustang provided a much-needed halo for the Mustang line. Sales of the 2007 GT500 approached 11,000, a remarkable feat for a specialty car. Ford would sell nearly 23,000 GT500s during the 2007-09 model years.
With few changes to the GT500 over its first three years, SVT took advantage of the 2010 Mustang’s sheetmetal updates to freshen the Shelby GT500 with new front and rear fascia styling, revamped suspension tuning, enhanced six-speed gearing, and 3.55:1 rear axle (up from the previous 3.31:1). Borrowing the cold-air induction from the 2008’s limited-production GT500KR, output from the supercharged 5.4-liter jumped to 540 horsepower.
SVT saved the best GT500 for last, as the S197 Mustang approached the end of its lifespan. Working closely with Shelby, SVT shocked the automotive world by delivering a 2013-14 GT500 with 662 horsepower—112 more than the 2010-12 GT500—and 631 ft. ft. of torque, making it the most powerful V8 in the world. The feat was accomplished by switching to an all-aluminum 5.8-liter V8, still with 32 valves, and upgrading to a higher capacity Twin Vortices Series supercharger that increased boost to 14 psi. Remarkably, the 2013-14 Shelby GT500 was capable of mid 11-second quarter-mile times and a 202 miles-per-hour top speed, as reported by SVT drivers at Italy’s high-speed Nardo test facility. At the same time, the GT500’s impressive torque rating allowed dropping the rear axle ratio back to 3.31:1, a revision that contributed to a 15 city, 25 highway EPA fuel mileage estimate, thus avoiding the government’s dreaded gas guzzler tax.
SVT’s Shelby GT500 quietly disappeared after 2014, replaced by a track-ready Shelby GT350 based on the 2015 Mustang’s all-new S550 chassis. But the GT500 had succeeded in bringing the Shelby name back to the forefront of American performance-car consciousness. Over its 8-year reign, Ford dealers sold nearly 50,000 Shelby GT500s in an approximately 75/25 percent split between coupes and convertibles. Many made their way to Las Vegas for conversion into higher performance Ford Shelby GT500 Super Snakes at Shelby American.