The Biggest Hammer Of Them All Is Sharper Than Ever

2013 Ford Shelby GT500

We would love to be able to look you square in the eye and say, "All you need to know about the 2013 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 can be summed up in one figure: 662." After all, that's the obscene amount of horsepower ripping at the rear tires courtesy of the supercharged 5.8-liter V8 under the hood. Unfortunately, it's not quite that simple. For the first time in its life, the GT500 has found itself lined up against a legitimate competitor in the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. The muscle car/supercar crossbreed from General Motors is stitched to conquer not only the quarter mile, but the nation's road courses as well.

In order to answer that threat, the engineers at Ford have laid a hand on nearly every mechanical and electrical system on board the GT500. While that means the blown V8 churns out a diabolical 112 more horsepower than the previous model, it also means the top-tier Mustang now comes with tricks like user-selectable Bilstein dampers, adjustable electronic power steering, larger brakes and an array of optional cooling systems. In fact, if this car came wrapped in a slightly different shade of sheetmetal, we'd be talking about an all-new model instead of a refresh.

From the outside looking in, there are only a few markers to distinguish the 2013 Shelby GT500 from the 2012 model. Those start with a new front fascia with a gaping, open maw of a grille. Ford has deleted the meshwork found in the old piece to optimize the amount of air pouring into the engine bay in the kind of the function-over-form move that turns us giggly. Clever ductwork also provides additional downforce and funnels air into a new radiator fan that incorporates an additional blade and passive vent flaps in the shroud designed to pull a maximum amount of air through the radiator when the vehicle is stopped. The flaps flip open to minimize resistance once the vehicle is in motion. Aesthetically, the new nose gives the coupe a set of catfish sucker lips, and the void looks as if it would be happy to draw in any wayward limbs foolish enough to stray too close.

2013 Ford Shelby GT500 side view2013 Ford Shelby GT500 front view2013 Ford Shelby GT500 rear view

Like its more common siblings, the 2013 GT500 benefits from new headlight arrays trimmed with LED accents. Move to the coupe's side, and the changes are even more subtle. The uninitiated would be forgiven for missing the significantly upgraded brakes. A set of six-piston Brembo monoblock calipers clamp down on 15-inch rotors up front. The pizza pans do a smart job of filling up the 19-inch front wheels, and at more than an inch larger than the old stock, the rotors handle repeated road course abuse without so much as considering warpage. Likewise, Ford grew the rear discs to 13.8 inches from the previous iteration's 11.8. While those front calipers are loaded with the same pad material as the 2012 model, the rears now squeeze with a more aggressive compound.

With extra aero work, iconic snake badges and retina-snatching stripes, this Shelby has no intention of being understated.

On the street, the stoppers are a work of art. They provide perfect bite with initial pedal pressure and continue to bring the sizable coupe down from serious speed with ease in a nice linear fashion without excessive travel. We did find that the material started to fade after a few hard laps around Road Atlanta, where we were fortunate enough to sample the machine's more athletic qualities. The reality is, there are only a handful of GT500 buyers who will ever take their purchase to a road course for hard abuse – let alone one as challenging as Road Atlanta – but those few who will should plan on upgrading to a more aggressive pad before taking their first apex.

Around back, the 2013 Shelby boasts the same sexy LED taillamps, sequential turn indicators and LED reverse lights as the standard Mustang, though a large spoiler and new quad exhaust outlets work to set the car apart not only from the rest of the Mustang family, but the machine's predecessor as well. Not that there's any danger of mistaking the GT500 for a V6 model. With extra aero work, iconic snake badges and retina-snatching stripes, this Shelby has no intention of being understated.

