For the second time in Mustang history, the Shelby GT500KR returns
“Courage will now be your best defense against the storm that is at hand—that and such hope as I bring.”
We are not actually living in the final book of J.R.R. Tolkein’s epic fantasy trilogy. But, facing the advent of battery-powered cars, many old-school muscle car aficionados feel as though they face a storm destined to uproot all that they love. If you count yourself among such a group, take heart: The GT500KR has returned.
This is the third appearance of the “King of the Road” (KR). The original, based on the 1967 Shelby GT500, appeared in mid-1968 as a chest-thumping gladiator ready for the muscle-car fight ring. Though Ford had recently taken over Shelby American, shuttering the California shop and relocating all engineering personnel and conversion operations to Ionia, Michigan, under A.O. Smith Corporation, Carroll Shelby still made his voice heard. 1968 had seen the introduction of the GT500, packing a 428-cubic-inch “Cobra Jet” rated at 355 horsepower from the factory—and widely considered to be underrated at that figure.
Mr. Shelby wasn’t above hyping up this already formidable beast. He heard a rumor that Chevrolet wanted to advertise the ’68 Corvette as the “King of the Road,” and decided that the title would suit the GT500 quite nicely. His team did a bit of fact checking. Neither “King of the Road” nor “KR,” they discovered, were yet copyrighted. Shelby pounced on the title. He commissioned a run of 1053 GT500 fastbacks decked out with fiberglass hoods boasting function scoops—and, of course, a dozen NASCAR sponsors’ worth of King of the Road and KR badging.
The GT500KR wouldn’t return for another 40 years. When it did, in 2008, Ford’s SVT division decided to add some spice to the nostalgic recipe. Not only did the S197-based GT500KR wear a carbon-fiber hood with functional scoops (and the obligatory KR swag)—its supercharged 5.4-liter Triton V-8 also got a 40-hp bump courtesy of four vales per cylinder (rather than three), the cylinder heads from the contemporary Ford GT, and a Ford Racing Power Upgrade Pack. Translation: a cold-air intake complemented by revised ignition timing and a throttle recalibration. The reborn KR got a goodie bag of performance hardware besides: a 3.73:1 (vs. 3.31:1) rear axle, a Ford Racing suspension tune, and a short-throw shifter. The only fly in the ointment was the eye-watering, eighty thousand dollar pricetag. Even so, Ford ended up adding 712 2009 models on top of the 1000 units it had initially slated for the 2008 model year.
The second return of the King is no less impressive—and no easier on the wallet, either. For $54,995, Shelby American will give any 2020 through 2022 GT500 a 900-hp, carbon-fiber-festooned makeover. (That’s an extra 140 hp—the largest power difference yet between a GT500 and its KR-ified sibling.) The biggest change is a new supercharger, a 3.8-liter affair built for Shelby by Whipple and complemented by a high-volume intercooler and heat exchanger. (The Eaton TVS R2650 unit on the stock GT500, for those keeping score, is a 2.65-liter unit.) The best part? You can enjoy all 900 hp on 93 octane pump gas.
The chassis gets the appropriate reinforcements for this Christmas-dinner-helping of performance: heavy-duty half-shafts and Ford Performance sway bars front and rear. Shelby American also swaps in a full set of its own adjustable springs and recalibrates the existing MagneRide suspension. Shelby forged-aluminum wheels (20×11-inch front and 20×11.5 rear) shod in Michelin rubber put the power to the ground. The press release plays coy on tire specifics, but judging from this car’s obvious Michelin footware, we expect some flavor of Pilot Sport Cup. Notably, there don’t appear to be any changes made to the GT500’s stopping hardware: 16.5-inch vented discs up front, clamped by six-piston monobloc Brembo calipers, and 14.6-inchers with four-piston units in the rear. Slavering already? Be warned that the third GT500KR is also the most exclusive of the breed: Only 225 will be built.
All this go-fast awesomeness is clad in a suit to match: a pre-preg carbon-fiber hood with the appropriately functional vents, a front splitter and rear diffuser made of the same material, Shelby rocker stripes and badges, and a bit of new leather upholstery inside. If you crave a widebody kit, a polished supercharger, painted stripes, or a harness bar instead of a rear seat, Shelby can make that happen as well.
High-dollar, high-performance, high-drama. It’s what Shelby American does best—and for those who can’t imagine of shredding tires without hearing a V-8 song, the return of the king offers hope indeed.