• May 27th 2010 at 11:58AM
  • 82
2011 Ford Shelby Mustang GT500 – Click above for high-res image gallery

The 2011 Ford Shelby GT500 is so good we don't even want to associate the word "Mustang" with it anymore. Not that there's anything wrong with the Mustang – particularly the revised 2011 model. But as a sports car, the word "Mustang" conjures images of something much less than refined. If a Porsche is a scalpel, a 'roided up 'Stang is the Jaws of Life: it'll get the job done, but it ain't gonna be pretty.

However, if a Mustang is a mauling maw, the Shelby GT500 is a defibrillator. Perhaps not pinpoint precise, but it hides a sting, a little bit of burn and you can put it right where you want. And once you're there, you can use it to deliver a glorious shock to the system. Follow the jump to find out why.

Photos by Jonathon Ramsey / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.

Indulge us for a moment while we play with the superficial numbers. If you chart the gap between the most basic version of a sports car and the most hallowed version, the ground the Shelby GT500 covers – and the way it covers it – is nothing short of phenomenal. Start with a base 2011 Mustang V6. By the time you get to the 2011 GT500 you've added 245 horsepower and 230 pound-feet of torque. And in the process you've dropped the 0-to-60 time by 1.1 seconds.

Now let's compare that to some Olympians of sportscar-dom: Chevrolet Corvette (base coupe to ZR1), Porsche (Carrera to GT2 RS), BMW (328i Coupe to M3), and we'll throw Mercedes (C-Class to C63 AMG) in for good measure. The Shelby's 245 horsepower beats them all except for the GT2 RS, which is a 275-hp leap over the base 911. If you go with the 911 Turbo instead of the limited-edition GT2 RS, the Shelby beats that, too: there's only a 185-hp jump from the Carrera to the Turbo. And the Shelby's 230 lb-ft increase beats all of them.

Zero-to-sixty times present a more dispersed picture. The M3 is 1.5 seconds better to 60 miles per hour than the 328i Coupe, but it and the C63 AMG remain slower than the GT500. That's to be expected – you need a big gun to take down 550 hp. The GT2 RS and the ZR1 both get to 60 in 3.4 seconds (the Turbo PDK in 3.1), gains of 1.3 and 0.8 seconds over their respective base versions.

"Aha!" you say – but wait! It's time for the first bit of magic. The price differential between the base, $49,880 Corvette and bombastic, $109,130 ZR1 is $59,250. The difference between the $77,800 Carrera and $245,000 GT2 RS is $167,200. The M3 and C63 AMG each best their melba-toast-and-butter counterparts by around $23,000, a much more palatable difference. But a base Mustang V6 is $22,945, and you'll only need $26,550 to quantum-leap your way to the $49,495 Shelby GT500. And that price includes the $850 destination charge.

Less than $50K for a four-seat coupe with 550 hp and 510 lb-ft that's as quick as a Corvette and quicker than a 911. If you maxed out the options list, which would mean selecting the SVT Performance Package ($3,495), Electronics Package ($2,340), glass roof ($1,995) and Shaker 1000 audio ($1,295) – the stripe-delete is a no-cost option – you're at $58,620. And you're still about $2,000 away from getting close enough to breathe on an M3. And we won't bring the $170,000 M3 GTS into this because it would still lose out to the GT500. Everywhere.

For everyone struck apoplectic by that last comment and screaming at the screen, "But the M3 GTS would waste the GT500 on the track!" Remember, we're just discussing the superficial numbers at the moment, but we hear you, and we're getting to that.

So at this point in our defibrillator process, it's time to rub the paddles together and shout, "CLEAR!"

We know a big engine at a big value is nothing new here – it's one of our American things, and why the Corvette is the only runner left in this race when price enters this discussion. Today, though, we're going to talk about handling. "But this is an article about a Mustang, another big American V8," you reply. "Why are we discussing handling?"

