DETROIT — If Ford Motor Co. is serious about planning its future around electric vehicles, it’s hard to imagine a better curtain call for its gasoline performance cars than the 700-plus-horsepower 2020 Mustang Shelby GT500.
Exhaust pipes the size of paint cans — literally, they’re 5 inches across — promise an engine note to wake the dead when the most powerful production car in Ford’s history goes on sale this fall.
We can safely assume the GT500 will also be the toughest test for Ford’s “stealth mode,” an exhaust setting that allows owners to start super-powerful muscle cars without waking the whole neighborhood.
“I’m wowed by the Shelby GT500. It’s jaw-dropping,” said Mike Rey, president of the Mustang Owners Club of Southeast Michigan, the worlds’ largest Mustang club, and senior director of sales and dealer relations for Saleen Automotive, which customizes Mustangs, F-150 pickups and builds supercars.
The 2020 Mustang Shelby GT500 debuted in January at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
Hundreds of reporters and industry onlookers jammed the Ford media event that was the first official vehicle unveiling of the show. The carmaker provided 750 virtual reality headsets so that they could experience the new Mustang Shelby GT500.
“A 350 was built for racing. This is going to be a great street car,” company Chairman Bill Ford said.
Ford’s being stingy with details so far, but we can expect 0-60 mph times around 3.5 seconds, and 11 seconds to cover the quarter-mile, a key benchmark for drag racing.
But the new Shelby GT500 is much more than an old, straight-line muscle car. Ford engineered the brutally powerful Shelby to rule twisting road courses, too.
To that end, the 5.2-liter V-8 has an Eaton supercharger with a dedicated cooling system for intake air, 12.7 pounds of boost pressure, and an aluminum oil pan and magnesium shock tower brace to stiffen the chassis for high-speed curves and hills.
The car is so fast that engineers chose special pins to hold the hood in place at high speeds. The biggest hood louver in Ford history generates downforce to keep the GT500 planted on the road at top speed.
A lot of development drives took place at Virginia International Raceway, a big road course with long straightaways to test maximum power, elevation changes and sweeping curves.
“This car is really happy at over 100 mph,” Mustang chief engineer Carl Widmann said.
Magneride adaptive shocks and massive Brembo brakes — the 420 mm front rotors are the biggest on any coupe in the world, Widmann said — and 20-inch high-performance tires are standard. Options include carbon fiber wheels and rear wing.
A brand-new seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission — performance specialist Tremec’s first DCT — shifts gears in less than a tenth of a second, “markedly faster than any manual,” Ford asserts. The GT500 has paddle shifters for do-it-yourselfers, and three electronic driving modes: normal, sport and track.
It’s also the first Mustang with a rotary shifter on the center console, a convenient design that will be rolled out as other models get interior updates.
“We’ve set a new standard among American performance cars with our most powerful street-legal V-8 engine to date, plus the quickest-shifting transmission ever in a Mustang for all-out precision and speed,” Ford performance chief Hermann Salenbauch said.
Shelby GT500 prices will be announced closer to sale; and final horsepower and torque figures whenever the engine team convinces Widmann they’ve wrung the last ounce of performance from the 5.2L V-8.
The grille opening is 50 percent bigger than the 526-hp GT 350 and Bullitt that were the most powerful stock versions of the sixth-generation Mustang until now.
“Maximum aerodynamics and temperature management were priorities,” designer Melvin Betancourt said. The Mustang Shelby GT500 has more aerodynamic downforce than a Ford GT exotic car.
The GT500 is so resolutely performance-oriented that it’s a mistake to call anything about the car “cosmetic,” but other visible changes include huge hooded-cobra badges on the grille, trunk and fenders. The front fenders are about an inch wider than a standard Mustang to accommodate 11-inch wide wheels and make the car’s Coke-bottle shape even more dramatic.