Edmunds has just completed a shootout between the 2010 Shelby GT500 and its closest competitor (for the time being) the 2010 HPE550 Camaro from Hennessey. On paper, this looks like a pretty close match-up. Both cars are upgraded versions of classic Americana muscle cars, with long hoods, bulged fenders, two doors, two spare back seats, and menacing snarls from blown V8’s whining more than 500HP out of the engines.
The HPE Camaro has a definite edge over the Shelby in the power department, besting the Mustang by 48HP at the wheels.
But, as the testers soon found out, even when we’re dealing with two very American cars–power isn’t necessarily everything.
The 2010 Shelby was fashioned specifically to do battle with the Z28. Already feeling behind the 8-ball, with the stock Camaro SS rumored to offer 100 more horsepower, better brakes, and the all important independent rear suspension for the same price as a GT, Ford upped the ante every way they could, fearing that even their best may not be good enough. Fortunately, the over-hyped and over-priced 2008 Shelby GT500 KR proved to be a real gem, supplying Ford with a beefed up powerplant and dramatically enhanced driving dynamics by way of revised suspension, chassis, and aerodynamic accoutrements. Up to that point, the KR was the best driving, and best handling, and best Mustang all-around ever built. This year’s Shelby takes that crown–in mass production trim for $30K less.
The Eaton-Supercharged iron block 5.4L V8 is essentially unchanged from the KR, but somehow Ford got way more than the claimed 540HP out of it. Edmunds recorded 511HP at the wheels, putting the actual number closer to 570.
The Hennessey Camaro makes more with more: adding a roots-style Eaton blower to the 6.2L LS3 V8, a CAI, an aggressive ECU tune, custom cat-back exhaust, and an unknown concoction of octane levels–all comes out to 559 rear wheel horsepower.
The disparity in power has the predictable result at the drag strip. Drop the clutch and the HPE Camaro blasts off the line “as if it’s just been head-butted by a rocket-propelled goat,” reaching 60 mph in 4.3 seconds, and eclipsing the quarter mile in 12.1 at 120.1 mph. The Shelby followed close behind, getting to 60mph in 4.6 seconds and the quarter mile 12.5 at 115.3 mph. It should be noted, though, that the Shelby was running pump 91 California octane, and as mentioned earlier, the Camaro was still chugging some mysterious mix of race fuel, high octane, and pump gas in its belly.
But beyond the numbers there are two substantially different cars. One is a no-compromise “UFC style” bruiser, rough around the edges, angry, ferocious, hard to handle. The other is a suprisingly refined, nimble (relatively speaking), livable 2 + 2 with a vicious kidney kick waiting at the far end of the accelerator. These are, of course, the motley characterizations of the HPE Camaro and Shelby, respectively.
The HPE Camaro “starts with a sledgehammer thump to your sternum,” and from the videos included in the review, the LS3’s distinctive growl overpowers the Shelby’s restrained supercharger whine any time the two cars are anywhere close to each other. The Camaro’s throttle is far less forgiving than the Shelby’s as well, with testers describing it as an “on-off” switch with no modulation in between. The Shelby, on the other hand, could be handled quite gingerly at low revs, and allowed far more control over the monster motor lurking beneath those deep heat extractors on the hood.
Shift action tips in favor of the HPE Camaro, despite the fact that both cars use the same Tremec-6060 6-spd tranny, but the Shelby sports the deeper final gear.
Stopping distance is likewise similar, with the HPE Camaro again besting the Shelby with a 109ft stop from 60 compared with 112ft.
So, at this point, you might be wondering, “If the Camaro is superior in every performance category, and is way more bitchin’ to drive, than why the sardonic title?”
The Shelby is a much more mature vehicle, with the moves to back up its premium price tag. All those tricks Ford learned with the KR pay off in spades in the 2010 Shelby. The car no longer plows into corners as badly as the old one, and with a little throttle action, it can cut corners like a car much smaller and much more German. The secret is partly because of those suspension tid-bits and partly because of the Camaro’s faulty ones.
Whereas the Shelby makes due with 285mm Goodyear F1 Supercar rubber, the Camaro’s enormous 315mm Pirelli P Zero’s, which manage to deaden steering feel through the wheel, and an overly stiff and underdamped suspension set up means the HPE looks sick but rides sick, too–resulting in a car that “never feels settled or comfortable over any surface.”
Another area the Camaro sacrifices function for form is in the driver’s seat itself. The long, low, swept windshield has a chopper look to it, but it has a bunker feel from behind the wheel, making it hard to tell exactly where the nose of the car and the upcoming apex is at any time. Meanwhile, the Shelby’s cabin is upright, spacious, and easy to see out of, which alone makes the car easier to drive fast. Despite the live-rear axle, the car is also more communicative through the turns than the Camaro, which adds up to a car that’s more confidence inspiring, even if it’s a bit down on the badass factor.
In the end, the Shelby was declared the winner because of its livability, plain and simple. The HPE Camaro is no doubt a menacing car, and its acceleration borders on transcendent. But while the hotrod styling and uncompromising performance might wet many of our palates (and our pants), the Shelby would probably befriend us after a few thousand miles in the driver seat of its rival. And at $50,000 the Shelby is also $12k cheaper than its rival, and $12K closer to our garages.
There’s no mistaking that both of these cars are incredible machines, but when it comes right down to it, the Shelby finally put some sports car in a muscle car, and that’s something any enthusiast can appreciate.