Top Gear Philippines

Like a child anticipating Christmas morning, I waited with hope and trepidation to sit inside the Ford Shelby GT500. This is certainly one of those cars I'd wish to get my hands on before I died, and it was scheduled to arrive on a fine Sunday morning. I'd had the hotly anticipated car pulled under my nose more than once due to schedule changes and so forth, so I made offerings to whatever gods I could find on the Internet and waited for the day. Apparently, my karma was in good shape, as a bright red-and-white Shelby GT500 greeted me that day.

This is, by far, the most powerful car I've ever come across. The Shelby GT500 is not only a frighteningly potent car (the 500 horsepower from its supercharged V8 was enough to whiten my knuckles even on legal roads), it also is a bookend to a generation of muscle cars that started with its namesake, the GT500, which made its debut 40 years ago.

Sporting the signature Le Mans stripes down the center of its body and a rash of ‘SVT' logos denoting its heritage in Ford's Special Vehicle Team, the test car arrived to much fanfare. Despite the obvious DNA, the 2007 incarnation of the GT500 does not want to be known as a Mustang: Nowhere on its body is there any reference to Ford's iconic pony car. Neither is it classified as a Cobra, despite the presence of Shelby-inspired Cobra logos on the steering wheel, seats and exterior panels. All the same, after driving it, I can confirm without reservation that this car is definitely some kind of a wild animal.

My usual test drive starts out with me playing with the interior toys. With the Shelby GT500, the choices are somewhat limited. The cabin's technology is mostly confined to its 500-watt Shaker 500 stereo system and a couple of instrument cluster gimmicks. The other feature - and surely the main attraction - of the Shelby is its engine: 500 horses from a 5.4-liter V8 whose four-valves-per-cylinder block came straight from the Ford GT. And that's not all. Nestled between the cylinder heads is a Roots-type Eaton supercharger.

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For kicks, I decided to play the stereo against the engine in a sound test. Which would be louder, the 500-watt stereo or the 500-horsepower engine? Armed with a sound meter and some well-rested ears, it was time to find out. The stereo was first up, and I feared for my eardrums as I killed the engine and slotted a CD into the Shelby's six-disc in-dash player. Having selected a track from the Pussycat Dolls, I cranked up the volume to maximum. After a couple of minutes of cacophonous discomfort, the sound meter registered 103dB. That's actually louder than the maximum tolerance before one suffers a hearing loss.

Next, it was the V8's turn to make some noise. We decided to take the volume reading with the engine spinning at 5,000rpm. With the sound meter placed under the hood, it was clear that this contest would be a close call - especially when the needle started pushing past 4,000rpm. At 5,000rpm, my ears were already ringing dead and the meter read 108dB - five more than the stereo. In keeping with the whole character of the Shelby GT500, the engine triumphed over the onboard toys. I wouldn't have had it any other way.

Those looking for comfort and luxury in a sports car might want to turn away, as the interior of the Shelby is a mobile version of an old Mother Hubbard's cupboard. But despite the primitive appointments, the cabin does offer some nifty features. The Shaker 500 stereo is more sophisticated than its Eighties appearance suggests. It features a six-disc in-dash changer with the ability to play MP3 discs, as well as an auxiliary audio input jack. Aside from the stereo, the only cabin tech features are found in the instrument cluster that includes the white-on-gray tachometer and speedometer. In keeping with its performance-based persona, the Shelby GT500 has a couple of systems to notify the driver as to when to shift gears. One of these is driver-configurable: Using three hard buttons on the dash, the driver can activate a unique audio-visual notification signal to alert him when to shift gears. The notifications can be set to kick in anywhere between 1,500rpm and 6,000rpm. Regardless of the level that the latter system is set to, another warning light in the form of a yellow arrow on the dash comes on at around 2,500rpm, also suggesting when to upshift.

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The most frivolous feature on this car is also centered on the instrument cluster. Using the same three-button cluster on the dash, the driver can select different colors for the instrument-cluster backlighting to cater to the widest possible range of artistic tastes. The car offers six preset colors and up to 125 user-configured colors. The ubiquitous Ford two-line display beneath the tachometer (used to call up a range of systems, from trip information to oil pressure) is left untouched.

Twist the key of the Shelby GT500 and all of its shortcomings evaporate. The gutsy V8 comes alive with an unequivocal message that the main entertainment to be had in this car will be via the gas pedal. The engine is mated to a heavy-duty TR6060 six-speed manual gearbox. With a short-throw shifter on the one hand and a Cobra-embossed three-spoke steering wheel on the other, we set out onto the streets of Manila like Steve McQueen in Bullitt.

For having such a blistering performance (zero to 100kph in 4.6 seconds), the GT500 displays relatively good road manners around town. With MacPherson struts up front and a three-link live axle at the back, the car's clearly tuned for spirited driving, but this doesn't translate to a bone-shaking

ride commonly associated with many stiffened suspension configurations. In fact, the Shelby GT500 feels more or less as subtle and comfortable as the ‘regular strength' Ford Mustang GT I had driven in the United States.

Unlike Steve McQueen, I had to abide by the traffic rules (for one, we were traveling without a license plate). Which meant I spent a good deal of time and effort with my left foot controlling the car's clutch. Clutch take-up is a bit high, but once you master it, even hill starts can be done without smoking the tires too much.

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One complaint I have with the Shelby is the rear wheels' tendency to lose traction at the slightest hint of road imperfection. When this happens, the rear wheels undergo severe axle hops, making the whole car judder and shake before regaining composure. This is even worse when flooring the throttle - where wheelspin can occur from first to up to third gear.

It sure is fun, but not when you consider the cost of the fat 285/40 R18 rear tires.

The most entertaining thing about driving the Shelby GT500 is the universal admiration it receives from most everyone. During my time with the car, I was almost always met with a knowing smile that said, "You lucky bastard."
Words and photos by Ulysses Ang<br />
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