Please, allow us another metaphor: with the GT500, it appears as is as if "Mustang" and "Handling" appear to have finally moved beyond their measurable antagonism and gone to relationship counseling. Handling complained, "Mustang, you weigh too much!" So Mustang lost weight. Mustang said, "Handling, I'm fine with what I've got, I don't need any more of you." And so Handling crossed her arms and didn't say a word. When it got to be too much, Mustang said, "I'm sorry, I take it back, I need you, I'll do anything... except get rid of my best friend Live Rear Axle. He was here before you." And Handling said, "That's better. First of all..."

And that is where we get to the improvements wrought upon the 2011 GT500, done so in the way of the best sports cars: not one big change, but a bunch of small yet very important changes.

The aluminum block for the 5.4-liter V8 and the 102-pound reduction from the front end have got all the play, but it wasn't just the switch to aluminum that did it. An evolution of the Ford GT block, it was co-developed with 102-year-old German firm Honsel, specialists in lightweight metallurgy. The casting employs a bulkhead chilled process that increases block stiffness. Bore cylindricity was improved for tighter tolerances. The cylinders don't have steel liners – they're coated using a Plasma Transfer Wire Arc process. It's a practice common to aerospace but was previously prohibitively expensive for automotive use. The short of it is a 35,000-degree plasma jet melts a 150-micron-thick steel coating onto the interiors of the cylinder. The coated cylinders produce less friction without steel liners, and cooling is improved since the liners aren't there to heat insulators for the chambers. Going without liners saved 8.5 pounds, and the Blue Oval says the engine performs better than the Ford GT.

There are forged aluminum pistons and forged steel connecting rods and crank, with six-bolt billet main-bearing caps. The wet-sump lump uses an integrated oil pan gasket and windage tray, and larger cast-in drainbacks minimize aeration. Electronic Power-Assisted Steering (EPAS) with solid bushings replaces the 2010's hydraulic setup, and even with the Z-brace to it firm up, steering is another weight-saver. The new, 2.75-inch exhaust creates 38 percent less back-pressure. That exhaust is also louder. Know what else? The engine returns a 15/23 EPA rating, and avoids the gas guzzler tax. Boo-yeah.

But wait, there's more. A larger, twin-row intercooler is 40 percent better than the single-row intercooler on the 2010. A new undertray that runs to the front axle makes the car more aerodynamic. The coupe rides 11 millimeters lower up front and 8 mm lower in back, while front brake cooling has been bettered with redesigned venting. Upgrade to the Performance Package and a 3.73 rear end is swapped out for the 3:55, firmer suspension with increased spring rates, damping and roll stiffness, a Gurney flap on the rear spoiler, that white gear shift knob and the so-far-unloved thin Shelby stripes.

And then there's the rubber on the Performance Package cars: Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar Gen-2 tires. SVT worked with Goodyear to create them, coming up with a unidirectional, corner-specific tire that wraps forged aluminum wheels that are 19 inches in front, 20 inches in back. The multi-radius tires have a center groove with an aggressive, big-block pattern outside and water-channeling grooves inboard. SVT engineers said that although they're about as close as you can get to a race tire, in their tread testing, they managed about 15,000 miles before hitting the first tread-depth wear marker. And for now, they are only available on the '11 GT500. The wheels save 15 pounds altogether compared to the 2010 model, and the whole car weighs 3,820 pounds.

So, without further ado, let's talk handling.

We said that the Mustang appears to have sorted out its issues with handling, and we used the word "appears" because our civilian drive route covered the back-country of North Carolina that suited the car. The car is stiffer everywhere and feels it – the 2010 GT500 is almost plush by comparison – but it is a supple stiffness that remains comfortable. Hit a hard bump and you'll know it, but thank all the saints that the 2011 doesn't jump around like last year's model.

The Roush 427R remains our standard for a properly tamed Mustang rear end, with the 700-hp Shelby Super Snake right behind it. The 2010 GT500, though, was positively frightening when we drove it on the bombed-out tarmac of the Northern California Pacific Coast Highway. The indigestion it suffered while trying to swallow its cratered surface practically bounced the Shelby into the oncoming lane often enough for us to get off the gas and pretend we were driving home from church. The 2011 GT500 ran over everything and did it well enough that we didn't even think about it – a certified triumph over its near ancestor, though it wasn't as dramatically challenged in Carolina.

