Over a year ago, I got an email from Ford’s PR department asking me to extend my visit to one of their product launches because they wanted to show me something special. So special they asked me not to mention it to anyone. That little side excursion led me to a well-worn industrial park on the Detroit Airport’s west side. Here, a 2020 Ford SHELBY GT500 was unveiled along with an original SHELBY COBRA Mustang with a one-on-one with Jim Owens of Ford Performance.
Is there anything more American than the Ford Mustang? And when it gets some extra horsepower, or as they say “Ponies” under the hood, no wonder the term America’s Pony car came into being.
Flip the calendar forward; for time behind the wheel of the Bullitt and a trip to the American Muscle event last summer and viewing of Ford vs. Ferrari, I have learned a lot about the energy around this icon.
When the invite came for some time behind the wheel of the Ford Mustang GT500, I jumped on it. This trip to a legendary American Racetrack, Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, NC, included was plenty of seat time in the 2020 SHELBY GT, both on track and down the straight-away the Z-Max drag strip. While this was only a few hours of seat time, it was enough to remind me why this vehicle screams AMERICAN LEGEND.
This was a chance to participate in a mini Ford Performance Racing School experience, which buyers of Ford Performance Products get as part of their new-car purchase. This gave me a better understanding of how passionate the owners are about these vehicles and how much fun it is to learn how to use the car properly. The 2020 GT 500 is not just a hopped-up Mustang. The level of technology and engineering that goes into this vehicle is beyond amazing.
SHELBY GT 500
I found it interesting that while there was an ode to the Mustang name, because well basically this car is one, Ford keeps the GT 500, the old GT350, which is now being replaced by the Mach 1, a stand-alone product. Though it was quite clearly stated that your standard Eco-Boost Mustang off the dealer lot is darned impressive, the difference between that and the GT 500 is night and day.
The Shelby name was almost more prominent than the Ford name at this event. Even Carroll Shelby’s grandson, Aaron, was on hand to speak about the history his family has had with this vehicle since the mid-1960s.
Behind the Wheel
We were harnessed up in a Hans device, helmeted in full-face helmets, and then slipped into the Recaro seats, with multi-point racing harnesses. While the GT500 has a lot of power, power seats were not one of them, so adjusting the seat fore and aft, up and down, and the seatback was all manual. Once that was done, and we were ready to push that start button.
The GT500 is not a manual transmission, like the Bullitt I drove; it is purely automatic with paddle shifters. Once I set the transmission into Race Mode, I rotated the transmission dial to D, and off I went on a twisty road course set up on the Charlette Infield course in a lead and follow with a professional driver. Aiming for the cones to apex turns, flipping the throttle, and stepping on the brakes to slow down, the power out of the GT 500’s 5.2 Liter super-charged engine through the TREMEC 7-speed dual-clutch transmission was like warm butter, flowing right where and when you needed it. The MagneRide suspension kept the GT 500 planted on its Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires as we went around the turns. And the powerful Brembo brakes brought the car down from the 137 mph that I got up to with ease.
Making driving the GT 500 almost easy, the only thing the driver needed was attentive and focusing on piloting the car. The car did everything else, which was a bit odd for me since I am used to the old school track experience, where you make all the decisions about power. Here, the GT500 makes those decisions much faster and with a lot more assurance of them being correct than a human can.
Take It To The Track
On the Drag Strip, the experience was much the same. The only real difference was that you selected Drag Strip Mode and Stomped the accelerator pedal. Here the only issue was being ready to anticipate the tree and jump off the brake before the green light.
While we did not take the GT 500 out on a public street or drive it anywhere but on and off the racetrack, I was quite surprised at how refined this beast was. I do imagine that like the Bullet, it has a lot of power that it wants to let loose and is just waiting for the place to do it, which makes this a Track Ready – Street Legal – car for the enthusiast driver.
While you can get a base Mustang for $26,670, the base price for the GT 500 is $72,900. I would spec it out to be around $81,790, though that would be without the $28.500 carbon fiber track package. While this is a lot of coins, you are getting a lot for your money when you buy this car.
With the GT 350 going away for the 2021 model year, Mach1 will be replacing it, and while we got to see that model, there was not much discussion about it at this time. So we have something to look forward to.
Words and images by William West Hopper
Mr. Hopper is a life-long automotive enthusiast whose first words were Car-Car. Born in the late 1950s, he remembers the launch of the original 1964 ½ Ford Mustang with vivid memories of a plastic fastback model and a ride in one that belonged to a friend of his Mother’s. Not sure if the car’s memory, or that of the intense concern of having a kid in the car that was visible by the childless Mustang owner of having a kid in his brand-new car, stands out more.
We thank the team from Ford Motor Company, Ford Performance, for inviting us to experience the Ford Performance Racing School for ourselves. And we look forward to future experiences with the brand.