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    The 2011 Shelby Cobra GT500. Click on the above image to see more photos (Jonathon Ramsey, Autoblog).

    by: Rex Roy | AOL Autos
     

    One way journalists get to evaluate new cars is to attend press events. These events are tightly choreographed. Schedules must be maintained and driving routes followed. But on a recent trip to North Carolina, serendipity struck.

    Ford had scheduled a stop at a small, local racetrack called Ace Speedway. Of the dozen or so cars in our group, we were the first to reach the 4/10th-mile paved oval. Brad Allen, the track's general manager, met us, and without saying a word, motioned us to follow him. We dutifully followed his golf cart from the garage area to the entrance of the banked track. All along, my co-driver and I thought this was all part of the press program Ford arranged to showcase the 2011 Shelby GT500.

    Then Allen leaned in the open window and said, "This wasn't part of the deal, but I thought maybe you'd like to take a few laps." He then swung the gate to the track wide open.

    There are a few things as risky as letting a journalist loose on a racetrack with a 550-horsepower car that's not his own, even if it is fully insured. I took a few spins and managed to keep the shiny side up.

    Allen had told me that he held the track record in one class, so I eagerly gave up the Cobra's wheel to see what he could do. He slid into the Shelby's leather bucket and quickly bested the laps I ran. His practiced line straightened out the oval's corners, enabling him to hustle up some serious speeds. The roar of the new exhaust mixed with the high-pitched whine of the supercharger produced a unique mechanical symphony that reverberated off the banking.

    The 2011 Shelby Cobra GT500. Click on the above image to see more photos (Jonathon Ramsey, Autoblog).

    After a few laps, he drove up off the track and back to his golf cart. "I may have to drop the track's pace car sponsorship and see if I can get the local Ford dealer to give me one of these,” Allen said. “I think I just ran faster than most everybody else did last Saturday night."

    Yes, the new Shelby Cobra GT500 created by Ford's Special Vehicle Team (SVT) is racecar fast. Any doubters need to experience what zero-to-60 miles per hour feels like when it happens in just 4.2 seconds.

    While it looks almost identical to the 2010 model, the 2011 GT500 is significantly different from the 2010 edition.

    To find all that's new on the 2011 GT500, one needs to look under the hood. The engine now has an aluminum block that weighs 102 pounds less than the cast-iron block of 2010, a weight savings the nose-heavy GT500 really needed. While on the diet, the 5.4-liter V-8 gained 10 horsepower over the 2010 edition's 540. Torque remains at a substantial 510 lb.ft.

    The 2011 Shelby Cobra GT500 engine. Click on the above image to see more photos (Jonathon Ramsey, Autoblog).

    Much of the extra power comes from a bigger diameter exhaust system. The new design lets you hear the eight-cylinder cadence with a more satisfying burble.

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    While the extra horsepower can't be felt (is your butt sensitive enough to feel a two-percent bump in power?), the all-new steering system for 2011 is easy to recognize. To help save fuel, the new rack-and-pinion steering system is electrically assisted. The 2010 steering gear used traditional hydraulic assist, which required the engine to turn a hydraulic pump every moment the engine was running. In contrast, electrically assisted power steering (EPAS) uses an efficient electric motor to reduce steering effort, saving fuel in the process. This is why hybrid-electric vehicles use EPAS. The 2011 Shelby now nets 15 mpg city, 23 mpg highway, avoiding the stigma of the gas guzzler tax.

    When asked why Ford went through the trouble to switch to EPAS, SVT's Jamal Hameedi told AOL Autos that, "We wanted to improve efficiency, but we didn't want to compromise the steering's performance in any way. At first, we weren't convinced that we could get the right feel out of the electric system. We were prepared to go to the wall and insist on staying with a hydraulic rack, but we worked out the issues with EPAS and now we're really happy with the results. Because everything about EPAS is tunable, it took more work to get the steering right than any other part of the new car."

    From the outside, if you want to tell one year from the other, you’ll have to look closely at the stripes -- the newer model has thinner ones. Otherwise the '11 GT500 carries over the looks that were new for the 2010 model year. Does the car scream boy racer? Sure, but just as a Rolls-Royce Ghost screams, "I'm rich!" and the Toyota Camry doesn't say anything, the GT500 broadcasts that its driver is up for some tire-smoking fun. No harm in that.

    The 2011 Shelby Cobra GT500. Click on the above image to see more photos (Jonathon Ramsey, Autoblog).

    Even less changed inside, which means nothing there is new. If any aspect of the car warranted criticism, it would be the aluminum trim on the instrument panel. Surely there has to be a manlier finish than polka-dots? My only other complaint was that after a few hours driving in 85-degree heat, the transmission tunnel on the passenger side of the car got pretty warm. While it wasn't nearly hot enough to singe the hair on our manly legs, it wasn't comfortable.