On almost all surfaces, the Goodyears were fine – exhaust noise ruled the day and wind noise was hushed. Get on just the right kind of bad road, however, and the tires roared something fierce, the vibration seemingly made worse by resonance in the cabin. But it only happened once, and you have to find that road to make it happen.

We'd like to get the 2011 GT500 on some L.A. roads to see if the same suspension issues arise as were suffered during Drew Phillips' 2010 GT500 review. Until then, we're happy to give the 2011 a 'Drastically Improved' on its report card.

The test the SVT team really wanted the car to pass would happen at Virginia International Raceway. Unlike past events, there was no drag racing course and no figure-eights – just the 3.27-mile full course with 23 turns including hairpins, esses, incline and camber changes and tricky concrete curbing. What we found after nearly 10 laps in the 2010 and 2011 cars was that the 2011 GT500 is massively better in every way than the 2010 – with the exception of three areas.

The clutch was great, especially for a car with 550 horsepower, but the short-throw mechanism has such latitude that we constantly felt we were in sixth when we were only in fourth. We also found it notchy and occasionally hard to get into gear. Unless there was an orderly, deliberate progression through the gears, we spent more time searching for cogs, third most of all, than we would have wished – something we found to be an issue during our recent Sports Car Comparo.

Steering and braking were the other two areas in which the 2010 wasn't markedly superior. The brakes on the 2010 GT500 were awesome, and the units being carried over whole are no less awesome on the 2011. We slammed on them to drop from 120 mph down to 40 for a chicane set up on the back straight of VIR, and each time there was nothing but linear deceleration and the imprint of a five-point harness on our shirt to show for it. No dancing, no wiggling, no surprises. Just stopping. (The 2011 GT500 comes to rest from 60 mph in just 107 feet, a seven percent improvement over the previous year.)

The electrically assisted steering was as responsive and precise as the hydraulically assisted unit in the 2010 GT500. That can be seen as a triumph, as the software finesse necessary to maintain feedback could have easily sent the SVT team over a cliff. It did not. Would we have complained about the steering being a little quicker, or loading up even more as lock was applied instead of feeling like it plateaued? No. Nevertheless, it feels just like the tiller on the 2010 and we never wondered where we were putting the wheels or what they were doing.

But on the go, the 2011 GT500 whips the 2010. Again, it's tempting to put it down to the 100 fewer pounds up front, and while that's certainly helped, all of the changes have reworked the entire attitude of the car. Braking hard for a turn is, of course, where you would most notice the 2010's heavy nose, sending your concentration up front to deal with understeer as the car hunkers down and you start calculating the angles and physics to get an anvil around a hairpin. After the apex, the 2010 has 540 hp that you can't exploit until you get the nose to stop pushing on for the grassy verge. Even on the straights, the car squirms under power, not only due to the horses underfoot, but because the rest of the car is trying to balance itself around the cast iron lump and the Cirque de Soleil act takes some time to nail down. Run through high-speed esses and its pendulum time. Crest a rise and you need to wait a noticeable moment for the coupe to settle down again.

Don't get us wrong: the 2010 GT500 is a very, very good car. We asked "Where do we sign?" when we drove it, and we stand by that. We're only talking about it like this because the 2011 is that much better. The 2011 jumps off the line and pushes you even harder into the seat as you shift into second and third. It also does so for longer: with a better intercooler you hold onto max power longer. Whereas the 2010 had been run a while and began to lose a percent or two because of the heat and resultant decrease in air density for the supercharger, the 2011 wouldn't quit. Braking hard into a turn and the 2011's lighter weight up front, better balance, firmer and more supple suspension and Supercar F1 Gen-2 tires take your mind off of math and let you just focus on hitting the apex. The car remains settled throughout turns, meaning you can dial in additional power sooner and stay on the track. We ran through the flat esses faster. We ran through the uphill esses faster and all without the 2010's four-step of "crest, float, settle, power." After the tight hairpin at Oak Tree, we could get on the gas so much more quickly that we added 10 mph before having to brake for the chicane set up halfway down the straight, getting up to almost 130 mph instead of 120. Through the twisting downhill section at the back of the course, by the time we got the tires to start groaning, we were pushing ourselves hard enough to simultaneously hope that we weren't about to do something to make the tire wall groan.

