New American Muscle
By Nick Caruso
on 12.9.13
Photo by Nick Caruso

The Volkswagen service tech, who we’d like to think was named “Manny”, said it best when we pulled over on 11th avenue mere minutes before returning the 2014 GT500 ($54,800) to Ford — we’d stopped to get a couple last-minute pictures and hadn’t noticed the group of men taking a smoke break near where we settled. “Damn. Daaaamn. This motherfucker’s got power!” Manny had sauntered up to the car, like many men had done over the prior few days, as the car’s natural gravity — the magnetic pull of unbridled, over-the-top testosterone-riddled sheet metal and brute force — pulled him in. “How much power this thing got?” We told him and also mentioned how fast it could go. “Daaaamn”, he said again. “Ford’s got more power than the ‘Vette? Damn! Motherfucker! Enjoy it, boy. It’s niiiiice.”

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Indeed, starting with the security guard at Ford’s Manhattan headquarters, who beamed and said, “You’re getting the big guy, eh?”, onlookers found it difficult to ignore this twin-striped, ruby red coupe: The garage attendant who drove it out to us and stood like a young boy unable to hide his awe as we revved up and eased out of the garage; the guy who idled past us in a lifted and thunderous GMC truck in stop-and-go traffic and whipped his head around as we passed, completely tuning out Def Leppard’s “Animal” from his stereo so he could drink in the Ford’s burble; the driver of a Header Orange Challenger SRT8 who did a reflexive double take and dropped his jaw; the cop who slowly cruised by a foot from our window, breaking character to grin and utter “nice, man.”

Those fellas were struck by the car’s essence — ostentatious, egregious, uninhibited muscle — and rightly so. The current GT500 is born of beefy, historical stock. In ’67 the GT500 appeared as an upgraded version of the already potent GT350, and both were truly outrageous in their day. Like the current edition, the GT350 and GT500 were essentially stock Mustangs with humongous engines and performance upgrades, all masterminded by the late Carroll Shelby. They were tremendous, desirable, ferocious beasts. And the new GT500 roughly doubles their power.

Since you’re curious, the many, many horses underhood are actually usable, by which we mean “possible to control under some circumstances”.

Though “power” doesn’t seem strong enough. No, the GT500’s supercharged 5.8-liter V8 churns forth 662 horses and 631 lb-ft of torque, which is an absolutely deranged amount of…force. To put it another way, this $55,000 car can travel faster than 200 mph. Those numbers represent a huge bump over previous-gen GT500s, and necessitated, among other changes, a carbon fiber driveshaft, twin fuel pumps, a heftier Tremec six speed shifter, big Brembo brakes and the deletion of the grille entirely. True enthusiasts can opt for the SVGT Performance Package, which includes beefy suspension upgrades, and the Track Pack, which adds a lot of extra (needed) cooling equipment. Oh, and there’s a standard launch control system too. On a Mustang.

Inside, the cabin is the right blend of pared-down accoutrement and muscly sport. Recaro seats complete with twin racing stripes do a superb job ensconcing driver and passenger, and the thick wheel is a pleasure to twist. Though visibility is generally good, you’ll never forget you’re in a somewhat bulky car; however, moderate blind spots to either side can be forgiven when you catch sight of the sinewy rear flanks in the side mirrors. Most importantly, there’s nothing superfluous to distract from a muscle car pilot’s true purpose: driving like a madman.

Since you’re curious, the many, many horses underhood are actually usable, by which we mean “possible to control under some circumstances”. We mean that in a good way. For instance, to get an excellent 0-60 time (well below four seconds), in addition to the launch control Ford made first gear tall enough to crest 60 mph. We found ourselves idling and surging through traffic in first gear most of the time, which is sort of a shame, considering it meant using the white cue ball shifter less often. Gearing also works in favor of gas mileage, which, considering this monster’s powerful heart, is a respectable 24 MPG on the highway and 15 in the city.

On inclines, though, the GT500’s power and larger diameter clutch aren’t so usable — getting started on hills was difficult and resulted in several stalls — but on other surfaces it’s a piece of cake to modulate off the line. Even with traction control on, the tiniest bit of throttle slides the rear rubber around turns with ease; this is largely due to the solid rear axle setup. Though Mustangs of late have been lampooned for the live axle, aside from vibration on the pitted and rutted city roads and the occasional tire squeal around corners, we didn’t notice anything amiss out back. It didn’t negatively affect the wildly entertaining handling, and the electronically adjustable ride control (Sport, Comfort, etc.) on our tester showed off the car’s adaptation to different conditions. Indeed, the live axle only bolsters the GT500’s throwback muscle car feel.

We chose to test some of those conditions in the outer boroughs of New York City and ended up having the most fun and getting the most looks (read: double takes) as we rumbled through Astoria, Queens — one of the most diverse places on earth. An appropriate setting, then, to test the Mustang’s appeal: the just-introduced 2015 Mustang is poised to be Ford’s next “world car”, meaning it will officially be sold places that aren’t ‘Merica and will share manufacturing platforms globally, à la the Focus, Fusion/Mondeo, Fiesta and Escape. The decidedly retro-inspired 2014 GT500 is one hell of a way to say goodbye to the current-gen ‘Stang — it borrows more than a few shapely cues from the original Mustangs of the Sixties. The 2015 Mustang departs quite a lot from the retro look, but all the same manages to capture the strength and character woven throughout the Mustang’s history.

Has there ever been a vehicle that’s attracted so much attention? The beyond-bold white racing stripes and the huge wheels of the GT500 might be visual attractors, but the siren song, the part of this car’s already magnificent presence that can’t be ignored, is the sound. It’s unholy. Decadent and sinful, it tempts you to blip the throttle at stop lights, forces you to downshift and surge forward on highways over and again. And with unholy sound comes unholy heat. There is a massive heat vent in the GT500’s hood, which saves the power plant from overdoing it, but does little to lessen the thermal mayhem that billows from beneath the engine bay, the heat that pours upward from the transmission tunnel and even warms the trunk.

Never mind how desirable the outrageous power-to-price ratio is; this is pure American Muscle, and worth a lot more than it costs. The combination of technology, comfort, cement-ripping might and unabashed, unpasteurized rawness is extreme and pulse heightening and endless fun. This snake looks the part, and its bite hurts so, so good.