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Slamming the throttle on the 2020 Shelby GT500 brings a sensation that hits all your senses like a hammer. The launch is like rocket blast, and as the 5.2L supercharged engine comes to life, your body is compressed deep into the Recaro seat and your ears hear a mechanical symphony as the quad pipes howl at 7,500 rpm. The rear Michelin tires struggle to harness the 617 lb-ft of torque, but somehow Ford’s Launch Control system keeps them glued to the track. Each time the blown mill hits redline the Tremec DCT 7-speed manual shifts in mere milliseconds and makes a hero out of you. Once it hits fourth gear, the raw horsepower—760 to be exact—propels you to the finish line in 10 seconds at 130-plus mph. What’s really amazing is that unlike cars of the past, virtually anyone willing to hold the throttle down can produce equal times in this Mustang.
The new GT500 is a technical wonder, and recently we put one to the test at the Ford Performance North American Track Tour in Charlotte, North Carolina. Ford turned us loose in brand new Shelby GT500 Mustangs and we went flat-out on the strip at zMax Dragway and on the Roval at Charlotte Motor Speedway. In addition, Ford Mustang brand manager Jim Owens, along with key Ford partners, gave us an inside look at the most powerful production Mustang ever built.
To be frank, the GT500 really makes you feel like a hero. There are production cars with more power, but not a single one at this price point can match the all-around performance. Ford has done a masterful job engineering the 2020 GT500. The 760 horsepower engine is a work of art that’s mated to a 7-speed Tremec DCT (dual-clutch transmission) with a slew of driver aid systems that turn a novice into a pro. We watched drivers of all skill levels go amazingly fast with confidence and control.
At the North American Track Tour we were split into groups so six of us headed to the drag strip. We made multiple runs and came away with a grin stretched wide under our Simpson helmet. Track prep for the event was okay, so we kept the Launch Control to a modest 1,700 rpm. The Launch Control programming allows drivers to select between 1,200-3,200 rpm for optimum launch, with the higher rpm getting you out of the hole much quicker—if traction allows. Still, the GT500 rocketed from 0-129 mph in 11.49 seconds in the distance of a quarter-mile.
To prove how easy the GT500 is to drive, we turned the keys (errr… the keyfob) over to our friend Shelby Grace. She’s made a total of 8 quarter-mile runs in her entire life, all while rowing the gears in her 5-speed-equipped 2007 Shelby GT at the 2019 Holley Ford Fest. Surely the GT500 would be a huge departure, taking her from the 319 hp to 760 ponies. Her previous best in the ’07 was a 14.0 at 100 mph. Shelby climbed into the GT500 and left the Launch Control set at 1,700 rpm. After selecting “Drag Mode,” she staged, held the brake and floored the throttle. With Launch Control activated, the computer held the engine at the desired rpm and when she snapped her foot off the brake the GT500 was gone. Shelby ripped off a great launch and clocked an 11.49 at 130 mph. She backed it up with an even quicker 11.33 at 131 mph—the best runs of the Track Tour!
Going from 14.0 at 100 mph to mid-11s at 131 mph is possible because Ford engineers have tuned Drag Mode and Launch Control for optimized traction and perfect shifting. It essentially lets any driver get the most from the Mustang, even on stock tires. Of course, with better traction come better ETs. We know because we also tested a GT500 on a grippier track. We were able to give it the full 3,200 rpm on launch and that resulted in a 10.61 at 133 mph pass—not bad for a bone-stock 4,200 pound Mustang on production tires.
The Shelby is at home on the drag strip, but it’s no one-trick pony. It has an alter ego that lies in the MagneRide suspension designed to eat up any road course it faces. It changes it’s attitude with the flip of the “mode” switch, and you can get around the curves best in “Sport” or “Track” mode. We experienced all this supreme handling on an abbreviated portion of the Charlotte Motor Speedway NASCAR Roval. The “short” course connected much of the flowing infield section with the big oval, including the 24-degree banking of Turns 1 and 2 and the long back straightaway. We hopped in a pair of Track Pack-equipped Shelby Mustangs with the big splitter and downforce-producing wing and we set out, following one of the school’s instructors. The “track” portion of the event is a lead-and-follow, but our “guide” quickly realized we had a semblance of talent so he kicked up the pace accordingly.
We were hustling the GT500 through the variety of corners that included sweepers, hairpins and ones that crested and dropped off. After a few laps we couldn’t believe how fast we were going. We instantly felt comfortable and in control, and barely heard a squeak from the tires. There was no understeer and we only had a slight amount of oversteer coming off a tight hairpin. We were getting after it, rolling wide-open off corners and braking at the late markers, and the GT500 never showed signs of weakness. Brake feel is phenomenal, the car slows in relation to the amount of force you apply, and the steering turns in telepathically with your input, the nose following your commands.
And let’s talk about that Tremec 7-speed DCT. While some may miss working a shift lever and clutch pedal, the DCT thinks for you, upshifting and downshifting on cue, and without upsetting the chassis, even at wide-open throttle and even in the corners. It rev-matches perfectly on deceleration and sounds glorious doing so. It seems to have a mind of its own. And while operating the controls can be fun, the DCT allows you to always have both hands on the wheel and your mind on hitting your marks. It also allows for left-foot braking, which can make you faster once you get the hang of it.
It's a lot of work to live up to a historical nameplate, and Ford is keenly aware of what kind of reputation the Shelby GT500 had. When the original debuted in 1967, it was the culmination of everything that Shelby and Ken Miles had worked to create with the LeMans program and Ford. Miles had fallen in love with the 427 and had done everything but jump and down on the air cleaner to get one into a Cobra. The LeMans victories spoke for themselves, and while the 427 gave way to the 428 for the road-going cars, a 7.0L Mustang that was meant to be the end-all, beat-all. The chicken farmer from Texas need not worry...the GT500 is still an all-singing, all-dancing powerhouse that will fight anything, anytime, anywhere.