None of those things are down to one change on the 2011 GT500. This is not about an aluminum block or more horsepower or a new suspension or new tires. Likewise, this is not about getting on the power earlier or less understeer or more grip. This is about enough little improvements everywhere that have created a vehicle that is more confident, more balanced and more capable – and so it can be driven faster and harder and better – everywhere.

No, it isn't as nice to sit in as an M3. Inside, the Shelby is a Mustang. Would it beat an M3 around VIR? We'd have to think about it, and figure it would all come down to cornering speeds and drivers. But take a base GT500 and add $11,000 of "MOAR!" to it so you've matched the price of an entry-level M3, and we'd know where we'd put our money...

That brings up one final note: Some will say, "Take a $32,845 Mustang GT Premium and add $17,000, and you can beat the Shelby." This we will again counter with what we now call The Raptor Argument: your GT-plus-mods doesn't come with all-as-one-piece OEM engineering, testing and durability. Nor an OEM warranty. Could you beat the Shelby? Probably. Could you build something comprehensively better than the Shelby? We won't say you couldn't – but we'd like to see you do it.

Welcome to the 2011 Shelby GT500. At this point in our defibrillator process, we're standing back and looking at the sizzle marks on our chest, letting the high-voltage buzz wear off. And we'll admit, the 2011 Shelby GT500 might not save lives, but it can sure as hell make them better.

Photos by Jonathon Ramsey / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 5 Years Ago
      I'll take one in white! I absolutely love this car. Ford has done and awesome job with the Mustang, not to mention the rest of their lineup. I'll take a GT500 without the TV in the dash. Let's keep it old school, just a little.
        • 5 Years Ago
        • 5 Years Ago
        Oh shut up all of you and comment on the post, not your personal flamewars. Everyone: if you don't like Simplecar's comment, ignore him. You don't have to fight him - you don't even know him. Simplecar: If you get judged on your comment, tell them to shut the **** up and go away. Their comments are probably about you/have nothing to do with cars.

        SimpleInterior? Buttons? Racism? WTF? What do they have to do with the GT500?
        • 5 Years Ago

        Nice of you to join this discussion. My view is why have a the screen OR "crap load of buttons"? Only buttons/knobs in need are a few for the A/C, and a few for the radio/cd player. They can do away with the redundancy of the buttons on the steering wheel too. I never did like buttons on the steering wheel. I don't need a bright, finger print magnet on my center stack. Without the stuff i mentioned above the interior would be perfect. I mean it looks awesome already.The few buttons on my 11 year old Mitsu Mirage have yet to fail me.
        • 5 Years Ago
        I'll rather have one simple screen, than a crap load of buttons. Just saying.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Man, I hate nav systems, too, but I think you've gone too far. At the end of the day it is just that - a little tv. Calm down. I'm far more afraid about the dwindling number of cars with manual transmissions, and I think you should be, too.

