The last Shelby performance car sanctified by the late Carroll Shelby, the 2013 Ford Shelby GT500 convertible is the fastest, most expensive and by far best Mustang from the maestro's decades of work with Ford.
It also redefines the American pony car as a vehicle whose technology and power can compare to elite super cars for a fraction of the cost.
The Shelby's window-rattling 662 horsepower is just the start. It brings a new level of technology to a car that critics dismissed for decades as more brawn than brains.
The 2013 Shelby GT500 has sophisticated launch control, multi-mode stability control, adjustable Bilstein shocks and more. Its supercharged 5.8-liter V-8 engine generates more power than the 6.2-liter twin-turbo 12-cylinder engine in a Bentley Supersports convertible.
The Bentley's claim to being the world's fastest four-passenger convertible is probably fluttering somewhere in the Shelby GT500's wake. At a minimum, the sub 4-second zero-60 mph time and 200-mph-plus top speed Ford claims are both close enough to make the $280,000-plus Bentley sweat.
All 2013 Shelby GT500 Mustangs come with the 662-horsepower, 631-pound-feet of torque supercharged 5.8-liter V-8 and a six-speed manual transmission. A new one-piece carbon-fiber driveshaft transmits the engine's power to the rear wheels.
Prices start at $54,200 for the coupe and $59,200 for the convertible.
I tested a well-equipped Shelby GT500 convertible with voice-recognition Bluetooth phone and audio, blind-spot alert, a Torsen limited-slip differential and more. It stickered at $62,695. All prices exclude destination charges.
Performance notwithstanding, the Shelby doesn't really compete with the ultra-luxury Bentley Supersports. Its main target is the new 580-horsepower Chevrolet Camaro ZL1.
Other cars a Shelby driver might deign to race include the Audi S5 convertible, BMW M3 convertible, Dodge Challenger SRT8 392 coupe and Mercedes-Benz C 63 AMG coupe.
None of them match the Shelby's output. Only the Camaro ZL1 comes within 100 horsepower. Amazingly, all but the 333-horsepower V-6 Audi S5 also trail the Shelby's fuel economy.
The EPA rates Shelby at 15 mpg in the city, 24 on the highway and 18 combined. It escapes the federal gas-guzzler tax levied on the ZL1 and most similarly powerful cars.
Despite all that, the Shelby isn't perfect. Most of its failings will be familiar to anyone who knows the current Mustang -- limited interior storage, poor rear visibility when backing up and no memory for the driver's settings.
The Shelby GT500 adds a few flaws to that list. The trunk liner of the car I tested fit very poorly.
The interior had leather seats, but many hard surfaces, including the top of the doors and dashboard.
The shifter was notchy, notably less smooth than the ZL1. Leg-wearying clutch effort recalled the days when powerful engines required massive clutch springs.
Rev the engine and drop the clutch, and the Shelby leaves those quibbles in the dust.
The engine roars as acceleration presses you back and won't let go.
The suspension keeps the Shelby level whether you've got the gas pedal or brake floored. Its normal setting cushions bumps for a comfortable ride.
The Goodyear tires adhere to curves as if they were molten. A "track mode" display includes an accelerometer that shows how many G's the car pulls in turns, acceleration and braking.
The electric power steering's sport and comfort settings are noticeably different. I found sport fine for all driving.
In addition to several settings for stability and traction control that allow anything from mild burnouts to closed-course racing, the Shelby offers launch control.
Launch control uses some of the same engine and brake controls as traction and stability control, but while those systems reduce power and speed, launch control holds the tires to the very edge of adhesion for maximum acceleration without any wheel spin.
The Shelby's system allows the kind of race-winning acceleration from a stop once attainable only by supremely skilled drivers.
The visually dramatic Shelby has low-profile 19-inch front and 20-inch rear wheels.
The front air intake is massive and deep, a black maw behind the bumper that gulps air to cool the engine. The powerful Brembo brakes' 15-inch front discs are as big as the base wheels on a Ford Fiesta subcompact.
This combination of classic style and advanced performance technology is a fitting tribute to Carroll Shelby, who helped Ford develop the first performance Mustangs in 1965 and unveiled the automaker's latest and greatest pony car to a roar of engines and loud applause in a theater in Los Angeles last November.
2013 FORD SHELBY GT500:
--Type of vehicle: Rear-wheel drive high-performance four-passenger coupe
--Rating: Four out of four stars
--Reasons to buy: Performance, looks, legend
--Shortcomings: Interior storage, poorly fitted trunk liner, no memory for driver's settings, shifter feel
--Wheelbase: 107.1 inches
--Length: 188.2 inches
--Width: 73.9 inches
--Height: 55.1 inches
--Curb weight: 2,970 pounds
--Base price, base model: $54,200
--Base price, test model: $59,200
--Price as tested: $62,695
All prices exclude destination charges.
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