Like children anticipating Christmas morning, we awaited February 19 with hope and trepidation. We had put the 2007 Ford Shelby GT500 on our wish list, and it was scheduled to arrive that day. But we've had more than one hotly anticipated car pulled from our schedule at the last moment, so we made offerings to whatever gods we could find on Wikipedia (sorry for the burnt calf smell in the office, co-workers) and waited for the day. Apparently our karma was in good shape, as a bright red-and-white Shelby GT500 arrived at our offices that day.
With the exceptions of the 2006 BMW M5 and the 2006 BMW M6 in lunatic mode, the 2007 Shelby GT500 is the most powerful car to ever cross the hallowed threshold of the CNET Car Tech garage. The Shelby GT500 is not only a frighteningly potent car (the 500 horsepower from its supercharged V-8 engine was enough to whiten our knuckles even on legal roads), it also is a bookend to a generation of muscle cars starting with its namesake, the GT500 that made its debut 40 years ago.
Sporting the signature Le Mans stripes down the center of its body and a rash of SVT logos denoting its heritage in Ford's Special Vehicle Team, our test car arrived to much fanfare. Despite its obvious DNA, the 2007 incarnation of the GT500 does not want to be known as a Mustang: nowhere on its body is there any reference to Ford's iconic pony car. Neither is it classified as a Cobra, despite the presence of plenty of Shelby-inspired Cobra logos on its steering wheel, seats, and exterior panels. All the same, after a week of driving it, we can confirm without reservation that this car is definitely some kind of animal.
Test the tech: Engine versus stereo
Our usual focus when conducting our tech tests of a review car is to think of an entertaining real-world application for one of its onboard gadgets. With the Shelby GT500 we were somewhat confined in our choice. The car's cabin technology is limited to its standard 500-watt (peak) Shaker 500 stereo (a 1,000-watt upgrade is an available option) and a couple of instrument-cluster gimmicks (see the In the cabin section below for details). The other main technology feature of the Shelby is its engine: a 500-horsepower 5.4-liter V-8 block with four-valve cylinder heads sourced from the Ford GT supercar assisted by a Roots type Eaton supercharger.
For our tech test we decided to pit the stereo against the engine in a sound test. Which would be louder, the 500-watt stereo or the 500-horspower engine? Armed with a sound meter, we took the Shelby GT500 to an unused wharf in San Francisco to find out. The stereo was first up, and we feared for our eardrums as we killed the engine and slotted a CD into the Shelby's six-disc in-dash changer. Having selected JXL's remix of Elvis Presley's "A Little Less Conversation" as our test tune, we cranked up the volume to "max." After a couple of minutes of cacophonous discomfort holding the sound meter in the center of the cabin, we got a maximum reading of 103 dB. If you're wondering how loud that is, then we can assure you, IT'S PRETTY DARN LOUD!
The in-car noise level topped out at 103dB.
Next, it was the V-8 engine's turn to make some noise. As to not to break the Shelby without actually driving it, we decided that we would take the volume reading with the engine turning at 5,000rpm. Wayne selflessly volunteered to sit in the driver's seat stamping on the gas pedal with the car in neutral, while I held the sound meter under the hood to take a sound reading. As the engine speed rose through 3,000 and 4,000 rpm, it was clear the sound competition was going to be a close contest. With the engine at 5,000rpm and our ears ringing, we ceased the revving. The sound meter was reading 108dB--5dB more than the stereo. We had our winner.
The engine went louder, registering at 108dB at 5,000rpm.
In keeping with the whole character of the 2007 Shelby GT500, the engine had trumped the onboard tech. Mustang fans wouldn't have had it any other way.
In the cabin
Those looking for comfort and luxury in a sports car should stop reading now, as the interior of the 2007 Shelby GT500 is a mobile version of old Mother Hubbard's cupboard. Aside from the prominent Cobra logo in the center of the steering wheel, the view from the driver's seat is a dreary one. A sea of dull black-and-gray plastic surrounds the front occupants on all sides, the most noteworthy features being two gaping cup holders and a large, black plastic parking brake in the center console. The central stack is hardly more inspiring: indifferently fitted gray panels do a poor job of representing carbon fiber, and the black plastic stereo head unit with its single-line monochrome LCD is a relic of the predigital age. Bulky black plastic surrounds for the speakers complete the Spartan interior ensemble.
Despite the car's primitive interior appointments, the cabin does offer some surprising tech features. The Shelby's Shaker 500 stereo is more sophisticated than its 1980s appearance suggests. It features a six-disc in-dash changer with the ability to play MP3 discs and portable MP3 players via a generic auxiliary-input jack in the center console. Our test car also was equipped with the option of Sirius Satellite Radio. For MP3 discs, the stereo's LCD displays ID3 tag information for song, artist, and album, which can be cycled through by pressing the TXT button. While the display only shows 12 characters at a time, longer tags can be read in full by pressing the seek button. Similar to the stereo in the 2007 Ford Expedition, the Shelby's stereo enables drivers to choose between folder and track mode when playing MP3 discs.
Despite its primitive appearance, the Shelby GT500's standard stereo offers a range of playback- and sound-adjustment options.
