Bringing The Shelby Name To The Masses

2012 Shelby GTS

The Shelby name doesn't come cheap. Vintage Shelby Mustangs and Cobras can command six or sometimes even seven figure sums. The current Shelby offerings are much cheaper – the GT350 is priced around $70,000 while the Ford-built GT500 is a little less expensive with a base price just short of $50,000 – although we still wouldn't consider them attainable to the average guy with a mortgage and 2.5 kids.

Shelby sees that as a problem. The majority of its customers are the people who craved a GT500 or Cobra back when they were kids in the 1960s. Those customers are getting older, and like many other automakers, Shelby has decided to reach out to younger buyers. At the New York Auto Show earlier this year, Shelby announced the GTS, a new model designed to be attainable to the masses. The GTS would be available in both V6 and V8 form and, with a package price of $9,995, could be had for less than $33,000 in base form. "It's a car that reaches a younger buyer while acknowledging the economic realities of our times," said Shelby American president John Luft at the time.

We have to wonder, though. Are younger buyers interested in buying a Shelby Mustang? Will people actually buy a Shelby with a V6? We aimed to find out for ourselves and picked up a V6 model in Race Red with White Le Mans stripes at Shelby's facility in Gardena, CA for a week-long test.
Related Gallery2012 Shelby GTS: Review
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As you might remember, this isn't the first time that Shelby has built a Mustang for the masses. The Shelby GT from a few years ago was fairly reasonably priced at $9,500 above the Mustang GT's msrp and featured an upgraded suspension system, cold air intake, unique 18-inch wheels, short-throw shifter and a few exterior modifications for a unique look. The car was a big hit, with Shelby producing several thousands examples from 2007 to 2008 in both coupe and convertible form.

The Shelby GTS won't be sold through Ford dealers like the GT.

In a way, the GTS is the successor to the GT, but Shelby is going about its latest value model in a different way. For starters, the GTS won't be sold through Ford dealers like the GT. Customers have to send their own Mustangs to Shelby's facility in Las Vegas where the conversion is done. The other major difference is that while the GT had virtually no options aside from color, there are plenty of options to tick off for the GTS. That can be a good thing or a bad thing – more on that later.

The GTS surely looks the part of a classic Shelby with a distinctly different look than the standard Mustang. Shelby has fitted new front and rear fascias, a "deep draw" fiberglass hood, black billet grille, Shelby lettering on the trunk lid and finally the signature "Le Mans" dual stripes over the top and triple side stripes with GTS lettering. Our car was also fitted with the optional painted quarter window blackout panels ($525) and 18-inch wheels shod with Goodyear Eagle F1 tires ($2,495).

2012 Shelby GTS front fascia2012 Shelby GTS hood2012 Shelby GTS quarter window blackout panel2012 Shelby GTS rear fascia

We're actually quite taken with the look of the GTS. When Shelby launched the new GT350 last year, we felt the styling was a little over the top with too many design elements competing for attention. The GTS, on the other hand, has simple, smooth lines that are a better modern interpretation of the original 1965 GT350. In the GTS' case, less is more. We're particularly fond of the hood – it looks aggressive from both the outside and from the driver's seat – and we're glad Shelby didn't just slap a faux scoop on the stock hood and call it a day.

Everywhere we went the car elicited thumbs up, honks and stares from fellow drivers and pedestrians.

It seemed we aren't the only ones smitten with the GTS' good looks. Everywhere we went the car elicited thumbs up, honks and stares from fellow drivers and pedestrians. Many would make it a point to pull up next to us on the freeway to let us know of their approval. It's doubtful they would ever guess a V6 was under the hood.

The only negative about the Shelby exterior appointments were the vinyl stripes. While they probably do more to give the GTS a true Shelby look than anything else on the car, the stripes were already showing signs of wear after only a few thousand miles, peeling in some places and faintly stained in others.

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Moving inside, the GTS isn't that much different than the standard Mustang with the premium interior. Shelby has added a short-throw shifter with cue-ball knob, a serial number plaque (ours shows this car is one of the GTS prototypes) and Shelby-badged floor mats.

We can only assume that Shelby has kept the frills out to provide its customers the best performance bang for the buck, and it's an approach we can appreciate. Again, it's a simplicity that we felt was lacking with Shelby's current GT350. No embroidered headrests, no excessive badging and no custom seat stitching. Refreshing. Our only source of complaint while sitting in the driver's seat is the blackout panels for the rear quarter windows. They look great from the outside, but the Mustang already has a significant blind spot and the panels exacerbate the problem.

