When we last covered a Mustang, it was the latest Boss 302, and we made a couple of bold claims. The first was that it was the best Mustang of all time. And the second was that it had singlehandedly matured the American muscle car from its mullet-sporting roots to a world-beating race car. The huge, loud, flashy segment had reached a new pinnacle.
But earlier this month, at the Los Angeles Auto Show, Ford showed us something new, something that could pull the segment even further up: the 2013 Shelby GT500. It packs 650 horsepower and offers a much more affordable alternative to the likes of the Lexus LF-A or the Lamborghini Gallardo Superleggera.
Why are we comparing this arrangement of American iron to quarter- and half-million dollar supercars? Because it has a higher top speed. It will be the most powerful production car made within our borders, capable of 202 mph. Two hundred and two miles an hour in a Mustang? At what point do we start calling it a supercar?
But before we get to the fun stuff, we have a major hurdle to clear: it’s not terribly pretty. It has its own charm, in a girl-next-door kind of way, but its cosmetic updates are no improvement over the already-pretty Mustang of today. It looks to have been involved in a 12-round altercation with Earless Evander Holyfield, showing fat lips on the grille and six black eyes for tail lights.
Thankfully, you don’t have to look at either of these mistakes when you get inside, which is what you’ll want to do immediately, because the GT500 can put you in the 200 mph club if you have enough runway. Ford has yet to divulge any details on how they’ve abused engineered that 5.4 liter V8 to pull this off, or even if it’s still the 5.4 liter used in the current GT500, but we do know that the “500” in the moniker is no longer terribly accurate.
Nor have we been blessed with any details on just how much control we’ll get, only a vague assurance that it will be more. This is good news for anyone who’s driven the newer GT500s, which had an unkind hobby of making one wet himself at every corner. And those each had 110 fewer horses packed under their hoods.
Now, Ford’s last supercar was the achingly beautiful GT (not to be confused with the Mustang GT or the Shelby GT500), a mid-engine heartbreaker and the personal supercar of choice for Jeremy Clarkson. It “only” hit 205 mph.
So is this new GT500 a supercar? Do its mad power and astronomical top speed make it something more than a muscle car? No. Because though it will likely trample Corvettes and Lamborghinis alike, it will do so with a live rear axle. There’s no magnetic suspension; no goofy, paddle-shifted, dual-clutch transmission; and none of the heavy, complex AWD nonsense that Lamborghini (and Volkswagen in general) seem to love so much.
In short, it’s not sophisticated enough to be a supercar. It’s still something whose workings you can picture with an unassisted human brain. It’s remembered its roots. Thankfully, sophistication and good engineering are not synonymous. If this new GT500 really can handle better than the old models (and at 202 mph, we hope Ford isn’t embellishing), the GT500 will break new ground–not only for Ford and the Mustang platform, but also for the muscle car segment in general.
It’s not alone, though. There is still the Camaro ZL-1. At the LA Auto Show, Joel Ewanick, GM’s global marketing VP, challenged the GT500 to a race around the Nurburgring against the ZL-1. Ford politely demurred, and while this may have more to do with the Mustang’s yet-unknown release date (versus the ZL-1’s projected February debut) than Ford’s being chicken, the ZL-1 is no slouch, known to devour Italian and German exotics without discrimination.
What do you think? Which mad muscle car would win in a race around the ‘Ring?