When it came out in early 2019, Ford touted the GT500 as the “most powerful street-legal Ford in history!” With its 760 hp 5.2-liter supercharged V8, it’s an undisputed claim. But there’s a lot more to it than just the headline. Today, we’re going to take a top-of-the-ten-meter-tower deep dive into what makes the GT500 so special.

If it’s the Most Powerful What’s the Second Most Powerful?

It may be weird to start with a tangent, but it’s a short one so bear with us. The first question we asked ourselves when Ford called the GT500 the most powerful Ford ever was, what’s the second most powerful? Ford didn’t seem interested in the question, so we did a little research and the most powerful street-legal Ford we can find is the 2005 GTX1. Based on the Ford GT from the oughts, the GTX1 was designed as a one-off for SEMA. Customer demand was so high, though, that 100 were produced for customers.

Now, Shelby American did produce a 750 hp Super Snake F-150 in 2017, but that was by Shelby American an independent aftermarket tuner. The GTX1 was built by a tuner, but because of Ford’s involvement, it was still offered with a full warranty, so we think that makes it more like the current Ford GT, whose construction is farmed out to Multimatic, than the Super Snake.

Either way, both are less powerful than the GT500.

How Does it Make 760 HP?

Supercharging is the short answer. A lot of hard work is a slightly longer answer. A 5.2-liter block based on the 5.0-liter Coyote V8 you’d find in a Mustang GT is where is all starts. The GT500’s “Predator” engine is hand-built and made of aluminum. Sounds a bit like the 5.2-liter Voodoo engine but instead of that engine’s flat-plane crank—which allows for high revving but is less smooth—the GT500 uses a cross-plane crank, which are more common for V8s, especially American V8s.

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Ford spent years making sure the engine could withstand the strain of making 760 hp, adding a fourth layer of steel on the head gaskets, copper-lead bearings, and a fail-safe engine cooling system (which turn the cylinders into air pumps if a loss of coolant is detected) mean that the Predator won’t give up the ghost.

Unlike Chevy’s latest V8s, the Predator comes with dual overhead cams, which Ford puts to good use thanks to variable cam timing. It allows not just for better efficiency at low speeds, but for better performance at high speeds. The cylinder liners make use of plasma transferred wire arc cylinder liner technology. That allows for liners that are just 0.006 inches thick and replace the cast-iron cylinder liners. That alone reduced the weight of the engine by eight and a half pounds. Ford also hollowed out the intake valve stems, used forged-aluminum pistons, forged-steel I-beam style connecting rods, and a cast-aluminum wet sump oil pan to reduce weight and improve performance.

So obsessed with performance was Ford that it even turns off the alternator if it thinks you’re trying to use all of its power. It’s just one less sap on the power that the pistons are trying to generate. And to dissipate some of the heat that those pistons generate, the exhaust valves are sodium-filled. This isn’t new technology, but it is cool. When the valves heat up, the sodium in the valves melts and collects at the base of the valves. This acts as a heat mass and helps draw heat away from the engine. So it’s not all fancy computing that helps the engine make its huge lumps of horsepower.

One of the biggest factors, though, is the supercharger. The 2.65-liter roots-type supercharger. Roots-type superchargers use to two peanut-shaped rotary-vanes that are stacked one on top of the other. These spin in opposite directions to push more air into the engine and allow for more explosions. Ford didn’t want the supercharger to stick through the hood like on an old drag car from the ‘60s, though. So they flipped the blower upside-down to let it rest in the valley of the V, kind of like a hot-V turbocharger. (Is the much longer answer).

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Specs

Horsepower: 760 HP

Torque: 625 lb-ft

Compression Ratio: 9.51:1

Firing Order: 1-5-4-8-3-7-2-6

Bore: 94.0 mm

Stroke: 93,0 mm

Intake Valve Lift: 38.33 mm

Exhaust Valve Lift: 32.5 mm

But Why Can’t it Have a Manual?

Because you’re slow and manual transmissions are slow. They’re fun, but the point of the GT500 is fast. So it uses a Tremec 7-speed dual-clutch transmission just like on your favorite supercar. In fact, Ford says it learned a lot from the GT and worked with Tremec to design a transmission that was capable of “stunningly fast shifting.”

TR-9070 DCT 7-speed dual-clutch transmission is the result and Ford calls it two transmissions in one. In a straight line, the transmission allows you to shift with minimal torque interruptions while in the corners it lets you pick whatever gear you need to be in with delicate precision.

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Thanks to an innovative wet clutch system with five friction plates in the odd-gear pack, the transmission has a total of 155 square inches of surface area. Six friction plates in the even gear pack allow for 136 square-inches of surface area. All of which allows it to deliver torque smoothly, but extremely firmly.

