The Ford Mustang Shelby GT500’s history is almost as impressive as the black lines each generation’s owners have left on the pavement. What started out as a successful aftermarket racing upgrade package by Carroll Shelby in 1967 eventually morphed into something of a high-powered factory show pony with a heart for drag strips. Beginning in 2013, Ford figured out that it was possible to add sharper handling for canyon roads and road courses while still developing big power, but to me, that 662-horsepower car still never felt particularly approachable or all that sophisticated. To listen to Ford officials tell it, the 2020 Mustang Shelby GT500 will be both of these things.
Oh, and it’ll have over 700 horsepower.
Set to arrive in showrooms this fall after debuting Monday at the
DCT or nothing
The outgoing GT500 was both quick and fast, with 0-60 mph happening in about 3.5 seconds en route to a claimed top speed of over 200 mph. The new model adds at least another 39 horsepower (I’m betting there will be few more besides) and, perhaps more importantly, a standard seven-speed dual-clutch transmission developed with Tremec. You read that correctly: You can’t get a manual transmission any longer in the King of the Hill. With shifts in as little as 100 milliseconds, the new gearbox will undoubtedly be quicker than a three-pedal setup.
The GT500’s various drive modes (including Normal, Weather, Sport, Drag and Track) optimize transmission behavior for the driving at hand, whether tooling around town, lining up in front of a drag strip Christmas tree or idling out of the pit lane at your favorite road course. Interestingly, sport mode is tuned to produce the quickest shifts, while track mode prioritizes smoothness in order to keep the car from getting out of shape.
Ford’s move away from a DIY gearbox is likely to irk some self-anointed muscle car purists, but along with about a thousand other changes, it should help this new GT500 to not only be violently quick around a big race track, but more tractable and flattering to the ham-fisted, too. Dearborn authorities say the new car will be capable of mid-3-second 0-60 mph runs, as well as quarter-mile times in under 11 seconds.
(If you’re a manual-only buyer, a six-speed stick shift is the only transmission available in the GT350, a car with which diehard tripedalists will be plenty happy.)
Like its less powerful sibling, today’s 526-hp GT350, the 2020 GT500 starts out with a 5.2-liter aluminum-block V8 that’s hand-assembled in Romeo, Michigan. But stuffing a massive 2.65-liter Roots-type supercharger down in the “V” of the engine has necessitated a bunch of other changes, too. The flat-plane crank that gives the GT350 its unique voice has been nixed in favor of a cross-plane design to better handle the increased loads of a forced-induction engine. With that big blower honking away at 12 PSI, the engine needed increased cooling and lubrication capacity, too, forcing changes to the block itself, many of which will find their way back into the 2019 GT350.
Additional new pieces include valves, seals, seats, springs and head gaskets, with longer head bolts to keep the whole works from fragging under the pressure. A beefy model-specific oil pan features both static and dynamic baffles to prevent fluid starvation when really pushing the Gs.
(Note that, sadly, the blue show car didn’t have a production-representative engine, so we weren’t permitted to take our own photos or video of it.)
In order to slake the beast slung between the GT500’s wider front fenders, Ford designers had to find a way to feed it more air. A new front end features more than twice the cooling, and Ford’s largest-ever louvers — 31 inches by 28 inches — help extract air through the new hood made of sheet mold compound. (Since those big louvers might make for a messy engine bay when it rains, Ford has thoughtfully designed an aluminum undertray that can be easily removed for track work — or showing off at your local Cars and Coffee.) Out back, a new composite rear diffuser is bookended by a quartet of SEMA-sized 5-inch exhaust tips.
The fact that Ford claims this new GT500’s demeanor will be a bit more genial shouldn’t come as a complete surprise. After all, today’s sixth-generation S550 Mustang offers a far more sophisticated platform than the S197 chassis that came before it — especially the independent rear end. The new GT500 features unique suspension geometry, along with lighter-weight springs at all four corners.
