Ford Mustang spawns the fabled high-performance Shelby GT500

2008, Ford, Shelby GT500

DEARBORN, Mich. -- The high-speed track at Dearborn Proving Ground, historic vehicle test facility for Ford Motor Company in Michigan, makes a 2.8-mile loop around the perimeter of the park.

We pull onto the two-lane track to burn some fast laps in what amounts to a super-powered rendition of Ford's classic pony car -- the fabled Mustang.

Mustang's performance models go by the name of Shelby Mustangs, after racing legend Carroll Shelby.

To mark the 40th anniversary of the original "King of the Road" Shelby Mustang, the limited-edition 2008 Shelby GT500KR will become the most powerful production Mustang ever built.

For the Dearborn track test, our particular Shelby Mustang -- the 2008 Shelby GT500 convertible -- stocks a big 5.4-liter iron-block V8 engine force-fed an air-and-fuel mixture via a Roots-type supercharger pumping 8.5 pounds per square inch of boost.

It delivers 500 hp at 6000 rpm plus mountainous torque of 480 lb-ft at 4500 rpm.

Also on tap is a TR6060 Tremec six-speed manual transmission, SVT-tuned front and rear suspension components and four-piston Brembo front brake calipers for the 14-inch ventilated discs.

Holy Seatbelt: This thing, feeling like some vintage rocket-charged racer, rips around Ford's track at triple-digit speed while delivering that signature deep-throat roar from dual steel pipes at the tail.

Thank you, Carroll Shelby and Ford, for this ride on the wild side in Mustang's Shelby GT500.

Mustang tracks back decades in the history of Ford Motor Company to the original Mustang notchback coupe, which debuted in 1964 to set a generation on edge with envy. It went down as one of the most successful products in automotive history, accounting for over a million units sold in only the first 18 months of production.

Many iterations followed, from the first variation with Mustang Fastback of 1965 and a powerful 1968 GT to such muscle machines as the Boss 302 of 1970, 1984's Mustang SVO and a Cobra in 1993.

The 2004 models -- including coupe and convertible variations in base V6 and V8 GT trim plus a powerful SVT Cobra -- trace to a revival of Mustang in 1994 built off Ford's Fox platform.

Designers began anew, striving to capture styling flavors of the original model but also produce a new car possessing the slick technology of modern automobiles and the sporty finesse of a Euro-style touring machine.

Mustang's platform for 2005 iterations was also new with a wheelbase stretched six inches longer. The rear-wheel-drive (RWD) chassis carried an independent front suspension with MacPherson struts and a three-link live axle in back with Panhard rod.

It measured more than 30 percent stiffer than the previous platform and forged a new standard for nimble handling by a made-in-America car.

In 2007, a Mustang GT with a 300-hp 4.6-liter V8 was the core component to produce the Shelby GT, following modifications by Carroll Shelby International. It netted 319 hp after retro-fitting of performance parts, including a Ford Racing air intake and enhanced exhaust system.

Then came the Shelby GT500, which debuted in 2007 and extends to Ford's 2008 lineup.

The first Shelby version of Mustang rolled out in 1965 badged as the GT350 and wearing paint called Wimbledon White with blue rocker panel stripes outlining the GT350 name.

It packed a 289-ci V8 with Cobra valve covers and Holley carburetor to boost output to 325 hp.

By contrast, the upcoming 2008 Ford Shelby GT500KR coupe, as shown at the 2007 New York International Auto Show and scheduled for production of 1000 units in the spring of 2008, will generate an estimated 540 hp off the supercharged 5.4-liter V8, thanks to a Ford Racing Power Upgrade Pack.

Expect this swiftest Mustang to tote a carbon composite hood with hood pins and the Brembo front brakes tied to functional cooling ducts.

Also aboard the GT500KR will be Le Mans racing stripes and special leather bucket seats embroidered with the signature of Carroll Shelby.

Pricing for the GT500KR has not been finalized, but no doubt will be pitched on the north side of the $50,000 mark.

Ford sets MSRP figures for the 2008 Shelby GT500 at $41,930 for a coupe version and $46,755 for a convertible.

The convertible is constructed off the hardtop coupe version, and it's a push-button snap to lower the insulated cloth lid -- a five-bow z-fold soft top fitted with a broad rear window.

Electric motors spur Mustang's top to fold up or down in seconds for a quick convertible conversion.

Exterior styling for the GT500 coupe or convertible looks fresh and clean although familiar Mustang signatures have been retained -- the C-scoops on flanks, tri-part lamps on the tail and a shark's pointed nose with round headlamps.

That flared chrome snake, traditional symbol of Mustang Cobra, mounts on a honeycomb grille.

And note the innovations of a modern design with round fender flares plus the chiseled fascia up front blending to the body color.

The hood has functional air extractors in place and at the rear there's a ducktail-style spoiler.

The GT500 convertible sports racing stripes on flanks, while the coupe shows over-the-top stripes plus GT500-label side stripes.

Wheels are unique GT500 18-inch bright machined aluminum alloy crowned by SVT center caps, with Goodyear F1 supercar tires.

Standard safety equipment includes an anti-lock brake system (ABS) with electronic brake distribution (EBD) plus a traction control system (TCS).

In the cockpit, there are sport bucket seats clad in leather with the Cobra emblem, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, aluminum-rimmed analog instruments including a boost gauge, scuff plates bearing the SVT logo, cruise control and a 500-watt stereo with CD changer.

The list of optional equipment for a Shelby GT500 shows a navigation system, upscale audio gear and xenon high intensity discharge (HID) headlights.

By Bob Plunkett

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Images of the 2008, Ford Shelby GT500

2008 Ford Shelby GT500
2008 Ford Shelby GT500
inside the racecar
inside the racecar
engine for the Shelby
engine for the Shelby
sleek and sexy
sleek and sexy