To make sure there’s as little parasitic loss, though, the transmission only applies cooling fluid during thermal events. That means that—to extent that’s possible—you’re only turning the wheels, not churning trans fluid. Those gear packs we mentioned above are filled with seven non-sequential helical forward gears with triple cone synchros that were carefully picked to match the engine’s torque curve. It all means that the transmission can change gears in as little as 80 milliseconds when it’s in sport mode.

But it’s not all clever mechanical solutions. Ford also turned to its computer programmers’ expertise to make sure that shift modulation is orchestrated harmoniously. A computer-controlled mechatronics system reads dozens of environmental factors as well as vehicle-specific information (RPM, driver input, G forces, shift-fork position) to pre-select and then engage the perfect shift, no matter the circumstances.

“Contrary to popular belief, fast shifts do not always equate to better road performance,” said Pat Morgan, Ford Performance powertrain manager. “In every driving situation, we emulated what professional drivers do, whether it’s a smooth, precise heel-and-toe shift of a professional track driver or a much more forceful powershift like drag racers. We’ve designed the perfect shift every time.”

But the computers aren’t there to get in your way. In fact, the shift-paddles skip the wider vehicle's computer and are hardwired directly to the transmission. Ford says that helps reduce any delay between your fingertips and the next gear.

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How Does it Keep its Power on the Ground?

For chassis tuning, Ford turned to Ford Performance to make sure this wasn’t just a straight line demon. The whole system begins and ends with Michelin’s latest track tire, the Pilot Sport 4S with a unique compound and tread designed for the GT500. That ensures that the 16.5-inch two-piece rotors and the six-piston Brembo callipers (that are even stiffer than on other Mustangs) can stop the car with as much power as they can muster. The brakes are the largest offered on any domestic sports coupe and in concert with the supercharged engine, help the GT500 get from 0-100-0 mph in just 10.6 seconds. That’s 2.3-seconds faster than a Camaro SS 1LE, according to Road & Track’s estimates.

But wait, in the immortal words of mid-2000s pitchmen, there’s more! The GT500 isn’t just about longitudinal G forces, it’s about lateral Gs, too. Ford claims that the GT500 is capable of the most lateral acceleration ever from a Mustang. Leaks suggested 1.2 G, but so far reliable numbers have been evasive. Whatever the G, Ford wants you to get it thanks to an active MagneRide suspension, revised suspension geometry, lighter-weight coil springs fore and aft, and a new electronic power steering unit.

Power is delivered from a carbon-fiber driveshaft (to maximize stiffness and transfer power more directly) to the 3.73:1 Torsen limited-slip differential. That means tear-jerking powerslides, but it also means you'll be able to get on the throttle earlier.

If you want to alter how it all functions, you can run through Ford's Drive Modes. These, promises Ford, aren't just a toy that allows you to alter the volume of the car. “Every aspect of the Shelby GT500 driving experience changes with the mode – be that the throttle responsiveness and snap of the shifts you feel in the seat of your pants, or the ‘pop and burble’ of the exhaust in performance modes," says Pat Morgan, Ford Performance powertrain manager.

In Track Mode, gears are selected more aggressively, ride damping is stiffened, ABS modulation is changed to allow for better brake feel, and the steering feel is improved. It's all designed to help you get a track faster than a comfortable road car would allow you to do. But if you should find yourself at a dragstrip--this is, after all, an American car with 760 hp--Ford's got you covered. Line lock will help you warm up your tires and launch control enables "synchronous powertrain strategies" to help you get off the line as fast as possible. From there, the dual-clutch helps you keep the power constant for as much of the run as possible, though Launch Control is available in any mode.

What Options and Technology are Available?

If that’s not enough for you, you can also get two handling packages. The first, the “Handling Package,” comes with adjustable strut top mounts and a spoiler with a Gurney flap. If you’re truly hardcore, though, you can also get the “Carbon Fibre Track Package.” This one further lightens the weight of the car by replacing the wheels with 20-inch carbon-fiber wheels that are half-an-inch wider (11.5-inch). These again, come with unique Michelins, a carbon fiber GT4 track wing and splitter wickers with an integrated dive plane for more downforce. Ford also saves you the trouble of taking more than one passenger for a ride by taking out the back seats for more lightness.

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There are also some less traditional optional extras. The biggest one being “GT500 Track Attack.” Look, we all know the car is quick. The EcoBoost Mustang is quick. So a little bit of education will make a whole lot of difference when you’re handling enough hp invade 15-century England and enough wasted heat energy to power 18 homes.

Held at Charlotte Motor Speedway, in Concord, North Carolina, the school gives owners the opportunity to learn the capabilities of their cars with professional instructors on a closed course. That means you can genuinely do all the things you see in those ads. You’re doing the fine print, living the disclaimer!

