What It Is: The mightiest Ford Mustang in the stable, the Shelby GT500, which will take aim at Chevrolet’s supercharged, 650-hp Camaro ZL1. Have we been down this road before? Absolutely—in 2013, well before the Mustang Shelby GT350 made its debut, we mistook a prototype of that car for Ford’s next Shelby GT500. This time around, the GT350 is on sale, leaving the GT500 as the only expected current-generation Mustang variant that is unrevealed. Furthermore, the test mule pictured here holds more specific clues to its claim to the GT500 throne.
Why It Matters: Nearly engine for engine, Chevrolet’s Camaro lineup is thoroughly outgunning the Mustang. (Only the Camaro’s base 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine fails to best its Ford analogue, the Mustang’s optional EcoBoost 2.3-liter turbo four.) The Camaro V-6 packs 335 horsepower to the Mustang’s 300; the Camaro SS’s V-8 boasts 455 ponies to the Mustang GT’s 435. The Mustang Shelby GT350 doesn’t compete directly with the ZL1—it’ll face off against the upcoming Camaro Z/28 track special—but its 526 horsepower nonetheless pales in comparison to the similarly priced ZL1’s 650 stallions. No doubt Ford is growing tired of cleaning sand out of its teeth in the horsepower wars, and you can bet the Mustang Shelby GT500 will tip the power balance back in the Blue Oval’s favor, at least in one Mustang-versus-Camaro matchup.
Platform: The GT500 pictured here appears to have started life as a Mustang Shelby GT350R before inheriting a Hannibal Lecter leather mask. That camouflage hides a new front end optimized to feed air to the GT500’s distinguishing feature, a twin-turbocharged V-8. Clues that this is no ordinary Mustang are sprinkled all over the front end. Check out the zippered panels above the grille, across the leading edge of the hood. It’s clear that the section can be removed, which is typically the case when cooling vents hide beneath manufacturer camouflage. Neither the Mustang GT nor the GT350 have openings there (the GT350 has an extractor vent farther up the hood, but it faces backward), and the lower fascia appears to be unique. Look closely: The diagonal spars separating the lower air inlet from the outboard brake-cooling ducts tilt outward, while the same pieces on the GT350 face the opposite direction. These give the lower intake an upside-down corral shape that mirrors the right-side-up corral shape of the iconic Mustang grille. Students of history will note that the outgoing Shelby GT500’s face featured the same flourish. And is that an intercooler we see down there?
Powertrain: It is all but guaranteed that Ford will equip the GT500 with a twin-turbocharged V-8 engine, as supercharging (used on the outgoing GT500) doesn’t blend with the company’s EcoBoost forced-induction strategy. But the question remains which V-8 the automaker will use. The Mustang GT’s 5.0-liter Coyote V-8 would seem to be as eligible as the GT350’s 5.2-liter Voodoo engine, itself a modified, freer-revving Coyote with a flat-plane crankshaft. Both engines have high compression ratios that might need to be lowered for forced induction. To fit Ford’s EcoBoost branding, which is assigned to its turbocharged direct-injected powerplants, either engine would need to switch from port injection to direct fuel injection.
We’re of the mind that twin-turbocharging the Voodoo is the more logical route for Ford to take. In naturally aspirated form, the 5.2-liter V-8 is already special; strap two turbos to its flanks, and it should deliver that extra dose of distinction the pricier and more exclusive GT500 model demands. Using the Voodoo V-8 for another model also will help Ford amortize the engine’s development costs with greater economies of scale—to date, the Voodoo is available only in the GT350—and it isn’t outside the realm of possibility for Ford to insert a twin-turbo V-8 into the second-generation F-150 Raptor pickup as a step up from the standard twin-turbocharged V-6. Regardless of which V-8 Ford decides to shove between the GT500’s front fenders, it likely will be crazy powerful and should eclipse the old GT500’s 662-hp rating with ease. Expect a manual transmission to be standard, while the same 10-speed automatic Chevrolet uses for the ZL1, a transmission co-developed with Ford, will be optional.
Competition: Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat.
Estimated Arrival and Price: Look for the Mustang Shelby GT500 to debut at an auto show later this year or early next year before going on sale late in 2017 as a 2018 model. Pricing, predictably, will be richer than that for the Shelby GT350 and GT350R, meaning somewhere north of $65,000.