        At least Ford knows better, here.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Simplecar, I am with you, however the screen in conjunction with the sync aystem is as intuitive as they come, press a button say Phone, say a name and bingo. Music, say ands artist, gendre or even an individual song and Bingo, want the temperature at 70 degrees, just say it, local gas prices, again, just say it....restaurants....what type of food is preferred...and thats just the tip of the iceberg,....neat thing is iy becomes second nature so one can concentrate on attempting to TAME this beast.....
        • 5 Years Ago

        I don't ride horses. However, I've read enough of your post to realize that you have no mind of your own. No "hazdaz thought process". You follow the crowd like most. Bandwagoning at its best. Peer pressure is your mean stepfather and you are the redheaded stepchild.
        • 5 Years Ago
        @ Hazdaz

        I think he just want simple interior.
        • 5 Years Ago

        I'm not "hung up" on anything. No more than "thestig" on this post or is Sea Urchin hung up on sea urchins? No. I'm also not GMFan or some other person that "hung up" on one automaker. I'm for all of them. All the ones, I feel, are well designed. That's why its a comment section. Its not experts only comment section. More of a "state what you like or dislike about the car". I said i like the Mustang, disliked the screen. So what. If every car seems to have this screen problem then I will continue to address when listing my likes/dislikes. Same as everybody else.
        • 5 Years Ago

        If I don't want a tv in my dash, I don't want one. I'll just forgo that option, and get me a cheaper and portable nav instead.

        And your right, dwindling manuals are definitely a problem.
        • 5 Years Ago

        So you look at my screen name and make a judgement. Incredible. I bet your racist too. So let's see how I can incorporate the name Hazdaz to make in inference about your assessment of a car in a post. Nope, sorry, just can't do it.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Dan, LOL WUT.

        Who pissed in your milk this morning?
        • 5 Years Ago
        This car is anything but "simple" and yet you like it?!?

        How does that make any sense? It's got a fairly high-tech engine, with the complexities of an intercooled supercharger.
        • 5 Years Ago
        awesome car
      • 5 Years Ago
      Hope GM is watching. Ford cut the weight and it was noticeable beyond the other performance enhancements. Doing this to the Camaro would help immensely, and the z28 could garner such praise. Just stuffing a big v8 in does not really help a porker.

      I like the 'stang, too, but would not get that silver pkg.
        • 5 Years Ago
        It's not that simple.

        You can cut only so much weight off a car using an existing platform. Yeah, you can replace some body panels here and strip this or that out of the interior, but how much weight is that seriously going to save you? If the core platform is big with a lot of mass you are kind of screwed, with limited options for weight loss. Unfortunately that is what Chevy has to live with for now with the current Camaro. They have already stated that the next-gen Camaro would be a smaller/lighter car.
        • 5 Years Ago
        The question is,

        Do most people who buy this car even look up the weight?

        In my opinion most don't, most look at HP.

        I hope i am wrong as always, but it seems to me HP is too good of a marketing tool.
        • 5 Years Ago
        @ Sea Urchin

        Yeah, but come on, realistically speaking we are talking about 5 lbs here, 8 lbs there. Maybe another 12 lbs someplace else. It can add up to some nice savings no doubt, but the real weight gains or losses come from the way the car was designed from the beginning.

        Losing even 100 lbs from an existing car is a pretty impressive accomplishment and usually comes with a noticeable cost increase (CF body panels and stuff like that).
        • 5 Years Ago
        @ Hazdaz, you can make seats lighter, use run flat tires to remover spare tire, how about a dealer installed package of carbon fiber front hood.
      • 5 Years Ago
      decent ride. got 3 of em back home
      • 5 Years Ago
      WANT! They really knocked this out out of the park. I really love this car.
      • 5 Years Ago
      It still seems odd that at this price Ford would not replace the live axle. Years ago Ford was saying it was a cost cutting move. When you are talking 40, 50, almost 60 grand for a Mustang, how can you not put an independent suspension back there.

      Love the understated look of the silver with no stripes. I am not a fan of all the graphics tuners and some Mustang owners put on the car. It is good looking vehicle, why put a bunch of stickers and stripes all over it?
        • 5 Years Ago

        The IRS should be installed on most mustangs, save for a drag-strip package.

        Is there a reason for a V6 mustang daily driver to get pummelled on rough pavement, just to have a live axle for a few V8 models that might see a drag strip?

        If IRS were a matter of course, the difference in unit price would probably be less than 200$ per unit.

        Live axle panhard-bar suspensions, or watts link, or whatever they choose to use, can be retro-fitted into place much easier than going the other direction... and aftermarket strong ford 9" axles are probably already listed in the FRPP catalog.