As we discovered in our tech test, the Shaker 500 stereo has plenty of power, but it also can deliver a reasonably refined acoustic output. As well as offering individual EQ controls for bass and treble, it features some advanced audio-tweaking options, including a compression mode for playback of digital audio and digital signal processing. This enables occupants to set the acoustic sweet spot to center on the driver's seat, the rear seats, or the back seats, which offer so little legroom as to be useless to anyone more than 10 years old. Curiously, there is no option to set the DSP to focus on just the front seats.
Aside from the stereo, the only other cabin tech features of the Shelby GT500 are found in its instrument cluster alongside its washed-out white-on-gray tachometer and speedometer dials. In keeping with its performance-focused persona, the Shelby GT500 has a couple of systems to notify drivers of when to shift gears. One of these is driver-configurable: using three hard buttons on the dash, drivers can activate a unique audio-visual notification signal to alert them when to shift gears. The notifications can be set to kick in at anywhere between 1,500 and 6,000rpm. Irrespective of the level that the latter system is set to, another warning light in the form of a yellow arrow on the left-hand side of the dash comes on at around 2,500rpm, also suggesting when to upshift.
The most frivolous tech feature on the Shelby GT500 also is centered on the instrument cluster. Using the same three-button cluster on the dash, drivers can select different colors for the instrument-cluster backlighting: to cater to the widest possible artistic range, the car offers six preset colors (red, purple, orange, white, blue, and green) and up to 125 user-configured colors, which can be made up by mixing different levels of red, blue, and green light.
A more useful feature of the instrument cluster is its two-line display beneath the tachometer that can be used to call up data for a range of systems, including: trip information, oil pressure, security system and brake systems, traction control, and range to empty.
Under the hood
With one turn of the ignition key, all cabin shortcomings of the 2007 Shelby GT500 are forgotten. The gutsy V-8 sneezes into life with the unequivocal message that the main entertainment to be had in this car will be via the gas pedal. The 2007 Shelby GT500 is offered with a single transmission option in the form of a heavy-duty TR6060 six-speed manual gearbox. With the short-throw shifter in one hand and the Cobra-embossed three-spoke steering wheel in the other, we set out onto the streets of San Francisco in homage to Steve McQueen in the movie Bullitt.
For having such blistering performance characteristics (500 horsepower, 468 pound-feet of torque, and a zero-to-60mph time of 4.6 seconds), the GT500 displays relatively good road manners around town. With coilover spring MacPherson struts up front and a three-link live axle with coil springs in the rear, the GT500's suspension is tuned for spirited driving, but this does not translate into the bone-shaking ride that comes with many stiffened suspension configurations.
Unlike Steve McQueen, we had to abide by the road laws when driving around the hills of San Francisco, meaning we spent a good deal of time and effort with our left foot controlling the GT500's clutch. Clutch take-up is a bit high, but once we got used to the biting point, we managed to execute hill starts without burning too much rubber. One complaint we have with the Shelby in urban driving is the tendency of its back wheels to break traction when driving over the slightest of road imperfections. When this happens, the rear wheels undergo severe axle-hop, making the whole car judder and shake before regaining its balance.
On uneven pavement, the Shelby's rear wheels suffer from axle-hop.
The most entertaining thing about driving the 2007 Ford Shelby GT500 around town (aside from burying BMW M3s in fast launches from the stop lights) was the universal admiration the car received from passersby. Middle-aged men in particular would crane their necks to watch us as we cruised past, and on the odd occasion we caught someone's eye, we were met with a knowing smile that said, "I can only imagine what fun you're having in that thing."
As ego-massaging as all this city slicking was however, there is only one place the GT500 is happy: on the open road. Gunning the throttle from standing results in a trainlike acceleration, and despite the car's reliance on forced induction, power is very linear without any noticeable surge from the supercharger. If you can't feel the supercharger, however, you can certainly hear it: when pushing the car beyond 4,000rpm (and brazenly disregarding the yellow upshift arrow light), the supercharger whines like a siren, an unhappy coincidence as this car is perhaps the biggest cop magnet on the road.
You can break the law on the freeway in second gear in the 2007 Shelby GT500.
Flooring the gas pedal or kicking down a gear both result in the Shelby GT500's front end rearing up as power surges to the 18.5-inch ZR-rated rear tires, while squeezing the accelerator when cornering predictably results in loss of the back end. Shifts with the short-throw stick are smooth and assured, and the shifter snicks into each gate with a satisfying mechanical precision.
Unfortunately, we were restricted to public roads in our test of the Shelby GT500, and in a car that will break 100mph in second gear, we put our licenses on the line every time we got behind the wheel. We could go describing in great detail how it feels to drive this car--the exhilaration, the rush, the terror, but we'd rather let you experience in person: check out the CNET Car Tech podcast in which we take it for a spin.
In our all-too-short time with the GT500, we covered 225 miles, getting a lamentable average gas mileage of 13.7mpg. The only green concern this car's owners have is the color of the traffic lights.
Our 2007 Ford Shelby GT500 test car came with a base price of $40,930 to which was added a gas-guzzler tax of $1,300; $595 for the GT500 Premium Trim Package (featuring a leather-wrapped and stitched instrument panel brow and center console, upgraded door armrests and aluminum pedal covers); and $195 for Sirius Satellite Radio. With destination and delivery, the bottom-line sticker price was $43,765.
The 2007 Ford Shelby GT500 is a brash, brawny, barn burner. Its stripped-down interior and absence of rear legroom are eclipsed by the glory of its blown V-8. Just watch out when thrashing about on the open road: that siren sound might not always be the supercharger.