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Ford Shelby GT500 - Snake Charmer


Ignore the tacky interiors. Ignore the borrowed parts. Ignore the tight steering. Ignore the truck-like clutch. Ignore the right-hand drive conversion. Ignore every little bit that makes life difficult in this car. But ignore it, you can’t.

Compared to the GT-R you have seen in the earlier pages, which is nothing but a precision driving instrument, this is a goddamn sledgehammer. Compared to those delicate nibble-sized sushi bits, this is a bloody 8-oz beef steak. Don’t think of a finely balanced katana, but imagine a sawed-off 12-bore... Well, you get the point. Nothing comes close to these American machines for the primal act of driving. It’s basic: in-your-face styling meets a mother of an engine up front powering the rear wheels and... whambamthankyoumaam.

No matter what Ford says, or the legendary Texan who has lent his name to the car, this machine is not about cornering abilities and fine balance. The GT-R may have been super-tuned at the Nordschliefe, but this one? Corners straighten themselves out when they see the Shelby GT500 approaching. So obviously, driving it is a pretty straightforward, unsophisticated experience. No need to use your bum to judge lateral yaws, no need to use your arms to gauge steering inputs, no need to use your brain to drive... just stomp on the pedal and hold on.   Just look at it. The business end of the car has got it bang-on, from the bulging hood to the protruding upper lip to the offset Cobra logo. And the gaping mouth that looks as if it’s still hungry despite swallowing kilos of sashimi. The proportions are classic – long hood, short deck and a fastback-like roof arch – while the stance is muscular and menacing. The protruding wheel arches can barely contain the Goodyear Eagle F1 ZR18 rubber, 255/45 at the front and 285/40 at the rear. The magic continues at the rear as well, with a spoiler that looks like it’s come off the original GT500 and of course, the Shelby, the Cobra and the SVT badging. At the bottom are a series of lower strakes that Ford says has been ‘inspired’ by the Ford GT’s integrated rear airflow diffuser. Add to that typical Le Mans-style white overbody stripes, GT500 lower bodyside racing stripes and a bunch of butch SVT alloy wheels, and ol’ Henry’s your uncle. Truly, this is J Mays’ finest... er, actually, he had it easy, as the original Mustangs had everything sorted out. 

Okay, you may accuse Ford of whipping all their history to make money today, but when you have a history of making automobiles that are as subtle as rap-star bodyguards, you can’t blame them, can you? Despite the fact that it is a retro mobile, it feels just right. Even if you were born the day before yesterday and don’t know anything about pony cars or shaker hoods, today’s GT500 is still one power-packed automotive assault on your senses.

Sitting inside, I am actually taken aback by the simplicity of the overall layout. Compared to the aggressive external image, the insides are as uncomplicated as the village idiot. Everything that has been used in terms of switchgear seems to have been donated by Mr Everyman’s Ford. The three-spoke steering wheel is chunky to hold and requires at least a semblance of well-developed forearms, and it is suprisingly not like the deep-dish ones you get on the original Mustang, I guess it’s because you need to incorporate that airbag in it. But when you bring that supercharged V8 to life, all is forgiven.
The motor wakes up from its slumber with a deep bass thrum that is accompanied by a pronounced hiss. Amazing, I don’t know whether the Ford Special Vehicle Team engineered it, but it really goes well with the Cobra imagery. Blip the throttle and the GT500 actually rocks on its heels, with the V8-induced vibes steadily working their way up to your family jewels. The 5409cc V8 uses an iron block and an aluminium head, with the DOHC 4-valves-per-cylinder valvegear borrowed from the Ford GT. Force-fed by the Roots-type supercharger, the engine develops a wholesome 500 hp at 6000 revs and over 65 kgm of rocking force at 4500 rpm. That kind of output necessitated a heavy duty Tremec six-speed manual transmission that also does duty in other illustrious high performance American iron like the Corvette ZR-1 and the Viper SRT10. No, there is no automatic option on the GT500.

Half the view from the windscreen is taken up by that bumped-up hood that has to accommodate the supercharger/ intercooler setup, so it just reaffirms the fact that you are not driving any ordinary, expensive car. Car? Combined with the supercharged whine and the bass notes emerging from the tail-pipes, it is nothing less than a rock concert.Stepping on the clutch pedal is like trying to push down a manhole cover with your foot, it’s that hard, while the gear lever offers short but industrial spec throws. For those who have been spoilt by a delicate Japanese or Korean automotive diet, the GT500 is tough business. Especially on our roads, as you have to rein in all the frustrated horses which are just waiting for a sign from you to be unleashed. A clear stretch and wham! The Shelby shrugs its rear end, lets out that inimitable supercharged shriek and goes after the horizon. You are left hanging on to the steering wheel for dear life and all that sense of control you had at low speeds has gone for a toss. 

The engine is all up to the task of devouring the miles and the accelerator pedal thankfully is not as hard as that of the clutch. The SVT logo on the tachometer comes on and glows a bright orange to indicate that it’s time to shift, but we Indians, used to manual transmissions, don’t need that much idiot-proofing, right? However, every shift is accompanied by a forward thrust that pins your head back on the head restraint. And that is something you lust for each time you release the clutch.   This machine makes power comparable to the invincible 911 Turbo, but the difference between the two is vast. They belong to two completely different schools of thought, schools which are located geographically far, far away from each other. Despite wearing the Shelby tag, the GT500 is not the kind of machine you’ll be one with on the curves. It is a bit too unwieldy for that. The GT500 wants to snap up ruler-straight highways in no time, and that is its prime objective in life. Which is why its underpinnings are not exactly sophisticated – as long as it keeps most of the road terrain away from intruding into your sense of well-being, the suspension’s job is done. At the front is an independent McPherson setup, while at the rear, the GT500 features a basic three-link solid axle/panhard rod combination. Compared to the standard Mustang, this one has revised shocks, spring rates and beefier stabiliser bars at both ends, and that’s about it. The result is a car that won’t hesitate to shrug its tail with the least provocation. Yeah, those fat Goodyear tyres really have their job cut out, despite Ford giving the car some hard-pressed electronic assistance to overcome the laws of physics. Thankfully, the GT500 comes with some massive stopping power: four-piston callipers fitted to 14-inch Brembo vented rotors at the front and 11.8-inch vented discs at the rear.

Burning up fossil fuel was never this much fun. Like a good, well-promoted Hollywood movie trailer, this car has a sense of occasion. On Mumbai roads, it attracted more eyeballs than the GT-R – not really surprising, as it appeals to some base instincts in each of us. You just can’t ignore them, can you?

We’d like to thank Hyperformance Cars, Mumbai for lending us the GT500 for our Summer of Speed special. If
owning an exotic car interests you, can contact them at 98920 07707 or at