Las Vegas may have been the perfect place for Ford Motor Company to launch the 2020 Mustang Shelby GT500. In a city where excess is worshipped, a range-topping, deafening 760-horsepower V-8 Mustang that snarls and spits rubber feels at home. This particular pony rocket, the most powerful Ford ever produced, has been long awaited. We haven’t been treated to a Shelby GT500 since the 2013 edition, and that 662-horsepower creation was bemoaned for the inclusion of a live rear axle that saw the exclusion of the coupe’s ability to go fast and also turn. This time around, Ford set out to make a halo Mustang that could dominate the drag strip and the race track.
The Las Vegas Motor Speedway compound was the proving grounds for journalists to see if the Blue Oval had achieved the redemption it sought. A glistening line of Skittle-colored Shelby GT500s awaited, each packing a helluva beating heart: a 5.2-liter supercharged V-8 dubbed the Predator. And when unbridled, it wants to hunt. Its prey? Time. It’ll hungrily shave seconds off lap or quarter-mile times with relative ease.
That engine, which generates 760 horsepower and 625 lb-ft of twist, is a cousin to the Voodoo powerplant nestled in the Shelby GT350, previously Ford’s best-performing Mustang for track work. But the Voodoo mill is naturally aspirated and Ford knew it would need to eke out even more oomph. Enter a 2.65-liter Eaton supercharger, the largest it makes, which can shove up to 12 psi of boost into the cylinders. Ingenuity and fitment time saw the supercharger mounted on the bottom of the block, additionally helping lower the GT500’s center of gravity.
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The ridiculous power is translated to the road by a Tremec seven-speed dual-clutch transmission that is sublime. You can snick through the gears with lightening-fast speed, should you wish, or it’ll smoothly plow through them on its own. Apologies to the save-the-manuals zealots, but this transmission is so achingly good that you’ll not miss rowing your own.
The sum result is blistering speed. It’ll rip to 60 from a standstill in 3.3 seconds and continue on to boast impressive quarter-mile integers. On the drag strip, after sampling Ford’s finicky-to-activate-but-effective-at-tire-melting Line Lock mode, three runs saw the first pass completed in 11.5 seconds, with subsequent runs down around 11.2. For a drag racing newbie with stock equipment, that’s solid. Drag race aficionados were clocking 10.9s (at elevation, into a severe headwind) and Ford claims it’ll shred quarters in 10.7 all day long on properly prepped tracks. That may be one second slower than the Dodge Demon, but the GT500 is running Michelin Pilot Sport rubber instead of slicks and has four seats.
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The prior GT500 was a quarter-mile bomber, too, so straight-line prowess isn’t surprising here. Over at the handling circuit, specially modded Mustangs awaited. We’re not talking about the $1,500 handling pack tick-box option that tacks on aero bits to the front fascia or a Gurney flap atop the rear spoiler. No, these had the $18,500 Carbon Fiber Track Pack. Gone are the rear seats (in small part to help mitigate the GT500’s 4,200-pounds; in large part so you can add a roll cage), gone is the rear spoiler, replaced by a honking wing that could easily be at home on a Mustang GT4 race car, and gone are the Michelin Pilot Sport 4S shoes, swapped for sticky, warm-weather-only Pilot Cup Sport 2s. These are wrapping the package’s pièce de résistance: 20-inch carbon-fiber wheels, which shed an impressive 15 pounds per corner.
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On the track, the Mustang is largely unflappable. It’s unwaveringly fast, for as long as you’ve got the asphalt and the cojones to keep your foot in it. The gearbox’s default settings in Track Mode mean the shifts don’t feel as beefy and aggressive, but they’re tuned for maximum acceleration. And you will feel it as you fire down the front straight. Rail the brakes and find that Brembo pistons chomp on 16.5-inch front rotors (14.5-inches in the rear) with the tenacity of a hungry animal. While confidence-inspiring, the GT500 is still a heavy machine and there’s a hint of wiggle as the land missile slows itself from 145 mph to 65 in a few dozen yards before an impending corner.
Point the tiller towards the apex and squeeze back on the throttle. The Pilot Cup Sport 2s bite wonderfully and translate the power without wheel spin or understeer. It nips around tighter corners and chicanes, the bright chassis and magnetorheological dampers absorbing any harshness from bashing a bit of kurbing while simultaneously ameliorating body roll. Even if you’ve mucked up a corner and need a little room to rein the GT500 in, it’s pliant enough to allow for a correction without upsetting the Mustang’s balance. The gobs of power mean you can still drop the accelerator to hop out of your mistake with surprising speed.
Hidden in the engine are active baffles in the oil pan, spring-loaded doors that flip open and shut to prevent the oil from sloshing away from where it’s needed during high-speed corners and other large lateral-G events. High-speed sweepers on the test track were a blast to tear through without lifting, after you’d worked up a little faith in the tires and brakes, and the oil gauge never wavered.
The 2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 is a whole lot of car. It’s raucous and bombastic, here to loudly devour whatever’s thrown its way, whether that’s the drag strip, race track, or country backroads. A lot of car doesn’t come cheap, especially when it’s packing this level of all-around capability; the GT500 starts at $72,900 and if you want that Carbon Fiber Track Pack (you do), you’re nearly into six-figures. But buyers plunking down their money will believe they’ve gotten a steal for something this special. They won’t be wrong.
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