Shelby GT500

Wheels (Australia) - - FEATURE/ FORD MUSTANG R-SPEC -

As po­tent as it may be, the Mus­tang R-Spec isn’t the big­gest-cal­i­bre gun in Ford’s ar­se­nal. The seven-speed dual-clutch Shelby GT500 packs a full 522kW quota from its su­per­charged hand-built 5.2-litre donk, but isn’t built in right-hand drive. To get one of these in Aus­tralia, you’d need to get in touch with Mus­tang Motorsport. One of their lo­cally con­verted right-hook­ers will set

you back an es­ti­mated $245,000.

Ton­ing down the histri­on­ics makes the R-Spec a far bet­ter road car

a de­fin­i­tive power fig­ure. “There are cer­tain things that are dif­fer­ent with [the R-Spec] such as the ex­haust man­i­fold and cal­i­bra­tion, but when we’ve put it on our hub dyno it rou­tinely makes 440 to 460kW at the rear wheels,” he says. Tak­ing driv­e­line losses into ac­count, that tips the R-Spec just the right side of 500kW at the crank. “The right fu­elling is ab­so­lutely crit­i­cal though,” ad­vises Her­rod. “We stan­dard­ise our fig­ures with Shell V-Power 98 and we’ve seen fig­ures 100kW down when poor-qual­ity fu­els have been used,” he notes. “The en­gine com­puter is crit­i­cal and will re­duce power to pro­tect the en­gine if it de­tects low-oc­tane fu­els or over­heat­ing.”

The ECU’s cer­tainly not re­tard­ing the power in this par­tic­u­lar car. It ran from 160 to 200km/h on the strip in just 3.9 sec­onds. Some frame of ref­er­ence? A Mercedes-AMG C63 S Coupe re­quires 4.6 sec­onds. A 991-gen Porsche 911 GT3 would be lineball, so yes, it’s se­ri­ously rapid. Then you re­alise that you’re sit­ting in a sub-$100K car and you shake your head. Price­com­par­a­tive coupe ri­vals like the BMW M2 Com­pe­ti­tion (5.2sec) and the Alpine A110 (6.4sec) can’t get close. The thing is, both would smoke the Ford away from the line on a pretty con­sis­tent ba­sis. As will an all-wheel-drive su­per­hatch.

Once rolling, the R-Spec impresses. We’ve poured praise on the shift ac­tion of the six-speed man­ual in the past, and palm­ing it around the gate is a joy. You don’t ac­tu­ally need to, be­cause the en­gine is so tractable you can leave it in third and you’re cov­ered for mean­ing­ful ac­cel­er­a­tion any­where from 30 to 150km/h, but it’s fun to see if you can heel-and-toe half as well as Ford’s rev-match­ing func­tion. Just don’t try to rush the shift to third.

The power de­liv­ery is al­most un­dra­matic in how lin­ear and pol­ished it is. I ad­mit, that sounds crash­ingly blasé when we’re talk­ing about a 500kW car, but it’s a tes­ta­ment to Her­rod’s team. There is no dis­cernible point in the power band where the su­per­charger de­cides to re­ally get stomp­ing. Plug it any­where from 2500rpm to the red­line at 7400rpm and you’re golden. Like­wise, the en­gine note doesn’t re­ally har­den or make any no­tice­able step changes. A sub­sonic bass tone en­ters the cabin be­tween 1000 and 2000rpm and from there it’s just a pro­gres­sive change in pitch and vol­ume. You do get a de­light­ful cross-plane woofle at idle, though.

Some may be a lit­tle dis­ap­pointed that it doesn’t surge and yell, but ton­ing down the histri­on­ics makes the R-Spec a far bet­ter road car. You could quite hap­pily use this car as your daily driver. The Mag­neRide dampers have been re­cal­i­brated to sup­port the shorter springs. Be­ing able to sep­a­rate ride, throt­tle and ESC set­tings in a cus­tom mode would have been welcome but Ford’s drive mode se­lec­tor that runs through Nor­mal, Sport+, Race­track, Drag Strip, and Snow and Wet will usu­ally have you cov­ered.

The steer­ing isn’t overly chatty, but feels re­as­sur­ingy di­rect on turn-in. The wheel will also give abun­dant warn­ing of any in­cip­i­ent un­der­steer, a high-fre­quency vibe trans­mit­ting through the agree­ably slim rim as the front tread­blocks start to wave the white flag. De­liv­er­ing all that power on the go can tax the trac­tion con­trol sys­tem, which is ef­fec­tive if a lit­tle coarse in its sound sig­na­ture.

