A little while back, Shelby flew me out to Las Vegas, where the brand’s headquarters is located, and allowed me to sample each and every one of their cars on the track. The idea of this was to see how a BMW enthusiast felt about Shelby’s products, given that many fans believe the two brands do not and cannot compete. However, Shelby’s products have been getting better and better over the years, admittedly aided by its source material, the Ford Mustang, getting better to begin with.
But let’s back track a couple of months, to an article in which I wrote, in a nutshell, that most Shelbys couldn’t actually live up to most BMW M cars and that the Bavarian products were more polished, more fun and just better overall. So Shelby decided to call me out and put me behind the wheel of its cars and show me what they could really do. You have to love a company who isn’t afraid to stand behind their product and gladly allow an outsider to test it out.
So I went to Vegas to sample some Shelby products and was able to drive each and every Shelby vehicle that wasn’t a truck. I drove everything from the 2.3 liter Shelby GT Ecoboost to the monster 750 hp Shelby Terlingua. But before we get into the different cars or how they are to drive, let’s talk first a bit about how a Shelby vehicle is born.
First, a customer must buy a Ford Mustang GT or Ecoboost. Regardless of options or trim level, the customer only needs to get one of those two Mustangs and then take it to Shelby, who will then turn it into one of its own cars. There are different variations of each car, so the price to turn your standard Mustang into a Shelby varies. Customers are given a choice of superchargers (in the case of buying a Super Snake), wheels, brakes and some carbon fiber aero. In the case of the Super Snake and Terlingua, prices range from $49,995 to $65,999, not including the original price of the car, so in total the customer could be spending near $100,000 for, sometimes even more. The Ecoboost is obviously the cheapest option, costing $23,995 on top of the Mustang. But these cars aren’t meant to be daily drivers or even a second car. According to Shelby, its typical buyer is buying one of these as their fourth or fifth, sometimes even sixth, car.
So now on to the cars.
SHELBY GT ECOBOOST
Let’s talk about the Shelby GT Ecoboost first, as it’s a new style of car for Shelby and a departure from what the brand normally does. Typically, a Shelby is all about big V8 power, in traditional American fashion. However, the folks at Shelby felt that there was a market for someone who wanted a fast Shelby Mustang, but didn’t want a monster, gas-guzzling V8. So, being that Ford’s new Ecoboost engine is so good, Shelby went ahead and bumped up the power, to a max of 335 hp with 100+octane fuel, gave it new suspension components, better brakes and some lightweight aerodynamics. There’s also better brake cooling and better transmission cooling available.
The resulting car is a highly competent, quick little car that feels far lighter on its feet than its V8 brothers. In fact, the Shelby GT Ecoboost was probably the most fun car to chuck through corners of the bunch, given that its lighter front end felt more alive, was sharper on turn-in and had better feedback through the wheel. It wasn’t even close to as fast as the others, was seriously lacking in corner exit speed by comparison and wasn’t nearly as capable, but was still a very enjoyable car to drive. I drove an automatic equipped model, something Shelby hasn’t done until now, which shifted smooth and quick enough but a six-speed manual is available and is the better choice. But it was a fun car to drive overall, better than expected despite the heresy of driving a four-cylinder Shelby. In fact, it reminded me of a more capable and more track-ready BMW 435i. Which is a compliment.
SHELBY SUPER SNAKE
The Shelby Super Snake is likely to be the most common Shelby you’ll find from this new breed. The standard Super Snake upgrade gives customers a Ford Performance supercharger, giving the 5.0 liter V8 670 hp, Wilwood 6-piston front brake calipers, 20″ wheels, a Ford Performance handling package, carbon fiber aerodynamics and a new aluminum grille. There is a bigger power option available, though, as customers can opt for 750+ hp if they’re feeling extra adventurous. The extra power comes by way of either a Whipple Supercharger or a Kenne Bell Supercharger, depending on which the customer wants. If they opt for 750 hp, they also get new engine and transmission cooling as well as four-piston Wilwood rear brakes.
I was able to sample the 750 hp Super Snake with both an automatic transmission and a six-speed manual. I sampled both on track, but only the automatic on the road. On track, the manual is easily the better option, which is usually the opposite for BMW performance cars with DCT gearboxes. This is likely due to the fact that the auto ‘box is just a standard Ford six-speed torque-converter automatic and I wish Shelby would put in a ZF eight-speed or something similar if possible, because that was really the only downside of that car’s powertrain. It just didn’t shift smooth enough or fast enough on the track with the paddles and was too ponderous in automatic. It also caused my only slide of the day, as it mysteriously downshifted mid-corner in auto-mode and gave me a very large, unanticipated shove of power, causing the rear-end to slide quite violently. The auto just isn’t good enough for track-duty. On the track, the manual is the more fun choice and the better one. But on the road, the auto was fine, as it just slushed that monstrous power along, making it nice and easy to drive in traffic. But bury your right foot and the horizon approaches much quicker than you thought it would, accompanied by a roaring V8 and the whine of a supercharger. Epic stuff.