2013 Ford Shelby GT500 grille2013 Ford Shelby GT500 front splitter2013 Ford Shelby GT500 wheel detail2013 Ford Shelby GT500 taillights

As brash as the top-tier Mustang is outside, designers have created a surprisingly refined cabin inside. A handsome three-spoke steering wheel with brushed metal accents offers all the appropriate contours at nine and three as well as a combination of suede and good-quality leather. Look beyond the wheel, and the 2013 Shelby GT500 serves up a tweaked version of a familiar gauge cluster. The speedometer now reaches all the way to 220 miles per hour, and while that may seem like a bit of prideful boasting, the truth is this pony has the bones to sprint all the way to 200 mph given enough track. (Not that your eyes would be looking anywhere other than straight down the course at such velocities.)

This pony has the bones to sprint all the way to 200 mph given enough track.

Then there's the tachometer. Ford built the supercharged 5.8-liter V8 under the hood with an over-rev function that allows the engine to swing past its standard 6,250 rpm redline to a screaming 7,000 rpm for eight seconds at a time. Exceed that window and the ECU will pull the rpm back to more sane levels for a spell. The tach, meanwhile, features an SVT shift light that illuminates at the standard redline and stays bright all the way to seven grand.

As with other Mustang models, a 4.2-inch LCD screen nestled between both analog gauges handles a variety of vehicle systems, from trip meters and average fuel economy readings to more engaging functions like the much ballyhooed Track Apps and launch control configuration. Unique to the GT500, engineers have also programmed in a clever boost/vacuum gauge so the driver can keep an eye on exactly what that big supercharger is up to at all times.

2013 Ford Shelby GT500 interior2013 Ford Shelby GT500 Recaro seats2013 Ford Shelby GT500 gauges2013 Ford Shelby GT500 sill plate

As nice as the steering wheel and gauges are, they aren't the stars of the interior show. Slightly reworked Recaro bucket seats with Alcantara accents in all the right places and stitching color-matched to the vehicle's stripe option provide excellent support, and the short-throw cue ball shifter feels like mechanized perfection in your hand. With stiff springs and a deliciously mechanical-feeling engagement, the shifter is all kinds of magical and makes for easy and precise shifts. That's the case when power-shifting down the quarter mile or dropping a gear while quickly approaching a turn. Other manufacturers, take heed: This is how you build a shifter. Throw in a set of well-positioned pedals that all but plead for fancy footwork, and the cabin quickly outs itself as a palace of hoonery.

Other manufacturers, take heed: This is how you build a shifter.

Speaking of pedals, Ford says its engineers spent plenty of time fretting over the clutch in the GT500. With 662 horsepower to funnel to the rear wheels, the company needed a clutch that could effectively drop anchor in the flywheel and vaporize the Goodyear F1 Supercar tires on command. That required moving from a 250-mm piece to a new 260-mm dual-disc clutch with more aggressive facing material and clamp load characteristics than before. All of that translates to a fairly stiff pedal that requires around 30 pounds of force to stuff into the carpet. The stiff throw is a perfect reminder you're piloting a machine capable of reversing the Earth's polarity at whim, though we can imagine the gold chain and flat brim set may find the action a bit too laborious for stop-and-go service.

Of course, it's easy to forget all about pesky details like clutch pedal pressure the first time your right foot gets frisky with the accelerator. Bang from first to second and the GT500 will wiggle its haunches, crescendo into a feral bark and mark its territory with 60 feet worth of very expensive rubber. And that's with traction control on. The secret to why that's possible lies in the aforementioned supercharged V8. Ford engaged in a little no-stone-unturned engineering when it came time to craft the all-aluminum creation at the heart of the 2013 Shelby.

2013 Ford Shelby GT500 engine

That party started by increasing the bore by 3.28 mm while also nudging the compression from 8.4:1 to 9:1. A little rustling around in the parts bin came up with a set of revised Ford GT camshafts with more duration and lift, and the Eaton Twin Vortices Series blower breathes through a larger intercooler and now boasts an inlet that's a full 33-percent larger than before. The supercharger displaces 2.3 liters and requires 150 horsepower just to turn over. It's these kinds of figures that leave a trail of awe and horror scribbled on our faces.