We’ve come to think of the Mus­tang as a bit of an af­fa­ble lump that re­quires a slow hand to man­age its re­laxed body con­trol. The R-Spec is a far more fo­cused propo­si­tion. It sits flat and corners hard with a strong front end and enough travel in the throt­tle pedal not to make pour­ing on power after the apex a heart-in-mouth ac­tiv­ity. Up­ping the anti-roll bar gauge can have the ef­fect of neu­ter­ing feed­back, but the R-Spec

tele­graphs its in­ten­tions clearly. It’s a classy piece of chas­sis tun­ing.

On a typ­i­cally gnarly Aussie B-road, it bumps, thumps and jos­tles, but will com­mit to a line and hold its poise doggedly. Only at gen­uinely in­ad­vis­able ve­loc­i­ties does it start to feel a bit live, first get­ting up on its toes and, should you push still fur­ther, re­mind­ing you of the lim­its of its sus­pen­sion travel. There’s a tac­tile de­light in slip­ping into the gen­er­ously cut Re­caros, peer­ing down that long bon­net and teas­ing the car’s lim­its of grip, brap­ping up and down the ’box just for the fun of it. Yes, you could iden­tify all man­ner of cars that might well be go­ing more quickly, but few that re­ward the driver with such big-hearted gen­eros­ity. Cer­tainly not at less than a hun­dred grand.

Our drive route takes us from Heath­cote south to Mount Mace­don.

The roads here dive deep into shad­owy eu­ca­lypt forests, tree roots putting mas­sive bumps onto cor­ner apexes. If any­where can show up de­fi­cien­cies in the R-Spec’s cor­ner carv­ing abil­ity, it’s these rad­dled hair­pins. Yet there’s none of that te­dious tap­dance on the throt­tle that you get with a poorly set-up cal­i­bra­tion. Even un­der se­vere provo­ca­tion, you can la­dle on just the right amount of power. Build your con­fi­dence and it’s pos­si­ble to nudge the back about on the gas fairly eas­ily but you’re al­ways aware that 1700kg-plus can wield a con­sid­er­able serv­ing of an­gu­lar mo­men­tum.

The Brembo brakes should also be sin­gled out for special men­tion. They’re car­ry­over items from the Mus­tang GT but pedal feel is ex­cel­lent and the 33.8m brak­ing per­for­mance from 100km/h is wholly re­spectable for such a hefty beast.

About the big­gest com­pli­ment it’s pos­si­ble to give the R-Spec is that it feels com­pletely fac­tory. It’s an al­most per­fect in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the Mus­tang V8 am­pli­fied. The slightly vague boofi­ness that af­flicts the stan­dard GT has been ex­cised, re­placed by a sur­gi­cal stee­li­ness. It’s not per­fect, though. It needs wider rub­ber at the back, as Ford Per­for­mance’s rec­om­mended wheel and tyre for this car feels mal­nour­ished. Imag­ine a Mus­tang GT on a set of Miche­lin Pri­macy HPs from a Toy­ota 86 and you get the idea. The Pilot Sport 4S is a lovely tyre, but it’s ul­ti­mately over­matched here, con­strained by sim­ple physics.

That aside, it’s hard to find fault, es­pe­cially at this price. Ac­cept that it’s no stop­light hero and there’s a lot to love about the Mus­tang R-Spec. It’s a ve­hi­cle that’s been de­vel­oped with care and in­ge­nu­ity, and which cred­its its oper­a­tor with a bit of nous. That’s not al­ways the case in a mus­cle-car mar­ket where the big num­ber is of­ten all that counts. In hind­sight, I shouldn’t have lost sleep over driv­ing it. As Smy comes to re­lieve me of the keys a cou­ple of days later, I’m pre­oc­cu­pied with a dif­fer­ent anx­i­ety. When do I get to drive the R-Spec again? It doesn’t last, in­stead be­ing re­placed by an al­most em­bar­rass­ing sense of pride at a sim­ple but grin-in­duc­ing fact: Aus­tralia might just have helped build the world’s loveli­est Mus­tang.

Only a few small de­tail changes here, but it does get cool R-Spec pud­dle lamps

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