Flat-Out! We Gun for 200 mph in the 2013 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500
Flat-Out: Will the Shelby go as fast as advertised?
Nobody fusses too much over the top speeds of pony cars. Since the days of Jan and Dean, it’s been about short gearing, a stiff axle, and sticky rubber. Deliver a quarter-mile that drives ’em wild, and they will sign on the dotted line. The previous Shelby GT500
plowed into an electronic limiter at 155 mph, and nobody burned down the Glass House.
But this time Ford has dumped hi-test on the terminal-velocity discussion by claiming a 200-mph top speed for the 2013 GT500. In fact, 202 mph, supposedly observed on a test run at the circular, 7.8-mile Nardo Ring in southern Italy.
If so, the new GT500 would be the first factory Mustang to break into the 200-mph club. It also would represent a significant trickling down of speed capability. Suddenly, a $55,000 Mustang might take the working classes to where only plutocrats in their gilded, titanium-trussed exotics once ventured (some never to return).
The Shelby’s specs indicate that 200 was not an anomaly but a hunted target. For 2013, the standard rear-end ratio drops from 3.55 (3.73 with optional Performance pack) to 3.31, making the engine lug in top gear at any speed below 80 mph. But the ratio change—no doubt also to improve everyday fuel economy—puts the 200 mark in fifth gear, the one Ford says it used, at about 6400 rpm, or just below the engine’s power peak.
The prop shaft is made of carbon fiber to cut its weight and reduce sinusoidal vibration at the 8300 rpm it would turn at 200 mph, and drag-inducing wings are absent. The body is clad with just enough aero enhancements to create modest downforce above 150 mph, keeping the wheels on the ground.
Testing Ford’s claim created a venue challenge. Shipping our cast, crew, and a car to Italy would break the budget, while America deems going 200 mph on the street to be quite illegal, highly antisocial, and fraught with liability. And anyway, there is no such thing as a smooth public road at 200 mph. The smallest dip becomes a trench; the slightest bump, a launch ramp.
So we looked first at airfields. Ford figured we’d need at least 15,000 feet to hit the mark and also have room—maybe—to stop. That cut the airport options down to the few strips long enough to land the space shuttle, which touched down at about 220 mph. The Kennedy Space Center’s Shuttle Landing Facility on Merritt Island
in central Florida’s Cape Canaveral is a spectacularly flat expanse that has been getting weedy since the end of the program.
After weeks of leaving unreturned messages, we finally located the appropriate NASA employee who is designated to give a somewhat shirty speech about how the strip was paid for by the taxpayers and is only available for rent (at $2575 per day with a six-day minimum contract) to research entities providing benefit to the taxpayer. And not, specifically, to “people who just want to go fast.” We offered to locate a few taxpayers who would vouch for the benefits of a 200-mph Mustang, but he hung up.
So did Vandenberg Air Force base
in California, where an identical strip was built before the 1986 Challenger explosion ended plans for West Coast shuttle launches. The U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Range
has a vast gypsum playa that was used once to land Columbia in 1982 but has since fallen into disrepair. The Army was game for our test but said it couldn’t make the strip usable before our deadline. Continued...