Why the 2020 Shelby GT500 is the all-time ultimate Mustang

2020 Mustang Shelby GT500 driving front 3/4

Ford’s 2020 Shelby GT500 has over 700 horsepower. Let that sink in. Beneath a fiberglass hood, replete with standard hood pins, lurks a 5.2-liter aluminum engine force-fed by an Eaton roots-type supercharger. Codenamed the Predator, this powerplant comes standard in Ford’s new GT500 and stakes the claim as the Blue Oval’s most powerful engine, ever. There are even rumors the final horsepower figure is well over 750.

The iconic fastback is capable of mid-three second 0-60 mph launches and sucking your molars out through your ears. Aided by a seven-speed dual-clutch Tremec transmission snapping from gear to gear in less than 100 milliseconds, the GT500 can fire off 10-second quarter mile pulls.

2020 Shelby GT500 snake badge
2020 Shelby GT500 front spoiler detail
2020 Shelby GT500 hood vents
2020 Shelby GT500 wing

GT500s have always handled well in a straight line (granted, not to this degree). The real test for the proud pony is, you know, turning. Known for pushing like a dump truck, previous iterations were knocked for being nose-heavy and bullish. The new GT500 has a head start on its forebears by virtue of an independent rear suspension. On top of that, Ford revised  the suspension geometry, updated the electric power-steering unit, and added lighter front and rear coil springs. Throw in MagneRide active dampers, several drive modes, wrap the wide wheels in gooey Michelin Pilot Sport rubber, and the result is the highest-ever lateral grip from a Mustang.

The third side of the triangle of performance, along with go and turn, is to stop. Ford went big here as well, using massive 16.5-inch two-piece brake rotors with Brembo six-piston calipers. The company says they’re the largest front calipers on any coupe on the market.

Though the GT500 is advertised as a more nimble super-’Stang, it still looks the part of a mean, lean, muscle machine. The front fenders are as wide as the rears, the automotive equivalent of jacked-up lats. You wouldn’t want to meet this thing in a dark alley. For better aero, more downforce, and maximizing thermal exchange, Ford Performance utilized Ford motorsport’s tech center and rolling wind tunnel in North Carolina.

3 colors offered for the 2020 Mustang Shelby GT500
Ford
2020 Mustang Shelby GT500

In addition to other options such as Recaro seats and vinyl (or painted) stripes, two handling packages will be made available. One is simply called the “Handling Package” and includes adjustable strut mounts and a spoiler, while the other titled “Carbon Fiber Track Package” comes sans rear seat and features carbon fiber wheels, wings and splitters.

To better appreciate the insanity of the 2020 GT500, a walk down memory lane is in order.

First-generation Shelby GT500 (1967-1970)

1967 Shelby GT500 front 3/4
Sandon Voelker
1967 Shelby GT500

Upon release of the Mustang in halfway through 1964, Lee Iacocca was already burning up the telephone line to Carroll Shelby. Iacocca, father of the Mustang and vice-president of Ford at the time, thought the car lacked in standout straight-line speed and handling. To transform the sporty pony into a track-day bruiser, Ford’s big man reached out to Carroll Shelby.

In the mid-60’s Shelby was coming into his performance stardom, having recently outfit a roster of AC Aces with 289-cubic-inch Windsor Ford V-8s. Iacocca asked Shelby to work his velocity voo-doo on the Mustang so that the car could compete in B-production SCCA. The performance magnate obliged, and in 1965, his team spawned the first Shelby GT350.

After winning Le Mans in 1966 with the GT40, Shelby and his crew gave the race winning 650-horsepower 427 FE-engine a college-try under the hood of the Mustang for half a production season. They called it the Shelby GT500. But like most race engines, it was unreliable and burned oil.

1967 Shelby GT500 interior
1967 Shelby GT500 engine

Shelby then settled on stuffing a 428-cubic-inch Ford Interceptor V-8 under the hog-nose hood scoop. Akin to Shelby’s GT350, the GT500 came equipped with Shelby flair such as the high-beam lamps mounted in the middle of the grille, hood pins, and air scoops on the front quarter panels and the C-pillars. Mustang tail lights were replaced with large rectangular units from the Mercury Cougar, and an integrated spoiler rested under the Shelby trunk lid. Inside, drivers got a taste of track life with shoulder harnesses and the first factory installed roll-bar.

Like a juicy high-school romance that fades over the years, Ford and Shelby grew apart with age. The internal politics of Ford chapped the speed-demon known for valuing control and quick decisions. In 1968, Ford moved production of the Shelby Mustang from Shelby’s shop in Venice, California to Southfield Michigan where A.O. Smith Co. carried out the conversions. Ford added the GT500KR, or “King of the Road” to the performance family. The KR came equipped with a 428-cubic-inch Cobra-Jet V8 that produced an estimated 400 horsepower. The 2020 GT500 has almost double the power.

By 1969 the bond between Shelby and his namesake Mustangs was practically non-existent. Compared to the standard ‘Stang, the new Shelby had longer hood, re-shaped front fenders, and a new nose. The hefty horse, now weighing more than 600 pounds more than the ’67 GT500, would soon be put out to pasture.

1967 Shelby GT500 rear
Sandon Voelker
1967 Shelby GT500

Production of the GT500 stopped in 1970. Though some 1970 GT500s were assembled, from 1969 stock given updated serial numbers. Shelby and Ford parted ways, and for the next three decades their relationship laid dormant. Despite the absence from production, the old model made plenty of appearances on the silver screen in later years. A ’68 GT500 appeared in Coming Home, and completed the surly-sexy character of “Crash Davis” played by Kevin Costner in Bull Durham. And we would be remiss not to mention the feisty ’67 GT500, Eleanor, in the remake of “Gone in 60 Seconds.”

Second-generation Shelby GT500 (2007-2013)

Flash forward to 2005. Ford SVT rebooted the GT500 only after receiving the blessing from Mr. Shelby himself. The updated equine debuted in 2007 with a supercharged 5.4-liter DOHC 32-valve V-8 that put out over 500 horsepower, or “two-thousand six-hundred and twenty-five zoom dogs.” A year later, Ford and Shelby brought back the GT500 KR as a limited-run 540 horsepower restyled-GT500 in 2008. In 2009, Shelby and crew released the Super Snake−a 605-horsepower version of the modern GT500 that included a laundry list of racing parts and cosmetic bits such as a fiberglass hood scoop. Still, this about 100 less horsepower than today’s GT500.

Introduced by Carroll Shelby as his favorite Mustang, the 2013 GT500 debuted with the highest horsepower rating offered in a production car, in North America. Cylinder jackets were left at home and bore was increased, bumping displacement from 5.4L to 5.8L and producing just north of 660 horsepower. Blue-oval faithful thought this was the pinnacle of performance, until now.

Third-generation Shelby GT500 (2020)

2020 Mustang Shelby GT500 driving rear 3/4
Ford
2020 Mustang Shelby GT500

This fall marks the arrival of the 2020 Ford Shelby GT500. Advertised as the most powerful Ford, ever, the new pony boasts and unapologetic 700-plus horsepower. “With its supercar-level powertrain, the all-new Shelby GT500 takes the sixth-generation Mustang to a performance level once reserved only for exotics,” says Ford performance global director Hermann Salenbauch. Just like Shelby’s first GT500 in 1967, born from racing research and development, the 2020 GT500 pushes the envelope and blurs the line between the road and race track.