First Drive: 2008 Shelby GT500KR, Part 1

2008 Shelby GT500KR – Click above for high-res image gallery

I have to admit, the Shelby GT500 was somewhat of a letdown. I have no complaints about the 500 horsepower or the muscular lines, but at nearly 4,000 pounds, it's got a serious weight problem. The iron block, 5.4-liter V8 and the addition of a supercharger puts much the weight in the worst possible place -- the front -- so the GT500 feels unmotivated around the corners compared to a regular Mustang GT. Other complaints include a suspension that doesn't seem up to snuff to handle the prodigious power, as well as a vague and rubbery shifter. Despite its shortcomings, the GT500 is one of the world's best performance bargains. Never before has such a powerful car been available for so little cash (although the Ford dealers did a pretty good job of ruining its value with markups). Still, one couldn't help but think that the GT500 could have been better.

All photos Copyright ©2008 Drew Phillips / Weblogs, Inc.

Check out First Drive: 2008 Shelby GT500KR, Part 2 by clicking here.

Enter the GT500KR. It's the next step above the standard GT500, and the first Shelby Mustang to declare itself 'King of the Road' since 1968. A quick walk-around shows the upgrades applied at the Shelby facility in Las Vegas. Carbon fiber is used in several places, including a new heat-extracting hood, the front splitter, and on the mirror covers. The 18-inch aluminum wheels look strangely small compared to the 20-inchers on the concept, but they are handsome nonetheless, wrapped with Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar tires. Out back is a revised spoiler lip that cleverly mimics the diffuser design below, and there's also a new exhaust system developed just for the KR. Inside, it's pretty much standard GT500, except for the plaque on the dash, KR stitching in the headrests, and a new short throw shifter with a white ball knob. Under the hood, the KR gets a new open element intake system that, along with revised programming and the new exhaust system, is good for another forty horsepower. The suspension has been modified as well. The car sits lower than before and has slightly more aggressive settings. SVT engineers claim that the GT500KR will consistently maintain 1.0g of lateral acceleration. We'll have to see about that.

The keys are handed over and we're on our way. There's good news already. The new shifter that replaced the one in the standard GT500 is infinitely more satisfying. It provides clean, short shifts and moves directly into the next gear without any hesitation. That alone makes the car better to drive. Despite the firmer suspension, the KR has a pretty compliant ride and would be a suitable as a daily driver if it was asked.

After getting through some traffic lights, we head up into the mountains above Salt Lake City and start getting into some curves. Once again, we're pleasantly surprised at the changes SVT and Shelby have made. The KR feels lighter on its feet than the normal GT500, even with two additional photographers stuffed in the back seat. It feels more planted and handles tight turns with far less drama. The additional horsepower doesn't seem too noticeable, although the two extra bodies, camera and video equipment in the trunk probably offset that gain. It would probably be a different story if there were only one a driver in the car.

After forty-five minutes of driving the KR, we're left wondering why Ford didn't build the GT500 this way in the first place. Truthfully, it probably wouldn't have been that much more difficult. Yes, the carbon fiber hood probably wouldn't be a feasible production item from Ford (it's a company first), but the shifter, suspension tuning, and extra power would have been relatively simple. It's too bad these cars will be probably be going for around six-figures after dealer markups. And don't even think about building your own – Ford and Shelby have agreed that they won't produce any of the other parts except for replacements on existing KRs.

While we loved driving the KR on public roads, Ford is giving us the opportunity to test it out on the track. Tomorrow we'll be headed to Motor Millersports Park to see how the GT500KR drives on the track. Stay tuned...

All photos Copyright ©2008 Drew Phillips / Weblogs, Inc.

Check out First Drive: 2008 Shelby GT500KR, Part 2 by clicking here.

Travel and lodging for this media event was provided by the manufacturer.

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