    The 2011 Shelby GT500 has one crucial new option: A $3,000 Performance Package. If you check that option box, many important things change under the Cobra.

    First, the chassis rides lower over larger, high-performance Goodyear tires (265/40R-19 front, 285/35R-20 rear) that are mounted on lighter aluminum wheels. The extra, nearly race-ready rotating combo work well with firmer springs and revised shock tuning. To give the car more jump off the line and better acceleration in every gear, the rear axle ratio drops from 3.55:1 to 3.73:1.

    Our few impromptu laps at Ace Speedway weren't nearly enough for us to evaluate the jump in performance offered by the new lighter engine, EPAS and Performance Pack option. Public roads were also the wrong place attempt a comparison. Our test site would be Virginia International Raceway, a challenging and potentially dangerous track that trips up even seasoned professionals.

    Knowing the risks involved, Ford placed extra crash protection inside the Cobras in the form of a steel roll bar. Thankfully, no journalists tested said bars, but it was a sobering reminder that with great power comes great risk.

    The 2011 Shelby Cobra GT500. Click on the above image to see more photos (Jonathon Ramsey, Autoblog).

    On the track that hosts The American Le Mans Series and other major racing series, we drove a 2010 GT500 back to back with a 2011 GT500 outfitted with the Performance Pack. While the cars don't look much different to the eye, they feel very different sitting behind the wheel.

    The Performance Pack equipped Cobra steered more sharply, responded faster to inputs, and communicated more about the track surface to the driver. All of these benefits are critical when hurtling 125 mph toward a corner where a screw up would send the car to the junkyard and you to the hospital.

    Not wanting to visit either off-track location, I left the stability control system in the sport mode. This allowed for some tail-out driving (oversteer) in corners, but provided an electronic safety net if I overcooked a corner or accelerated too exuberantly out of a turn.

    While both Shelby's were explosively powerful, the lighter 2011 GT500 is the better driving vehicle. As for whether Ace Speedway will end up with a new Ford pacing their oval, it may be difficult to convince a Ford dealer to part with a GT500 for free, with a sticker price that starts at $48,645. But from the look on Allen's face, he may have liked the car enough to put down his own money.