With extensive course time, you’ll get to feel how well the Predator engine launches through its launch control feature, on the handling course you’ll get to feel that MagnaRide suspension in action and how hard the big brakes stop you.

Shelby GT500 is an exceptional car and delivers an exhilarating driving experience. Our school is the perfect venue to demonstrate just what it can do, both on the track and on the strip,” said Dan McKeever, president of Ford Performance Racing School. “Our professional instructors can help anyone take their driving expertise to the next level, whether they are beginners or experienced drivers.”

The course is free, but you still have to get there and find a place to stay.

How Does Ford Make it Reliable?

Ford got serious about airflow for the GT500. To make sure the GT500 was the “most aerodynamically advanced street-legal Mustang ever,” they taped little bits of string called telltales all over the car to make sure all the air was moving in the same direction.

Just kidding, they used 3D printing and virtual testing in supercomputers, turning the engineering team into a virtual racing team to make sure that the GT500 would just be quick off the line, but fast through the speedy corners, too.

“We created and studied designs among the engineering teams and proved out different strategies long before we built our first prototype cars,” said Matt Titus, Ford Performance vehicle engineer. “Not only did this improve the effectiveness of the designs, it dramatically reduced the time it took to develop the GT500 – and the costs associated with that.”

But getting more downforce is easy—all things being relative. What’s really hard is balancing aerodynamics with the requirements of cooling to make sure that the GT500 can go fast again and again without melting. That meant millimeter-perfect designs that take advantage of the rapid prototyping that 3D printing affords.

That allows it to extract 230 kW of heat energy—enough to power a dozens US homes—out of the system at wide-open throttle. At maximum braking, the brakes throw off another 100 kW of heat energy. So getting the air moving right to cool all these parts is massively important. It’s also important to make sure that the air coming out of the brake ducts, cooling them, is also generating downforce.

All of which means testing and then retesting on the computers, then going to the wind tunnel, and then finally hitting the race track to make sure it’s as efficient as possible.

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Ford took the GT500 to Virginia International Raceway, NOLA Motorsport Park, and GingerMan Raceway to make sure that everything worked in reality as well as in theory.

“This all-new aero design merges state-of-the-art design and materials technology with the craftsmanship of Ford racing expertise to create the most aero-capable Mustang ever,” said Steve Thompson, Ford Performance vehicle dynamics engineer. “It’s powerful, balanced and consistent – even over extended track runs – which works to deliver more fun and greater confidence for drivers.”

And the Price of All this Driving Performance?

Well, the good news is that even though this hundred grand performance, it costs less than a hundred grand. Prices start at $72,900 (that’s 2.7 base model Fastbacks, which is a steal when you think about it). You’ll be happy to hear that there aren’t too many packaged, either. They aren’t cheap, though.

The Handling Package that we covered above costs a reasonable $1,500. The Carbon Fiber Track Package, on the other hand, she ain’t cheap. It’s another $18,500. That doesn’t sound too steep when you notice that a blue or white painted stripe (instead of the vinyl) adds $10,000 to the price of the car. There’s also a “Technology Package” that adds B&O speakers, heated mirrors, puddle lights, voice-activated touchscreen navigation, and more for another $3,000.

That means that the most we could spend on a GT500—without getting into car covers and cargo nets—was $106,090 (before taxes, destination, and all of that). So I guess I should really say, it can cost less than a hundred grand.

That's if you buy one now. If you'd wanted to buy the very first GT500 to come off the line, you would have had to shell out $1.1 million. It was purchased in January 2018 by Craig Jackson, president of Barrett-Jackson and the money didn't go to Ford. Instead, the money went to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

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Safety

Really? Okay, I guess. Well, apart from the safety afforded you from all of the performance bits, if you do decide to do a burnout on the way out of the next Cars and Coffee, you’ll be reasonably well cared for. We’ve yet to see a GT500 hit an IIHS concrete test wall, but the standard 2020 Mustang gets “good” ratings in side, front, and roof tests, and an “Average” rating in the small overlap front driver-side crash test. You won’t be surprised to hear that it does not do particularly well in the LATCH ease of use test for child seat anchors. Fortunately, the Carbon Fiber Handling Package solves that by not even having rear seats to anchor a seat into. How safe is that?

On your way to the emergency, though, the GT500 will help you avoid crashes with ABS, stability control, as well as front, side, overhead, and knee airbags in case the emergency does turn into a crash.

Fuel Economy

Likely not top of mind for people in the market for a GT500, fuel economy for the car is not great. According to the EPA you’re likely to get 12 mpg in the city, 18 on the highway, and an average of around 14 mpg. That’s if you can resist the temptation to dip into that throttle like a bad party guest dips into the hummus. Reports of single-digit fuel economies aren’t rare and some have reported seeing 8.6 mpg in their time with the car.

Then again, 760 hp doesn’t come cheap.

So there you have it. Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the 2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500.