2006 FORD SHELBY COBRA GT500
ON SALE: June 2006
BASE PRICE: $39,000 (est.)
POWERTRAIN: 5.4-liter, 450-plus-hp, 450-plus-lb-ft supercharged V8; rwd, six-speed manual
CURB WEIGHT: 3600 lbs (est.)
0 to 60 MPH: 4.5 seconds (est.)
Ford celebrated the Mustang’s 40th birthday last year by whipping up one of the wildest Mustangs ever, the GT-R concept displayed at New York 2004 (AW, April 19, 2004). At the time, we said we hoped the history-obsessed automaker wouldn’t morph the GT-R into some sort of catastrophic new-age Mustang II Ghia with a landau vinyl half-roof. No such worries: Hank’s car company is following up the GT-R with the Shelby Cobra GT500.
While the GT-R was a showcase for Ford’s performance parts biz, this 2005 New York show car is about 90 percent of what we will see when the Shelby goes on sale next summer, replacing the SVT Cobra. On paper, the GT500—in development for more than a year and officially approved two months ago—has enough power and flair to put Chevrolet’s base Corvette C6 smack on the trailer.
Blasphemous? Consider: SVT boss Hau Thai-Tang has stuffed the extraordinary 5.4-liter, dohc, 32-valve supercharged V8 from the Ford GT sports car under the Mustang’s hood. Final horsepower figures are not firm, but Thai-Tang hints it will be “well over 450 hp, closer to 500.” Look for 450-plus lb-ft of torque too. Whatever the final numbers, Ford says this will be the most powerful production Mustang ever. Engineer Thai-Tang, who did a stint at Newman-Haas Racing, sums up the powertrain succinctly: “It’s gonna be a monster.”
The engine mates to a Tremec T56 six-speed manual transmission beefed up to handle the power and torque. Underneath, it turns out those rumors of a live rear axle in the next-generation Cobra were true: The car will have basically carryover Mustang GT suspension, with MacPherson struts in front and the live axle in back, tuned for the 500 with revised shock valving and higher-rate springs.
Thai-Tang and his team aimed for a better-controlled ride than the GT, particularly at low and medium speeds, with better body control (included in Thai-Tang’s stable of test cars is a Pontiac GTO—the 400-hp version, as well as a C6 Corvette and a BMW M3). Front brakes are 14-inch cross-drilled rotors with 13s in the rear. The car should weigh about 3600 pounds, 200 more than a GT, Thai-Tang says.
By the way, Thai-Tang has a message for those of us bummed out about the live rear axle: “Drive the car first,” he says, “and you’ll see it’s a nonissue, because the chassis is dialed in so well.”
“I didn’t know what to expect before I drove the car,” said Carroll Shelby. “I knew the car looked good. Then I drove it. Wow. It’s everything I hoped it would be.”
We’ll just have to wait and see.
Like a proud papa, SVT chief designer Doug Gaffka had a gleam in his eye when he gave us a walk-around of the GT. “We looked most to the ’68 GT500 for our inspiration when we started on the car more than a year ago,” Gaffka told AutoWeek. “In fact, the new GT500 design was at the forefront of our minds since we started the whole Mustang program.”
It shows. To the GT’s long hood and short rear deck, Gaffka and team added a sinister-looking new front fascia with a one-inch-bigger grille opening to force more air to the engine. There are also new headlamps, a one-inch-higher hood (to accommodate the supercharger), and new rear fascia, spoiler and diffuser. That spoiler isn’t just for show—it provides 80 pounds of downforce at 120 mph. Wind tunnel testing will continue.
The concept squats on 19-inch wheels; in production the GT500 will use 18-inch Goodyears.
The interior looks like the Mustang GT’s but with the quality bar raised: Instead of waves of hard, shiny, cheap-looking plastic, the 500’s dash, door panels and center console are trimmed in leather. There will also be a new, thicker three-spoke steering wheel and slightly stiffer seat bolsters, as well as the SVT logo on the kick plates. The leather upgrades will be offered across the Mustang range in 2007.
Final prices are not set but the last SVT Cobra cost $35,000. Ford officials say the goal is to keep this car priced less than $40,000. “You won’t be able to touch this performance for the money,” Thai-Tang says. GT500s will be built at the Ford/Mazda joint-venture plant in Flat Rock alongside Mustang and Mustang GT. Ford won’t commit to a production number, but says it will build all the 500s drivers demand.
Drivers? Count us in. And bring on the next 40 years.