It’s interesting to think that we live in a time where 550 horsepower is actually middle-of-the-road, borderline average grunt for a factory offering. Ever since the second Supercar War turned into something resembling Britain versus Ireland circa 1981, power figures have steadily crept up into territory that twenty years ago was race car stuff…even the supercars didn’t tread this deep towards four-digit power. Twenty years ago, Ford had suffered a black eye with the 1999 SVT Cobras that underperformed compared to the advertised horsepower figures. Twenty years ago, the Camaro SS and Pontiac Trans Am WS6, the top-tier rivals, were only good for 320 horsepower. My, how far we’ve come since then.
You can pick and choose which advancement set the tone for the last fifteen years of staggering power figures but when Ford dropped the Cobra nameplate in lieu of “Shelby GT500”, Ford knew that pure power had to be applied. When the first ones came out in 2007, 500 horsepower was a stark wake-up call to the world that Ford was going to fight for supremacy…maybe it had something to do with the 2006 Camaro concept that wasn’t yet a sure thing. For 2011, when the Mustang got a facelift, it also got a fifty horsepower thump in power and tweaks that surprised the press. How could a car with a live rear axle drive like the Shelby did? How does a Mustang smack around a BMW M3 and a Corvette Grand Sport?
Then came the Internet, the YouTube videos, the moronic drivers who have turned hot Mustangs of this generation into punchlines and memes. “Insert Crowd Here” stickers might be funny, but there are plenty of news stories and videos that show talentless morons taking out everything from random shrubs to themselves. And yes, there are at least a couple of videos where the Mustang goes into a crowd of bystanders. Does that mean that too much power in an S-197 Mustang is a bad thing? Is it dangerous? Well, let’s find out.
The test car that Hunt Chrysler turned me loose with is a 2012 example with just over 20,000 miles on the clock. It’s a Performance Pack car that is now sporting Michelin Pilot Super Sport rubber at all four corners, so traction is only a slight worry. The options list on a Shelby of this vintage is gearhead heaven: 5.4L DOHC with a blower, Tremec TR-6060 six-speed, 3.73 rear gears, and one of the most wicked exhaust notes I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying in some time. The seats are the same design that was found in the Boss 302 Mustang of this vintage, and they grip and hold you nicely. The shifter’s cue ball grip is perfection, and when you key the ignition and wake it up, the whole car communicates with you at every touch point. This is no Mustang GT, and you know it from the word “go”.
I want to say that I babied this stripe-less wonder. I’d be lying my ass off and then some. I did baby it as I drove out of town towards Interstate 65, and thanks to a ton of tractor-trailers, I didn’t get to do an onramp test. But instead I went and found a nice, curving backroad surrounded by soybean fields and that’s where the testing really started. We know that a Shelby can rip in a straight line, but what about corners? How does it do with that power and that rear axle? Simple: third gear, find your rhythm, and don’t get stupid with the throttle and the Shelby will make you look absolutely heroic. The steering, which is electric assist, makes transitions feel like you’re whipping around a fast go-kart, and I mean that…it isn’t just a stretch of wordplay.
So, low speed civility and the ability to corner without immediately diving off into farmland are good signs. But was I ready to let the engine eat? Yep. I found a solid four-lane rural highway with a good straight and made sure there was no traffic, then went for broke. Until I get a Hellcat or better under my belt, the Shelby is my current benchmark for how many times I can scream sharp obscenities in between gear changes. I launched about 3500 and after the initial traction scratch the Ford dug deep and proceeded to twist the speedometer around with alarming intensity. There wasn’t any real rear-end sway or anything that would catch me off-guard, but then again I’m not beating up the rev limiter in second with the tires boiling, either. Each new gear, another chirp and another set of words, until I was into triple-digits and backed off. Forget speed as an addiction…torque properly applied is better for your heart rate in the longer run. From that moment until I returned to town proper, I was romping the Shelby just about everywhere. Not beating on it, but not pussyfooting around, either.
The best part, though, came when I pulled into a parking lot next to a semi-truck wash station to shoot some still photos. I apologize to any trucker who was waiting for their wash, because the whole damn crew came out with phones at the ready to start snapping photos. I lost track of how many times I heard something to the extent of, “That’s a (clean, bad, wicked) muh-fuh right there!” I got asked if it was my car. I explained that I was just doing a write-up. I got asked how a job like that. I was not about to explain that story, so I just mumbled something about being very lucky and rowed the gears on my way down the road.
Ever since the Hellcat was unleashed, that 707 horsepower number has been the benchmark. Sure, the Demon and RedEye have bigger numbers. Even the 2012-13 Shelby GT500, with the 5.8L Trinity mills, throws down 662 horsepower. Doesn’t matter. Not one bit. If you have to own the top horsepower car, and you’ve got the cash, you’ll buy it. But if you want to reduce your reliance on a pacemaker, or simply want to remind yourself what a good adrenaline shot feels like, you will be hard-pressed to find a better car. Does it have problems? Yeah…the six-speed is a box of rocks being stirred with a shifter whose throws are measured in millimeters and finding sixth gear is an actual challenge that will piss you off. The interior plastics suck. It’s a Mustang, a “bellybutton” machine. Who gives a shit in the long run, really? You won’t…just drown out the detractors with that exhaust note as you start rowing the gears again. As if you needed a reason to do that.