LOS ANGELES – Want to see a group of motoring journalists act like a bunch of excited school kids? Just lead them into an underground garage crammed full of Shelby Mustangs...

While we were in LA for the launch of the electric version of the storied nameplate (called the Mach-E), Ford saw fit to let us loose in these Shelby-branded models, too. The visual onslaught of wings, carbon-fibre, power bulges and fluorescent colours is enough to set your heart racing.

Nervous laughter is interrupted by a supercharged 5,2-litre mill erupting like an automotive volcano. Is it a prerequisite to rev a Mustang after start? You bet. The slip in my hand says "GT500 #49" and I spot the beast slumbering in a dark corner. One of my most intense automotive experiences to date awaits.

The master

The late Carroll Shelby was a legend in the muscle car world, widely known for his sensational AC Cobra and Mustang creations. He will also be remembered for Ford’s fight with Ferrari for the 1966 Le Mans title (I thoroughly recommend watching the new Ford v Ferrari movie). He was, of course, team manager and in control of the development of the famous Le Mans-winning GT40. Ford acquired the Shelby name in 2005 and the GT500 is one of the most revered models, starring in films such as Gone in 60 Seconds (remember Eleanor?).

Old school meets modern

This modern-day interpretation would surely have received the late Shelby’s stamp of approval. It's raw, aggressive and makes no apologies for its existence. Whereas the Mustang Bullitt offered in South Africa is charming and characterful in its own right, it's simply not in the same league as this GT500. With 567 kW of unfiltered power directed to the rear wheels via a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, this Shelby is where old-school muscle meets PlayStation levels of performance.

In town

Pottering through the Los Angeles traffic, I'm surprised by the level of comfort delivered by the adaptive suspension in “Normal” mode, with bumps on the six-lane interstate easily soaked up. A quick dab of the throttle sees the GT500 leap forward like a pitbull pulling at its leash, and it takes serious restraint not to draw the attention of the LAPD’s finest. But the turn-off to a famous canyon road leading to the petrolhead haven that is Newcomb’s Ranch is just ahead…

Going for it

I set the drive mode to “Sport”, the exhaust level to “Racetrack” and plant my right foot. The result is a 1,9-tonne Mustang (the carbon wheels save around 27 kg in unsprung mass) behaving like a supercar but with a rawness that is difficult to describe. Corners should not be this vehicle's forte but it loves to brake, turn-in and fire out as that spine-tingling soundtrack fills the cabin. Sure, the Michelin pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres (now at operating temperature) have something to do with the high levels of grip and composure of the ‘Stang, but its performance is still mighty impressive. While the cue-ball shifter in the Bullitt is special, the way the dual-clutch transmission in this GT500 responds to the rapid-fire paddle inputs is downright astonishing.

The cross-plane (in contrast to the flat-plane in the naturally aspirated GT350) engine has so much torque one can easily short-shift without sacrificing too much speed. But this engine loves to rev and who am I to deny it? Add supercharger whine and a menacing soundtrack reverberating off the cliff faces and you're presented with movie-worthy levels of drama.

Tuned vs. factory?

I've driven “tuned” Mustangs before but all were disappointing from a powertrain calibration point of view, offering no power when you need it and "this-will-kill-you" power seemingly out of the blue. This is simply not the case with the GT500, showing what an experienced engineering team is capable of achieving. All the inputs are metred; from the steering and brakes to the (most important) pedal on the right. The driver knows exactly what to expect, and it's easy to build confidence in the car’s ability. There is an ESC safety net, but it functions in the background, such is the balance and poise of this beast.

Hooligan love

So what about a spot of hooliganism, then? Well, simply switch off the traction control and employ line-lock (if you wish) to transform the GT500 into a rubber-melting monster. It's rather satisfying to cancel the line-lock (holding the front brakes) mid-action to see just how long one dare paint black elevens before the building speed makes correcting slight directional changes feel like a game of Russian roulette!

So, to the bad news. Since it's offered in left-hand-drive guise only, there are currently no plans to bring this apex Mustang to South African shores. And that's a great pity because America has kept this Pony secret for too long...

 



FAST FACTS

Model: Ford Mustang Shelby GT500
Price: n/a 
Engine: 5,2-litre, V8, supercharged petrol 
Power: 567 kW @7 300 r/min 
Torque: 847 N.m @ 5 000 r/min 
0-96 km/h: 3,3 seconds
Top Speed: 290 km/h (limited)
Fuel Consumption: 16,8 L/100 km 
CO2: 390 g/km 
Transmission: 7-spd dual clutch 
Maintenance Plan: n/a