If nothing else, the inclusion of Magneride was already going to be a huge step in the right direction. The real-time dampers expose special iron filings suspended in a magneto-rheological fluid to a magnetic pulse, altering the viscosity and changing resistance levels near instantaneously. These shocks feature heavily in the GT350’s scintillating performance, and are available on lesser Mustang models now, too. This is the first time the tech comes to the GT500, and the magic sauce in those dampers should enable ultra flat cornering while still preserving ride quality
Track Pack attack
All of that power will be routed to the ground via Michelin rubber regardless of how you option your Shelby. The full “knives out” Carbon Fiber Track Package shown here adds 20-inch carbon fiber wheels that are a half-inch wider out back (11.5), and those come wrapped in Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 summer tires — basically road-legal semislicks.
The Track Pack also includes the adjustable carbon fiber wing (Ford says it enables more rear downforce than its), along with front splitter wickers with integral dive planes. The rear seat is deleted to save weight, lending the trim a track-ready vibe even when trundling to the corner store.
If the Carbon Track Pack is too extreme, there’s a middle ground, the optional Handling Package that incorporates adjustable strut top mounts and a different rear spoiler with a Gurney flap (a small tab on the rear edge of the wing). Non-Track-Pack models receive less extreme 19-inch Pilot Sport 4S rubber, and all GT500s receive a new power steering setu
Naturally, braking has been substantially upgraded, with a Brembo package including 16.5-inch two-piece iron front rotors — Ford says they’re the largest found on any domestic coupe. Six-piston fixed front calipers are fitted up front and four-piston units are found out back. Ford says the new discs feature 20 percent more swept area than the binders on the GT350, and 30 percent more thermal mass up front.
According to Ford, the upsized brakes forced the adoption of 20-inch wheels (the GT350 runs 19s). In case you’re wondering like I was, Widmann says, “Iron brakes were found to meet the track requirement when it came to brake fade resistance and longevity, we did not pursue ceramic brakes.”
For such an outrageous exterior, the cabin changes to the 2020 Shelby GT500 are actually fairly muted. There’s optional exposed carbon fiber dash inserts, along with faux suede door trim. Having sat in the car in these pictures, the available Recaro seats feel like must-get items to my backside, although if you want the convenience of powered adjustability, you’ll have to skip them. I think they’re worth that sacrifice, and they’re track-ready thanks to their safety harness compatibility, too.
The interior’s biggest difference, however, is the inclusion of a new electronic rotary gearshift, which is a change I can’t quite wrap my head around. Even acknowledging that the new GT500’s character will be more well-rounded and sophisticated, the new gear selector dial feels out of character to me. A car with this much muscle deserves a substantial-feeling interface with a mechanical action (even if it’s actually electronic underneath). A larger, cold-to-the-touch, chunky metal knob would’ve probably done the job, but the parts-bin piece that Ford has chosen is a letdown. The new magnesium paddle shifters are better resolved, at least.
Knobbery aside, the 2020 GT500 should be a true beast on the track. Most cars will live out their days on the street, of course, and to that end, Ford isn’t ruling out creature comforts — even in the hardcore Track Pack model. Sync 3 touchscreen infotainment is part of the equation, including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, and a 12-inch reconfigurable gauge cluster adds both flexibility and a higher-tech feel. An upgraded 12-speakeraudio system is available, too.
We’ll likely have to wait until closer to fall for pricing and most performance specifications, but even without hard numbers, Ford is already heaping some promising superlatives on its new 2020 Mustang Shelby GT500: “Most powerful street-legal Ford ever.” “Highest-ever lateral acceleration from a Mustang.” “The best Mustang track times” and “the best cornering.”
Given how impressive today’s GT350’s performance already is, it wouldn’t be surprising if Widmann and Team Mustang end up with a lot of mail when this new GT500 hits the street.
Who knows, maybe they’ll even score a few fruit baskets.