Fast laps in the 2007 Ford Shelby GT500 & 2006 Ford GT May 23, 2006 Story and photos by Paul Williams There aren't many 500-plus horsepower cars on the market. Not that the average consumer needs or wants one, but the average enthusiast would probably donate a vital organ to take such a vehicle home. The Dodge Viper comes to mind, at a cool $128,000, and the BMW M5 of course, for $115,000. You see the pattern, though: big horsepower typically equals big money. So how does Ford come up with a 500-hp Shelby Cobra GT500, developed in association with the great man himself, for fifty-grand and change? Do you care? But maybe you'd prefer something more refined. After all, Mustangs can seem a bit brutish if your tastes lean toward European-style supercars. Ford's got that covered, too. The 2006 Ford GT is a 550-hp reinvention of the Le Mans-winning Ford GT40 from the 1960s, and at $185,000, give or take a buck, it may show the Italians a thing or two, yet again. CanadianDriver staff had the pleasure of driving both cars at Ontario's Shannonville racetrack, where angry clouds never did produce storms, but the thunderous exhaust from Daytona champion Scott Maxwell's race-prepped Mustang FR500C (there to put an exclamation point behind Ford's performance achievements) set the day's tone. The Shelby GT500 is the most powerful factory-built, production Mustang ever, and results from the collaboration between Ford's Special Vehicle Team (SVT) and Carroll Shelby, who should need no introduction. Its cast-iron block, 5.4-litre V8 engine uses four-valve aluminum cylinder heads, piston rings and bearings sourced from the Ford GT, and a "Roots-type" supercharger to generate 500-hp and 480 lb-ft of torque. Other modifications to the "base" Mustang GT include a larger radiator for increased cooling capacity, and special exhaust manifolds. The heavy-duty T56 six-speed manual transmission features evenly spaced gears designed to keep the revs "on cam," according to Ford, while maintaining good torque. This gearbox has been used in the 2000 Mustang Cobra R, the 2004 SVT Mustang Cobra and is also currently featured in the Ford Racing Mustang FR500C. Ford's SVT engineers revised the stock Mustang's shock absorbers, spring rates and upgraded the stabilizer bars to sharpen handling, and continue with a solid-axle, three link rear suspension with coil springs and Panhard rod. Ford's SVT Director, Hau Thai-Tang, convincingly defends the use of the solid rear axle by pointing out that it's proven in race competition, with the Mustang FR500C winning the season opening Grand Am race at Daytona. 'Nuff said, in other words. Braking is supplied by 14-inch Brembo rotors up front and 13-inch rotors at the rear, both with four-piston callipers. The car rides on 18-inch or available 19-inch wheels fitted with special 255/45ZR19 Goodyear tires. Inside you'll find red leather door panels and seating embossed with a cobra, satin aluminum trim accents, and major gauges that, compared with the V6 or GT Mustang, are swapped in location so that the tachometer is dominant visually for the driver. The GT500 in signature white with blue stripes, an early Shelby homage to Briggs Cunningham's Le Mans racers, is easy to identify, but the car is also set apart by its reworked front facia, unique hood with heat extraction ducts, revised headlamp insets and special badging. Other available colours include red, blue, grey, orange or black. The Mustang GT500's rich relative is the Ford GT, the inspiration for which comes from Ford's mid-to-late 1960s Le Mans-winning GT40 race cars. Forty years ago, the purpose of the GT40, based on a Ford-engined, Lola GT race car designed by Eric Broadley, was to beat world champion Ferrari at Le Mans. With help from a range of racing luminaries including John Wyer and Carroll Shelby, Ford made its point emphatically, winning the race four times consecutively, from 1966-1969. In fact, in 1966, the GT40 came 1-2-3 at Le Mans, and it's to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of that event, that Ford has produced the limited run of approximately 4,500 Ford GTs, inspired by the original design, but fully modernized. The $184,995 2006 Ford GT uses an all-aluminum space frame and racing-inspired ground effects ducting under the rear fascia. The mid-mounted, 5.4-litre, all-aluminum, Eaton screw-type supercharged V8 engine makes 550-hp and 500 lb-ft of torque, with both those figures comparable to the 7.0-litre GT that won Le Mans in 1966 and 1967. But although the car looks very much like an example of the original Le Mans racers, the 2006 Ford GT differs in every dimension. Many details are recalled, however, including the "ventilated" seat concept and the layout of the original instrument panel and toggle switchgear. If you really want to look the part, the "Heritiage Livery Paint Package" recreates the racing GT's blue and orange Gulf Oil colours, and adds $16,000. Racing stripes cost another $6,000, and red or grey coloured brake calipers are a comparative bargain at $900. Although the 2006 Ford GT is meant for the road, not the racetrack, it is nonetheless blisteringly fast, reaching 100 km/h in just 3.9 seconds. There are no traction or stability controls on this car, but the GT is much less of a handful than a Dodge Viper, for example. With a top speed of 330 km/h, and a 0.99 g skidpad rating, the Ford GT equals the pace and cornering of the half-million dollar Porsche Carrera GT, and meets or exceeds comparable Ferraris and Lamborghinis in most performance parameters. It's also insanely photogenic, and docile enough to comfortably drive around town (although you're sitting pretty low for the Tim's drive-through). Our opportunity to drive both the GT500 and GT was limited to a dozen or so laps each on the 1.8 km "Nelson" circuit at Shannonville. The $32,999 Mustang GT has already impressed me at the Mont Tremblant track, as this is a car with excellent power, handling and braking. For the money, there is no better performance vehicle on the market, in my opinion. In all specifications, the GT500 just ups the ante. Fact is, a 500-hp car for something just over $50,000 is nothing short of audacious. There's no ignoring the power, but the SVT team has not forgotten handling and braking. Unfortunately, Ford has requested that we refrain from spelling out driving impressions of the GT500 until June. Consequently, CanadianDriver will supply these after a full road test of the car. What can be observed is that the car is devoid of unnecessary scoops, cladding and ornamentation, with Ford commendably resisting any temptation to gild this lily, and the result is a very tasteful muscle car. Apparently Mr. Shelby approves, and why would he not? The GT we can talk about. In short, while sitting behind the wheel of the GT, you feel like you've found a place where you belong. No more existential dilemmas along the lines of "Why am I here?" and "What should I be doing?" In the GT, the answers become simple: You should be in this seat, your thumbs curled over the spokes of the GT's steering wheel, forever en route. It is a truly wonderful experience to grasp the GT shifter, depress the clutch, find first and launch this supercar onto a racetrack. You can easily run the entire circuit in third gear, although with one of the SVT engineers in the seat beside you, offering tips on track position, braking and acceleration, you start lapping at a prodigious pace. And as impressive as this car goes, it stops at the limits of known physics. Yes, it will slide if you take the corner too quickly, but a flick of the steering wheel instantly restores traction and line. The sound is marvellous, acceleration fierce, sensation of speed amplified by the closeness of your rear-end to the asphalt. Just as it should be. While hurling the Ford GT around the track at ever-increasing speeds, does the mind start to wander? Well, yes, it does. "I could sell my house," you start to think. "Move into a room -- it's all I really need…" Trouble is, there are only 200 Ford GTs officially slated for Canada (although apparently we may get a few dozen more than that) and 400 Mustang GT500s for the 2007 model year. That's not enough, I reckon. Because when it comes to performance, Ford has a one-two punch with these cars, and Canadian enthusiasts will certainly get up for more.