        Ford could build a drag-strip package of the GT, and the GT500 for that matter, as an exception to the rest of the line having real-world compatible rear suspensions that wouldn't be nearly as susceptible to what this article describes the 2010 GT500 as doing on broken California pavement. They didn't eliminate the possibility of the 2011 car also becoming un-settled on significantly broken pavement.

        Being competent and smooth on smooth roads, or even smoother tracks is the easy part. Maintaining surefooted control on rough roads... which cover a fair amount of this large country, is the challenge, and where daily-driven cars live.
        • 5 Years Ago
        "The IRS should be installed on most mustangs, save for a drag-strip package."

        So how many more Mustangs would they sell if they added IRS; or how much additional profit could they get?

        Here's a hint: if you don't know the answers to those questions- or even have a reasonable estimate- then you have no place saying such things.

        "If IRS were a matter of course, the difference in unit price would probably be less than 200$ per unit."

        That's nice. BOM cost is only one part of it. You're ignoring the significant sum of money that would be required to develop and test it.

        Second, even if it "only" added $200 to the bill of materials of the car, that's likely to translate to $1,000-$1,500 added to the sticker. You have any evidence that people would pay that much more for the car if it had IRS?

        "Is there a reason for a V6 mustang daily driver to get pummelled on rough pavement, just to have a live axle for a few V8 models that might see a drag strip?"

        Yes. The customers (you know, the people actually buying the cars, i.e. not you) don't care about the axle. Mustangs sell easily and profitably as it is.

        "Maintaining surefooted control on rough roads... which cover a fair amount of this large country, is the challenge, and where daily-driven cars live."

        it doesn't matter when 99.9% of those cars won't even approach the limits of their handling. Again, take off your "enthusiast" blinders and realize that the Mustang is a mass-market car. It sells well, and sells profitably. So in order to justify adding significant cost to the car, you need to have a pretty good handle on how it will contribute to the profitability of the car. Just saying "I think it should have this" isn't going to do it.
        • 5 Years Ago
        "It still seems odd that at this price Ford would not replace the live axle. Years ago Ford was saying it was a cost cutting move. When you are talking 40, 50, almost 60 grand for a Mustang, how can you not put an independent suspension back there. "

        because it's not just simply unbolting the solid axle, and bolting up something else. You're talking tens of millions of dollars in development costs, for a single sub-model of car (a low-volume one at that.) they'd never recoup that investment.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I think you got the 3.73 and 3.55 rear end for the SVT performance package backwards. The performance package has the 3.73.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I mean the '67 one of course,not the new one...
      • 5 Years Ago
      This article had way too many metaphors.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Was wondering when somebody was going to mention that. REALLY made reading the article tedious at best.
      • 5 Years Ago
      'Handling' a chick and 'live axle' is a dude, I didnt realise the mustang was bisexual
      • 5 Years Ago
      big difference between basically a handbuilt low volume niche car and a mainstream Corvette....irrespective of perormance numbers...one for instance.........desirability....
      • 5 Years Ago
      Its still too fat
        • 5 Years Ago
        Heh Carlos, the GT500 might still be to fat, but its only marginally heavier than the V6 Camaro (within 50-75 lbs IIRC), Can't wait to see what the Z/28 weighs when it hits the street.
      • 5 Years Ago
      "Only" $26,550 to drop 0-60 time by 1.1 seconds over the base 2011 Mustang.
      I don't see the value - maybe I'm just not a fanboy.
      I could think of better ways to drop 26k.
        • 5 Years Ago
        So I've heard the highest optioned V6 gets to 60 in 5.5...

        So this gets there in 4.4? That's not exactly bad, but isn't that the GT's new time with the 5.0? What is the GT500's ACTUAL 0-60 time? I would have thought it would be closer to 4 second flat or even 3.9. If not then the GT seems to be the bargain of the century and the GT500 all the sudden feels much more overpriced.
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