Shelby GT500

Is latest incarnation worthy of the muscle car legend?

New models can match the Ford Mustang for muscle car status. Since the original made its debut in 1964, more than nine million examples have rolled off the production line.

But bosses at Ford aren’t resting on their laurels – especially with the new Chevrolet Camaro ready to steal its thunder – and the latest addition to the line-up claims to be the best yet. Taking its name from legendary American racer and tuner Carroll Shelby, the new range-topping Shelby GT500 packs a mighty 540bhp powerplant that aims to recapture the Mustang’s hot-rod heritage.

The aggressively styled Ford has clearly been inspired by the Sixties original. And the top-of-the-range GT500 is given even greater visual impact by a set of full-length racing stripes, as well as a large cooling duct in the bonnet and 19-inch alloy wheels. Look closer, and you’ll spot the trademark Shelby Cobra badges, enormous twin tailpipes and a big rear spoiler.

Climb inside, and the Mustang is much more low key – although it’s still packed with American appeal. The driver gets heavily cowled dials and a chunky three-spoke steering wheel, while the leather-trimmed seats feature distinctive stripes to mirror the exterior. Elsewhere there are some neat touches, such as the billiard ball-style gearknob.

However, the GT500 can’t match the Camaro for retro appeal. Worse still, the majority of the plastics feel cheap, and build quality is flimsy in places. Occupants will also be cramped aboard the Mustang – particularly in the two rear seats. On the plus side, the Ford will swallow 59 litres more luggage than its Chevy rival, as the boot has a capacity of 379 litres.

All thoughts of practicality will be forgotten when you fire up the GT500’s 540bhp 5.4-litre engine. It dominates the driving experience, with its bellowing soundtrack and electrifying pace. At the test track, the Shelby set some blistering performance times, in keeping with its drag racing heritage. Even in the wet, it blasted from 0-60mph in five seconds exactly – four-tenths up on the Camaro.

Even more impressive is the GT500’s knock-out overtaking punch. During our in-gear assessments, it covered 30-50mph in a supercar-rivalling 2.5 seconds. With an incredible 691Nm of torque, the Mustang spins its wheels in the first three gears – even with the traction control on! And this unruly behaviour continues through bends.

With its low-tech live rear axle, the GT500 is easily upset by mid-corner bumps, while care is needed with the throttle if you want to avoid lurid tail slides. And there’s no getting away from the fact the Mustang feels bulky – which is highlighted by its left-hand-drive layout. There’s plenty of grip in the dry, though, plus the steering is direct and the six-speed gearbox precise.

In fact, this rough-and-ready nature is all part of the Ford’s appeal. And while it lacks the sophisticated feel and refinement of its rival, the Mustang brims with character. But can this justify its £11,010 price premium over the equally charismatic Camaro?

Details

Chart position: 2WHY: The GT500 really stands out with its adrenaline pumping thrills, dragster pace and all-American looks. The Shelby name only adds to the appeal. But it is expensive to buy and run, while the fit and finish lag behind the Camaro’s.

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