If a lot is good, then more must be better. At least that's the conclusion I've drawn for the impetus behind Carroll Shelby's latest project, the Super Snake, a 605-bhp after-title conversion of the Mustang Shelby GT500.
Boasting 50 more horses than the limited-run GT500 KR (King of the Road), which launches early next year, the Super Snake allows owners of GT500s (yes, the same car that continues to sell over the dealer sticker of $41,930 more than a year after its release) to claim their own share of road kingdom for an additional $28,000.
The aftermarket changes to take the GT500 to Super Snake status include a long list of Ford Racing parts, as well as proprietary Shelby bits to build a unique-looking, fully warranted alternative to the 600-bhp Dodge Viper, albeit with some extra weight, a back seat and a live rear axle. If you're not averse to risk-taking, you can go with an even more powerful non-Ford-specified blower with no warranty that will push the Super Snake's 5.4-liter V-8 to 725-plus bhp.
The modifications are completed either at Shelby Automobiles' Las Vegas headquarters or the factory-approved modification center at Tasca Ford in Cranston, Rhode Island, and include a new fiberglass hood with functioning scoop, a revamped front fascia with additional brake cooling ducts, carbon-fiber front splitter and rocker panels, a choice of black-riveted C-pillar window closeouts or body-colored side scoops, matte-black striping and larger brakes with front 6-piston calipers developed in conjunction with Baer. The car also benefits from adjustable shocks, stiffer springs, larger-diameter anti-roll bars and a Borla exhaust. Alcoa 20-in. forged alloy wheels are fitted with Pirelli P Zero tires measuring P275/35ZR-20 in the rear and P255/35ZR-20 up front. Inside, there are auxiliary pressure gauges for supercharger boost, fuel and oil mounted atop the instrument panel, the requisite dash plaque with unique serial number and more Shelby and Super Snake emblazoned and embroidered bits than you can shake a stick at.
Overall, the quality of the workmanship is top-notch -- this isn't your ordinary dealer-installed dress-up kit. The look, especially in our test car's orange paint scheme with black striping, is strong, upping the macho quotient from the GT500 considerably. The 20-in. wheels fill the flared arches, and the chin spoiler and rocker panels add to the Super Snake's hunkered-down appearance.
Even though the Mustang, upon which the Super Snake is based, is a thoroughly modern automobile (okay, it does still have a live rear axle), the effect of Shelby's magic turns the GT500 cum Super Snake into a wayback machine that recalls the glory days of the early 1970s before the muscle car bubble burst.
Leave the stereo off, forget the cruise control and the automatic headlamps; the Super Snake is about gobs of power, smoky burnouts and enough steady-state gear whine from the 3.73 final drive (which resulted in an 80-dBA70-mph reading) to make normal cabin conversation nigh impossible.
Of course, that sort of stuff is not without its charm. It is an understatement to say that the Super Snake is a beast. The engine not only makes 605 bhp, but also 590 lb.-ft. of torque (the Shelby-provided dynamometer data put actual at-wheel output at 567 hp and torque at 533 lb.-ft.). That surfeit of motive force easily overwhelms the rear tires. During our acceleration runs, the best we could post was a 0-60-mph time of 4.4 seconds with massive wheelspin in the first two gears. Once underway, though, watch out. The Super Snake bit off the quarter mile in 12.5 sec. at 119.9 mph. By comparison, the stock GT500 ran a 0-60 mph of 4.6 sec. and a quarter-mile time of 12.8 sec.
While the Super Snake is difficult to hook up off the line, once in motion, it posted more than respectable numbers -- indicating that the Pirellis are better adapted to grabbing the pavement when cornering than for stoplight-to-stoplight drag races. The Super Snake flew through the 700-ft. slalom at 68.4 mph and posted 0.93g on the skidpad. Both the power and the grip afforded by the tires and the suspension changes are at work here. The turn-in is much crisper than on the stock GT500, and the tail-happy attitude that results from the wicked-up supercharger makes the Super Snake much easier to rotate in a corner. The best the stock GT500 could muster was 0.87g and 66.2 mph on the skidpad and through the slalom.
Braking is exceptional when you consider the car's 4095-lb. heft. The 6-piston calipers clamp the stock GT500's 14.0-in. rotors, hauling the car down from 60 and 80 mph in 118 and 204 ft., respectively.
At low speeds, the Super Snake is remarkably docile. Quarter-throttle inputs that keep boost to a minimum result in smooth, easy acceleration. The massive torque ensures that the engine will never bog down in 1st or 2nd when merely rolling along. The steering has a natural feel, thanks to sufficient weight and ample feedback. When kept within the limits of the rear tires, the Super Snake comes across as precise, fairly neutral (despite the preponderance of front weight bias) and just this side of tossable when driven on twisty roads with a modicum of pace and patience. Try to hurry things, or force the issue of the throttle, and you'll soon find the rear end hanging out. It's progressive and catchable at lower speeds, but closer to the limit the Super Snake must be driven with care -- much like a first-generation Dodge Viper. It's interesting to note that Shelby has left the standard traction-control system intact from the GT500, a system that has some slip programmed into its response. The tail-happiness of the Super Snake leads us to surmise that the torque comes on so quickly that the small amount of slip dialed into the stock system is amplified. Shelby says it is working on a stickier tire that will cure some of these tendencies.
The other area upon which work is promised is the shifter, which comes from the Ford parts catalog. While the short-throw shifter generally works as promised, the lever in gears 2-4-6 is almost upright. Drop your hand to the shift knob, and it feels like the shifter is in the top tier of 1-3-5. Also, the 5-6 upshift is difficult to execute smoothly; at times I found myself shifting from 5th to 4th. This is no big deal in that it hardly upset the car, unlike the legendary 3rd-to-2nd "upshift" on early Vipers.
This minor irritant aside, the Super Snake is a remarkably civil machine, except for the gear whine. The ride is supple for a car with taut suspension and massive tires, and the Super Snake offers all the comforts and diversions, such as air conditioning and a 500-watt sound system, that the stock GT500 offers.
The Super Snake is not a track car, nor is its handling on par with the likes of the Viper and Corvette Z06, although it boasts a drivetrain every bit as stout as theirs. What the Super Snake does offer is a trip down memory lane -- this is a modern-day muscle car. But unlike those days of yore, where muscle cars were fairly crude, uncomfortable and about the only thing they did well was rip off respectable quarter-mile times, the Super Snake is highly refined and much, much more sophisticated.
This car fills a unique niche -- it offers greater performance in a straight line, in turns and in stopping than the original monster cars did (the fangs those memories lack), with unique styling and relative affordability. Sure, the Super Snake, all in, can run about $70,000-$80,000 depending on the cost of your GT500, but that's still less than the heady prices commanded by original muscle cars in a collector market gone mad.
And since Ford will be offering up only 1000 GT500 KR models, this is a chance to have that kind of exclusivity with a touch more power -- enough to allow a bit of trash talking with Viper owners. All in all, the Super Snake is good fun and more proof that these are the good old days.