The 2011 Ford Shelby GT500 represents one of the better compromises in the automotive world. It’s still sane enough to drive on the street, despite its supercharged 5.4 liter V8 (good for 550 horsepower) and manual-only six speed transmission. On the flip side, it’s an absolute blast to drive on the track, and it eats up abuse like a puppy eats up slippers. At $49,000 before you check any option boxes, it’s not exactly inexpensive, but it’s at least as attainable as a Corvette. It also avoids getting slapped with a gas-guzzler tax, achieving a quasi-respectable 23 MPG on the highway, so you can feel good about saving the planet as you turn rear tires into smoke.
Smoking the rear tires at launch is something the Shelby GT500 is particularly adept at. It’s not that launching the car is particularly difficult (it’s not), but mashing the go pedal in first gear is enough to break the tires loose. You certainly don’t need to rev the motor and dump the clutch, although doing so will produce larger quantities of tire smoke, if that’s your thing. The Shelby is stunningly quick through the first three gears, despite its curb weight of 3,820 pounds. Behind the wheel, it doesn’t feel nearly that big, and the Brembo front brakes do a more than adequate job of slowing the car in corners. Lap after lap, braking remained remarkably consistent, with no noticeable fade.
In corners, the GT500 is remarkably well behaved. Steering is precise, and turn-in is immediate. There’s zero drama from the live axle rear end, so don’t believe all the “independent suspension good, live axle bad” stuff you read until you’ve had a chance to drive the car at speed. Even over pavement transitions or rough surfaces, the lack of an independent rear suspension never limited speed or handling.
The Shelby isn’t a car that appreciates finesse. If you’re used to driving a car like the Mazda Miata or the Honda S2000, forget everything you know about shifting. “Short” or “precise” are not words I’d use to describe the GT500’s shifter. A gentle touch is likely to cause a missed gate; instead, the Shelby likes to be downshifted as if you’re throwing a punch in a barroom brawl. If ever there was an automotive equivalent to rough sex, the Shelby GT500 is it.
Unlike the Dodge Viper (which is strangely more civilized to drive), the Shelby GT500 comes with stability control and traction control, which corrects all but the most ham-fisted mistakes. Even with the stability control on, the Shelby allows just a bit of tail out cornering, perfect for probing the cars limits without exceeding them. The Viper, like the Mazda Miata, is more about finesse than brute force. The Shelby, on the other hand, is more about manhandling the car into corners, stomping the fade-free Brembos and mashing the go-pedal to the floor as you grab gears. It will put a smile on your face, especially once you figure out the cars quirks. It’s got a lot of personality, and as any Pulp Fiction fan knows, personality goes a long way.
If the Dodge Viper is a polished meat cleaver with a carbon fiber handle, the Shelby GT500 is a well worn meat cleaver, with plenty of nicks on its blade and more than a few stains on its wooden handle. It’s crude and it requires quite a bit of brute force to use properly, but make no mistake – it’s still razor sharp. If that’s the kind of car you like, then you’ll love the Shelby GT500.