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    1 - 20 of 111 Comments
    lafm2005 Jun 27, 2010 8:55 PM
    A real American car.................No Euro / Asian trash here.
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    jtwilliams80 Jun 26, 2010 10:11 AM
    Listen to all these haters!!!!! Fords quality is up, their sales are up, no government takeover...hey...what can you say!!! The gm lovers (vette and maro lovers), talk to your gm ceo and tell him to at least get to half of what ford is accomplishing. And for the m3 lovers (go back overseas)...pull on the side of one and take notes when the Cobra leaves you in its dust. And to the track lovers...you might want to look at the driver when you talk about 0-60 mph times as the advertised times are with a professional driver driving under ideal track conditions. You will not get the same 0-60 mph times in a Ferrari that they advertise either. chevy went to bigger engines, Ford went with technology and look who came out on top. The numbers don't lie. I am definitely going to purchase one and to all of you Ford haters, if you are ever in Bham and run across one with STANGU on the tag, then try me if you dare!!!
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    wtre428476 Jun 26, 2010 8:32 AM
    rear end needs to be bolder,looks toy like.old style better..the rest is perfect
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    solicemarine Jun 26, 2010 12:07 AM
    Ok so people are complaining because it looks girly. Need I remind you the mustang is a chick car. No offense to some of you but I know quite the large number of people because of my line of work and most mustang owners I know are women, or the ed hardy types that think a car that you see 2 of on every block makes them bad ass. Love the rear of the car, not the front so much, but still truly an amazing vehicle. To think I had to spend nearly the entire sticker price of this car on an engine and trans in the 90s to get this type of hp to the wheels. Technology can be great
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    stroud1994 Jun 25, 2010 10:32 PM
    vinnydds mustangs beat corvettes everyday i own a corvette there nice but nothing compares to the new mustangs and shelbys and i am about to trade in my vette for a new mustang and my old mustang would be dam near any vette on the street i was a 1992 mustang dragcar
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    dsamliv Jun 25, 2010 9:16 PM
    carol shelby is alive and well. dont make the mistake.
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    ibdann Jun 25, 2010 9:13 PM
    those are some UGLY rims on that car and i am a 3rd mustang owner..
    Report This
    sbude83 Jun 25, 2010 9:04 PM
    dont know about that aluminum block caddy had junk in 84 with the hd 4100 think i will keep my 05 gt for as long as i can
    Report This
    rgheller50 Jun 25, 2010 8:48 PM
    In 2010, Ford redesigned the retro rear and made it into a Japanese arse. Other than that, still a great looking muscle car.
    Report This
    hard2swallovv8 Jun 25, 2010 8:00 PM
    Sticking a shiny silver pony or cobra on a lump of fiberglass does not make it a Mustang or Cobra.
    Report This
    janetekent Jun 25, 2010 7:56 PM
    Don't you just love all the testerone complaining about the dash polka dots! I am on my 10th Mustang since 1964, including all the GT's and Shelbys. Even been president of the Shelby club. Still drive one...and I am a girl!
    Report This
    lpendley3 Jun 25, 2010 7:54 PM
    I AM AN OLD MAN NOW.......RAISED IN THE 60'S.....SO YOU KNOW MY FEELINGS ABOUT CARS LIKE THIS........HOT RODS ARE IN MY BLOOD.........FOR THE GUY WHO WOULD NOT TAKE ONE FREE (MENTIONED ABOVE )SEND IT TO ME.....I WILL TAKE IT TO THE LIMIT ONE MORE TIME.........I'M JUST THE GUY WHO CAN DO IT ! ONE MORE TIME......... LLOYD IN BERRY, AL.........
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    cansadopadres Jun 25, 2010 7:50 PM
    Looks like a frog, don't paint it green.
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    donboc Jun 25, 2010 7:47 PM
    the mustang is a true american classic, steve mcqueen and jim morrison loved their mustangs. the mustang continues to lead the pack against the camaro, and cuda. i recently saw the stats when all three cars were tested, and the mustang beat the other two in every catagory. to car enthusiest, an extra second in 0-60 means a world of difference. the shelby is the leader of the pack when it comes to factory sports cars.
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    onewithspirit2 Jun 25, 2010 7:39 PM
    Hey mzelin7118, obviously you didn't own a Plymouth Horizon or else you wouldn't have made such a comment. I OWNED one and I got 54-56 MPG Highway and over 40 - 42 MPG in the City. Prehistoric maybe, but well before it's time as a fuel saver. I admit it was an ugly little car, but I ran it for years and years......when I put it to rest it had 246,369 miles on it. Mustang pffffffftttttttttttt...Mopar rules!
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    lestheracegirl Jun 25, 2010 7:37 PM
    Shelbys have always rocked... too bad He's gone. if you can't handle the power...don't get in and start it .......if you can't handle the torche...don't punch it......Drive on Shelbys...Drive on!!!!!!!!!!!!
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    hamrammr Jun 25, 2010 7:25 PM
    Nice car but needs more H.P.
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    drivenrhythm Jun 25, 2010 7:23 PM
    I have both a Corvette (04 C5) and a '99 Mustang. Both cars have had NO problems and both have a permanent place in my garage...I enjoy them, but probably not as much as I liked my first Formula S Barracuda in '67. That car was my pride and joy, and taught me a lot about handling power. Wish I still had it. Speaking of power...try twisting the throttle on my 125ci Vulcan and see where it takes you...it'll eat my Mustang alive.
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    jlannsing Jun 25, 2010 7:22 PM
    this car sucks. my nissan altima beats the heck out of it on the track. I mean, you just can't beat an atilma! And the new Z06 is crap compared to my altilma. ford, GET A LIFE!
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    wsheats Jun 25, 2010 7:14 PM
    rtippe Jun 25, 2010 6:34 PM My dad knows and hangs out with Jack Roush when a nascar race is near our part of the world and last year my dad and jack were at a race and Mr Shelby sent over a 2010 shelby mustang.Jack put his nascar guys on it before it got to taladega raceway and he had gotten another 100 hp more out of the car than Mr Shelby had gotten,Caroll had asked Jack to see what he could get out of it,700 hp total.My dad and mr roush were at the garages doing burnouts in the thing...I know,its redneck but does your pop run around with Mr Roush?Mine does....LOL....and I hate nascar,and I wouldnt have a mustang if you gave me one for free...HAHA ****************************************************************************************************** NO, MY DAD DOESN'T RUN AROUND WITH ROUSH NOR DOES HE CARE ABOUT MR. SHELBY. HOWEVER, HE AND HIS TEAM WERE ABLE TO FIGURE HOW TO PUT A SPACE SHUTTLE TOGETHER AND ALLOW THE PROGRAM TO RUN FOR MANY YEARS. HE WAS ALSO PART OF THE TEAM THAT PUT A UNIT ON MARS. ASK THE PEOPLE WHO THEY WOULD LIKE THEIR SON TO IMITATE. IT SEAMS YOUR FATHER SHOULD HAVE MADE YOU SPEND MORE TIME IN SCHOOL AND LESS TIME BRAGGING.
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    1 - 20 of 111 Comments
     
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    The new Shelby Cobra GT500 is racecar fast. Any doubters need to experience what zero-to-60 miles per hour feels like when it happens in just 4.2 seconds.
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