Whether you realize it or not, we are living through the second muscle car era. The "Big Three" are still fighting for dominance on the street and track, and the horsepower junkies are reaping the rewards. Though the phrase "win on Sunday, sell on Monday" might no longer be uttered in the Ford Motor Company board meetings, you better believe the horsepower wars are flourishing. To fight the war, the engineers at Ford's Special Vehicle Team (SVT) have armed us with the latest weapon, namely the 550hp '11 Shelby GT500. With performance and efficiency far superior to anything the '60s or '70s had to offer, the new GT500 is truly a 21st century muscle car.
In recent years, this top dog in the Ford muscle-car lineup has been a stout, supercharged Mustang that bears the name of a man who elevated Ford performance to new heights in the '60s-Carroll Shelby. With roots deeply planted in the original muscle car era, the latest GT500 packs a factory rating of 550 hp and 510 lb-ft, which matches the Ford GT supercar. Combine this with improved handling and other enhancements, and you have an amazing overall performer in almost any category-all for an MSRP of $48,645.
There is something romantic about a powerful car, and as soon as you slide into the seat of the GT500, the romance begins. From the feel of the Alcantara-wrapped steering wheel to the subtle glow of the ambient lighting, the aggressive exhaust note, and the new-car smell, every one of the senses is engaged.
An improved powerplant derived from the Ford GT supercar adds a few extra ponies but loses many unwanted pounds. With the help of aerodynamic refinements and engine improvements, the '11 Shelby is the most fuel-efficient GT500 ever built-it was even able to shed the gas-guzzler tax. An all-new EPAS (electric power-assist steering) systems helps drivers feel more connected to the road and/or to the track. Revamped stripes and new optional rolling stock complement the ultra-aggressive front fascia and body lines, making the bold even bolder.
"The 2011 GT500 program is all about the handling, the driving dynamics, and the new aluminum engine," explains Jamal Hameedi, chief nameplate engineer for the GT500. "It's an exciting time for us, because SVT is really fulfilling its role as a technology leader within Ford."
MM&FF had the opportunity to first test the '11 Shelby GT500 at Virginia International Raceway (VIR) during Ford's press launch. In addition to time spent on the 3.27-mile full circuit, we put over 1,000 street miles on the clock.
"After a few laps in the '11 GT500, I came to the realization that this is a racecar, mellowed out for the street, well, at least it has racecar-like characteristics," said MM&FF's editor Evan Smith. "Ford offered us the opportunity to run on the full VIR circuit, and that allowed us push the GT500 really hard. We drove both the '10 and '11 models, and the difference is quite noticeable.
"The combination of the improved handling package (with reduced nose weight) and the EPAS put the new GT500 ahead in feel and in lap times. The car is more precise on turn-in and there is more grip at all levels. This equates to faster laps. Additionally, there was better balance, which the Mustang always struggled with because they almost always understeer. Now, the GT500 is neutral, which is quite nice. Even acceleration is better, thanks to the extra power, the 3.73s, and the lighter weight," Smith added.