On track, the Super Snake is a very capable, very fun car to drive. Its steering is accurate and its suspension is very competent. The brakes are great, too. But it’s big and it feels it. Despite Shelby’s best efforts to trim weight, the Mustang is still a big girl and you can feel the mass quite a bit. However, I think that’s part of the fun. All that power and performance is kind of beating physics to a pulp and it’s exciting to feel. The Super Snake isn’t a momentum car, it’s a punch the road in the face and make it bend to its will kind of car. It’s brutal and violent and addictive. On the road, it can also be a puppy dog, just gently cruising along with a surprisingly compliant suspension. Admittedly, Nevada’s roads are like glass, so not much of a test there. I’d like to see if they can handle some of my native NJ roads to see if they can cope, as the roads haven’t been paved here since doctors recommended cigarettes. But overall, the Super Snake is a fun, exciting, very brutal car to drive.
The Shelby Terlingua’s roots date back to the man Caroll Shelby himself who, after hearing some personal stories about from some Shelby employees who knew him well, seems like he may have been the coolest person on the planet. Shelby created the Terlingua racing team back in the ’60s, which won the 1967 Trans Am Championship, and it was basically a giant middle-finger to the rest of the industry. That’s kind of like what this car is, as well.
It packs a 2.9L Whipple Supercharger that helps the 5.0 liter Mustang V8 develop 750+ hp and is mated to either the six-speed manual or automatic, but we all know which is the better option. It also gets a Ford Performance by Borla exhaust, bespoke Eibach suspension, Brembo brakes with six-pistons at the front and four at the rear, a ton of carbon fiber aero bits and better engine and transmission cooling. A Barton short-throw shifter is an option, as are Sparco racing seats with four-point harnesses and an upgraded differential. Basically, the Terlingua has one job and that’s to eat race tracks alive.
I sampled the Terlingua with a six-speed manual on the track and it was by far and away the most impressive car of the bunch. While I sort of expected it to be the best, considering it’s the most expensive, most powerful and most track-ready car Shelby produces, I wasn’t ready for just how good it actually was. The bespoke Eibach suspension, which was developed specifically for the Terlingua by both Shelby and Eibach, was spectacularly good and gave the Terlingua a wonderful sense of confidence. It felt sure-footed and ready to attack all the time. Front-end grip was sensational and easily the best out of all the cars there. It always felt planted and neutral. Just a really great setup. The brakes were also the best of they day, with right-now stopping power and great pedal feel. The Terlingua felt like the most polished and complete car of the day.
Then there’s the engine, which was a monster. The bellowing V8 was accompanied by the howl of the supercharger as the Terlingua simply fired out of corners. No drama, no slippage, just furious acceleration. Come into a corner hot, dive on the excellent Brembos, tuck the nose in and fire the car out. It was the only Shelby at the track that didn’t feel scary and I wasn’t afraid to get back on the power earlier and earlier with each and every turn. A very confidence-inspiring car to drive quickly.
Whereas the Super Snake was fun in a sort of “riding an Atom Bomb” sort of way, the Terlingua felt like a no-nonsense, track-ready high-performance car that could compete with the best cars in the world. The Super Snake was fun, but lacked the composure and quality feeling of the Terlingua in all of its controls. The Super Snake felt like something you just ride in and hold one, while the Terlingua felt like something you properly drive.
So how do these Shelbys stack up against BMWs? Well, that’s a bit of a difficult question to answer. The two brands sort of occupy different spaces of the market and can’t really be directly compared too much. I think the Terlingua is easily the most polished feeling of the bunch and, if I had to pick a BMW that it could be compared to on paper, it could match up against the BMW M4 GTS. But I don’t think that Shelby is looking to be better than BMW, or any other European brand for that matter, but just trying to stick to its heritage and make awesome cars that people want to buy. I think I would say that if you already own a BMW, or even a BMW M car, and want to get a second, third, or even fourth performance car, give Shelbys a look. If you aren’t impressed, I’d be genuinely surprised, especially with the Shelby Terlingua. Plus, there aren’t many cars that have direct lineage to, and bear the name of, one of racing greatest legends.