These kinds of figures leave a trail of awe and horror scribbled on our faces.

Ford has also reworked nearly the entire fuel system to keep the beast fed. Engineers ditched the old steel tank for a plastic version to save weight and a new set of 54.8 pound-per-hour fuel injectors keep all eight cylinders eating happily. The 2013 GT500 actually makes use of two of the same fuel pumps found on the Mustang GT, which results in nearly twice the available fuel volume as the 2012 model. This machine isn't going to starve any time soon.

We asked SVT boss Jamal Hameedi why his team opted to eschew direct injection in favor of traditional low-pressure fuel delivery. Hameedi said the simple answer was that while Ford looked into going DI on the 5.8-liter, it proved unnecessary. As it sits, the V8 delivers 112 more horsepower, 121 more pound-feet of torque and nets one mpg better in the city and on the highway than the old lump. Hameedi says bolting on a direct-injection system typically adds anywhere from 12 to 20 pounds to a vehicle – something his team had no interest in doing.

2013 Ford Shelby GT500 engine detail2013 Ford Shelby GT500 engine detail2013 Ford Shelby GT500 engine detail

Not all of the changes to the engine were designed to increase horsepower, however. With so much grunt on tap, Ford also turned an eye toward doing what it could to ensure longevity, including swapping the old oil pump for a new unit capable of moving up to 70 percent more volume. Not a bad idea considering the 5.8-liter V8 carries a whopping 9.5 quarts of oil in its aluminum oil pan compared to the 6.5 quarts in the old 5.4. Squirters work to keep the pistons cool at all times. Big power inevitably generates big heat, and engineers have resorted to cross-drilling both the block and the heads to increase the number of available passages for engine coolant. Those who plan on really hammering the GT500 around a road course can purchase an optional Track Package that rolls in external coolers for the rear differential, transmission and engine oil.

There is no automatic option. Congratulations, SVT. You just made our holiday card list.

Any drivetrain is only as good as its weakest link, and the Tremec six-speed manual-transmission in the GT500 has gone under the knife in a big way. Most of the gearbox's bearings have been upgraded to handle the added stress of the extra power available, and each gear now employs a new helix angle to be able to handle more torque than before. Likewise, the output shaft now packs 40 splines compared to the 28 splines in the old cog box. Perhaps more importantly, there is no automatic transmission option. Congratulations, SVT. You just made our holiday card list.

The 2013 GT500 has also ditched its old steel driveshaft in favor of a new single-piece carbon fiber unit, singlehandedly saving over 14 pounds. In addition to being lighter, the new composite creation can handle 36 percent more torque and allows the GT500 to reach that magical 200 mph limit. That simply wasn't possible with the old driveshaft. Finally, the rear axle is now available with a Torsen limited-slip differential, though the only gear ratio on the list is 3.31:1.


So, what does all that good stuff add up to? Officially, Ford says the car will run an 11.7-second quarter mile at around 125 mph on stock tires, though word from the engineers on hand is that the car has already improved upon that time. We're about as far from being drag racers as corn is from being a cow, but even we managed to squeeze a 12.221 at 121 mph out of the machine in short order. The sprint to 60 mph takes just 3.7 seconds if you dial in launch control correctly, and 100 mph will blow by in 7.9 seconds. Ford made a point of illustrating that all of those numbers are nearly dead-even with those of the legendary Ford GT. But that's all straight-line performance. If the 2013 Ford Mustang GT taught us anything, it's that Ford is quietly pointing the entire line more toward sports car dominance. The 2013 GT500 is no different.

The GT500's performance numbers are nearly dead-even with those of the legendary Ford GT.

We spent a few abbreviated laps around Road Atlanta with the Shelby and found ourselves stunned at not only the machine's drivability, but its trackability. Here's a big coupe that tips the scales at over 3,800 pounds with 662 horsepower routed to two wheels. We expected to find ourselves listing port and starboard as the big boat bobbed its way around the track and plowed past apexes as it tried its best to swap ass for nose. This couldn't have been farther from the case.

