Detroit automakers have recently been locked in a competition straight out of the 1960s: a race to create the fastest and most powerful muscle car. This summer, Ford takes the lead with the 650-horsepower Mustang Shelby GT 500. To break the 200mph mark, engineers departed from the muscle-car tradition of throwing a truck engine under the hood and calling it a day. Instead they redesigned the engine with lightweight materials, refined the car’s aerodynamics, and installed driver-assistance systems that allow anyone to drive the Shelby as it’s designed to be driven—aggressively.
The Shelby’s 5.8-liter engine is the most powerful V8 in production. It’s also 102 pounds lighter than its 5.4-liter predecessor. Engineers switched to an aluminum engine block, ditched the two-piece iron driveshaft in favor of a one-piece carbon-fiber unit, and replaced the heavy sleeves that guard the cylinder walls with a protective layer of atomized metal alloy.
The key to quick off-the-line acceleration is to rev the engine as high as possible before engaging the clutch, without crossing the threshold where the tires will lose traction. The Shelby’s launch control finds this sweet spot electronically. The driver presses a button to select an rpm limit, floors it, drops the clutch, and hangs on as the car begins its four-second sprint from 0 to 60 mph.
To keep the car glued to the road as it approaches 200 mph, designers added a front splitter, a horizontal scoop below the grille that directs air underneath the car. By creating an area of low pressure beneath the car (and consequently an area of higher pressure above the car), the Shelby generates 33 percent more aerodynamic downforce than its predecessor.
Computerized systems let drivers customize the Shelby’s performance. With the car’s electronic steering-assist system, drivers can choose Comfort mode to engage a hydraulic system that makes the steering soft and easy. Or they can select Sport mode, which tightens the steering for quick, precise turns. With the optional adjustable dampers, the driver can modify the suspension with the press of a button, stiffening it for flat cornering on smooth pavement or softening it for comfortable driving on rough roads.
Price: From $54,200
Engine: 5.9-liter V8
Max. power: 650 hp
0-60 time: 4 seconds
Top speed: 202 mph
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