There's a difference between somebody that's in shape and a dedicated athlete who's totally ripped. The former is trim and capable. The latter will blow you away...then steal your girl friend. Such is the comparison between the just-introduced 2010 Ford Mustang GT and the Shelby GT500.

Ford showed the nearly-all-new Mustang at November's L.A. Auto Show. The Mustang Faithful were out in full force and were predictably agog toward the object of their affection. However, after the euphoria of the introduction waned, the Mustang fans were stung by the GT's shortfall of power compared to the 2009 Dodge Challenger R/T and the upcoming 2010 Chevrolet Camaro. With a standard 315 horsepower, the Mustang GT gets walloped by the HEMI R/T's 372 ponies. Even worse, the base Camaro with a 3.6-liter V-6 produces 300 horsepower, while the 6.2-liter V-8 churns out over 400. The muscle car game is played by numbers, and the new Mustang was coming up shy.

Now, all is right again in the Mustang corral, because at the Detroit Auto Show, Ford announced what enthusiasts knew was coming: the high-performance 2010 Shelby GT500. It's fortified with 540 horsepower at 6,200 rpm and 510 lb.ft. torque at 4,500 rpm.

The new Shelby gets its power from a supercharged 5.4-liter overhead cam V-8 with an iron block and aluminum heads. Compared to the 2009 GT500, the 2010 model is up 40 horsepower, and matches that of the limited-production GT500KR, but for a fraction of the price. Ford estimates the 2010 Shelby GT500 to run 0-60 mph in about 4.1 seconds, through the quarter mile in 12.1 seconds, and gallops to an electronically-limited 155 mph.

Power gains come (in part) from less restrictive exhaust and intake systems. In back, the new exhaust is finished with four-inch round polished tips. Up front, a totally new intake funnels colder air into the manifold. This change necessitated that the Cobra logo move from the driver side of the grill to the passenger side because that's where the air intake is positioned.

The six-speed manual gearbox is a re-cogged T56 that has taller gears in 5th and 6th for better highway cruising. Initial acceleration should be quicker because of the move from a 3.31:1 rear axle ratio to a shorter 3.55. EPA mpg numbers aren't yet available, but highway fuel economy may increase by a couple, coming in somewhere around 22 mpg, or about what the much less powerful Mustang GT achieved in 2009.

Until Carroll Shelby and his team launch another limited edition Mustang, the ultimate Mustang for today is the Shelby GT500. More details are forthcoming on this 500+ horsepower Mustang, including the facts behind Ford's claim that the new GT500 may match the performance of the limited-production 2008 Shelby GT500 KR, an $80,000 car. The 2009 Shelby GT500 should cost a bit more than half the KR's asking price. We'll keep you up to speed as soon as we get behind the wheel.

Rex Roy is an automotive writer based in Detroit. He can be reached through his web site at www.RexRoy.net.

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