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The Mustang V6 benefited from a significant upgrade in 2011 with the new 3.7-liter powerplant that offers up 305 horsepower and 280 lb-ft torque. That's just 14 horsepower shy of the aforementioned Shelby GT's 4.6-liter V8. Shelby will gladly hand over the keys to a GTS with the V6 unmolested, but you can be sure they'll encourage buyers to put a checkmark next to the supercharger option. The intercooled supercharger sourced from ProCharger adds an additional 170 horsepower to the V6, bringing the total to 475. The centrifugal blower spools up the eight pounds of boost rather quickly, and the horsepower is delivered in a surprisingly linear fashion.

Unfortunately, the supercharger system is an expensive upgrade, adding an extra $9,195 to the cost of the GTS. In all honesty, we'd rather go with a standard Mustang GT and its 5.0-liter V8 as the base vehicle than start with the V6 and pay for the optional forced induction. The pricing comes out nearly the same - a Shelby GTS with the V8 is actually a little cheaper than one with the supercharged V6 – and we prefer the V8 despite it being down 63 horsepower. The V8 revs more freely, and our seat-of-the-pants verdict is that there probably isn't much difference between the two in a straight line contest of speed. Besides, GTS buyers can always have Shelby install a supercharger on the V8 at a later date, while the supercharged V6 is likely maxed out at 475 horsepower without doing significant internal upgrades.

2012 Shelby GTS engine2012 Shelby GTS supercharger system2012 Shelby GTS supercharger system2012 Shelby GTS billet cap

On the road the GTS rides fairly stiff thanks to a firmer set of shocks and struts – more than we'd like for a street-driven car – but is still very much livable. The car does come alive, however, on smooth, twisty roads. It's easy to get into a rhythm with the precise and nicely weighted steering, and the sticky Goodyear tires provide plenty of grip. Where the GTS let us down, however, was on broken or bumpy sections of pavement. Ford and tuners such as Roush have found a way to tame the solid rear axle, but the Shelby setup doesn't do as well to hide the archaic rear suspension on rough patches of road.

If there's anything the Shelby GTS does really well, it's braking. Our test car was fitted with the optional 14-inch Baer front brake system and they were simply superb. The 6-piston calipers clamp down on the slotted and vented rotors with authority, bringing the GTS to a stop quickly with excellent feedback from the center pedal. The upgraded stoppers cost an additional $2,995, but they're well worth it, especially considering the amount of horsepower on tap.

2012 Shelby GTS wheel detail2012 Shelby GTS brakes

What fascinated us most about the GTS is that it feels more like a muscle car than just about every other Mustang we've driven despite missing two of the requisite eight cylinders. The exhaust system is ridiculously loud – loud enough that a full throttle pass through a tunnel actually had our ears ringing afterwards. The shifter, although precise, requires a near herculean effort to swap gears. On a twisty road the steering commands your full attention. The clutch, which has been swapped out for a beefier single disc unit, feels like it belongs more in a race car than a street car. If you're looking for a modern muscle car with an old school feel, then the Shelby GTS fits the bill.

Unfortunately for Shelby, though, the main goal of the GTS – bang-for-the-buck – comes up short when you really look at the numbers. If you just want a base V6 model with no options, then have at it. You'll be spending a reasonable $32,994. But when you start to add in the options, the price tag sky rockets in German luxury sedan fashion. Our V6 test car started as a premium model, tagging on an additional $4,000. With the supercharger, wheels and tires, front brake kit and other options, the final msrp is a touch under $53,000. To put things in perspective, a Shelby GT500 packing a supercharged 5.4-liter V8 with 550 horsepower retails for $49,605 destination included. Yikes.

2012 Shelby GTS rear 3/4 view

If we were to build a Shelby GTS our own way – a no-options car with the V8 – it would still retail for $42,104. That's a problem, because a fully loaded 2012 Mustang Boss 302 totals for just $41,105. And the Boss 302 comes with an adjustable suspension, Brembo brakes, Torsen diff, Recaro seats and the high-revving, 444-horsepower Boss 302 V8. It's no competition.

Normally we would berate Shelby for charging an arm and a leg for just a name, but honestly, we don't think that's the case. The fact is, it's nearly impossible to beat the bang-for-the-buck of the factory offerings. Has Shelby come up with an affordable Mustang? In a way, yes, although we doubt many customers will go for a base V6 model with no options. Will Shelby attract a new set of younger buyers? We doubt it. In all likelihood, the Shelby GTS will appeal to the same set of customers that have always bought Carroll's Mustangs, albeit maybe with a slightly smaller budget. At the end of the day, the GTS might represent Shelby's best performance bargain, but not nearly the greatest value for your Mustang dollar.