Ford worked with the suspension gurus at Bilstein to come up with a new driver-adjustable damping system. Push a button on the dash and a solenoid in each damper physically switches the valving inside. The engineers at SVT specifically focused on making the adjustable features in the GT500 as easy to access and utilize as possible, which is also why buyers don't have to fumble through a maze of menus to nix traction control or adjust the electronic power steering from comfort to sport. All very handy.

2013 Ford Shelby GT500 badge2013 Ford Shelby GT500 graphics

With everything set to sport, the GT500 is remarkably sharp and poised. Come into an apex, dig deep in the brakes, set up your line, pour on the throttle and the car simply heeds your commands with surprisingly little drama. This is a car that's happy to woo you into thinking, "Yeah, I can absolutely handle the world's most powerful production V8." Ford designed the GT500 with a four-stage traction control system, from full on to full off, with Sport mode allowing a little more tail-happy shenanigans without leaving you alone in the room with all that torque. Needless to say, we preferred Sport mode, and found the system to be more than forgiving enough. When we did brush up against the electronic overlords, the gadgetry didn't fully pull the wind from the car's sails. As far as traction control goes, this setup is about as lovable as it gets.

It clearly has the brawn to put our inadequacies on it shoulders and carry us to glory.

The vast expanse of torque from the big V8 is as addicting as it is forgiving. This car doesn't need you to know exactly which gear you need to be in for every apex. It clearly has the brawn to put our inadequacies on it shoulders and carry us to glory. First gear will bolt all the to 60 mph. Second? Well past 100. Third? Well, let's just say we never felt the need to sample fourth during our abbreviated runs around Road Atlanta even with the speedometer licking at 133 mph half-way down the back straight.

At this point, we can feel the wave of "lolz, solid axle FTL, lolz" reader comments washing our way. We've said it over, and over, and over again. The Ford suspension crew has worked some sort of miracle with the ox-cart gear in the Mustang, and that magic continues to be present in the GT500. It's almost as if the team delights in flipping conventional wisdom the bird. After flogging the hide from this machine, we're squarely on their side on this one. Why bother changing the recipe when what they have tastes so damn good?

2013 Ford Shelby GT500 rear 3/4 view

Move to public streets, and the 2013 GT500 is stunningly compliant. The switchable Bilsteins are a work of art. Switched to Comfort mode, the dampers soak up pockmarked Georgia byways with the kind of grand-touring float that shouldn't be possible from a machine that's so happy consuming fistfuls of racetrack. The blown V8 is happy to burble along in stop-and-go traffic or eviscerate slow-moving commuters in beautiful flourishes of torque and snarl. It damn near brings a tear to the eye.

The price is within spitting distance of a base Cadillac CTS-V Coupe and nearly a Nissan Versa more expensive than a base Chevrolet Camaro ZL1.

The 2013 Ford Shelby GT500 starts at $54,200, though the SVT Performance Package with its specific spring rates, adjustable Bilstein dampers and Torsen limited slip rear will set you back another $3,495. Want the extra cooling capacity found in the Track Package? Get ready to pony up an extra $2,995. Likewise, our excellent Recaro buckets are a $1,595 option, which brings our grand total to $63,080, including a $795 destination fee. That's not even including fanciness like a Shaker Pro audio system or voice-activated navigation.

That number sits within spitting distance of a base Cadillac CTS-V Coupe and is nearly a Nissan Versa more expensive than a base Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. But these types of comparisons may miss the point entirely. In the span of a few short years, domestic automakers have gone from being able to offer one real competitor to the world's supercars, the Chevrolet Corvette, to a plethora of largely inexpensive, brutally powerful and surprisingly poised models. The 2013 Ford Shelby GT500 is the latest addition to that cadre, and anyone shopping for models with a Porsche crest or an AMG badge on the bodywork would do well to look under the Stars and Stripes for their next toy.