Among the Shelby GT's top traits, claims the press release, is that "production is limited in volume, assuring its exclusivity." What it doesn't explain is that sales volumes have a way of staying small when a special-edition model costs 40 percent more than the model it's based on and boosts horsepower by just six percent. On top of that, there's the 500-hp supercharged Shelby GT500 that costs only six grand more than the Shelby GT. But either way, there shouldn't be a problem moving the claimed limit of 6,000 Shelby GTs (pretty much a version of the rental-only GT-H that you can now purchase new) per year, especially considering how much attention the GT received during our recent drive.

The $36,970 Shelby GT -- ours was $38,970 with an uplevel stereo, leather seats, and the interior upgrade package -- starts life as a regular Mustang GT, built in the Flat Rock, Mich., assembly plant. Then it is shipped to the Shelby factory in Las Vegas for the $10,530 transformation to Shelby GT. When it comes out the other side, the 4.6-liter V-8 makes 319 horsepower, a gain of 19 ponies over a Mustang GT. Extra hardware includes a cold-air intake; a slightly more aggressive engine-computer tune -- necessitating premium fuel -- a high-flow exhaust; a welcome inch-and-a-half drop with stiffer shocks, springs and anti-roll bars front and rear; and a short-throw Hurst shifter for the five-speed manual (a five-speed automatic is optional). Probably no Shelby owner cares that EPA fuel-economy ratings drop from 17 mpg city and 25 mpg highway for a Mustang GT to 16/23 for the Shelby GT. The Shelby wears the Mustang GT's optional 18-inch wheels and P235/50ZR-18 BFGoodrich g-Force T/A all-season tires. Cosmetically, GTs come in your choice of white or black (all rental GT-Hs are black), with silver stripes. The GT wears the GT-H's brushed aluminum grille, and the hood gets a fake, riveted-on scoop. Thankfully, there's no rear spoiler.

Potential buyers should know that the Shelby GT is more expensive than an Audi TT or Nissan 350Z and that all the upgrades (not including the stripes and hood scoop, which we don't necessarily consider upgrades, anyway) are available from Ford Racing Performance Parts for a total of $2656.

No amount of wheel time behind teenager-owned Civics could have prepared us for the GT's short shifter. The cue-ball-topped Hurst lever literally takes inches out of the shifter's movement and, of course, raises the shift effort substantially. Until you learn to act as though you're trying to break it, the shifter will feel clunky, and even then it doesn't seem to save much in the way of shift times, particularly the second-to-third and fourth-to-fifth gearchanges.

The lowered suspension seems like a good change -- and the GT certainly looks better when parked -- as we chuck it into the first couple of corners. It's far more buttoned down, with less body roll. Just don't drive it on a really rough section of pavement; trust us, we tried that. Over moderate bumps, the GT's ride is firmer than we'd like and gets uncomfortable after about a two-hour stint. Then we hit a murderous stretch of potholed two-lane, where any semblance of a pleasing ride-and-handling balance fell apart. More than once we wondered if we were going to stay in our lane, or even on the road, as the front and rear axles seemed to be bobbing and wiggling completely out of sync with each other, while the quick-off-center steering gives only a rough estimate as to where the car is pointed. Not that a regular Mustang would have faired all that much better, but the experience still left us yearning for something (anything) more refined. A Mazda RX-8, perhaps? A BMW 328i? Not only are those two infinitely better to drive, but they're also cheaper than a Shelby GT.

Keep the Shelby GT in its natural environment -- running quarter-mile times -- and it's far happier. The free-breathing V-8 sounds fantastic but doesn't feel any stronger. The Shelby will do burnouts for weeks, and it's easy to control and slide around like a hero. Just don't take it to a "real" track, i.e., a road course, where the Shelby's brakes (same as the Mustang GT's) fade away after about one lap.

Why are people so gung-ho about this latest Shelby? We can't explain it, nor can we remember the last time we were driving something that attracted this much attention. And if you think the base price is astronomical -- we do -- these GTs are selling on eBay for as much as $50,000.

Is this author just too young to understand?

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