The old Shelby Super Snakes may be legendary cars,but they never drove as well as the new 725hp version
Shelby. The name alone conjures up feelings of pure V8 muscle and power. Carroll Shelby, now 86 years of age, has been building V8 cars since 1962 with the AC Ace, and the first Ford Shelby Mustang in 1968.
The Shelby Mustang is a classic, no doubt about it. And now, after many years of absence, the Shelby Mustang has finally made a return in the age of the iPod and hybrid cars.
The modern day Shelby Mustang comes in many guises, such as the base-level 319hp Shelby GT and the Hertz rental car special, the GT-H. Today, however, we are interested in only one model: the GT500. Aptly named after the 500hp it produces, it is already one monstrous beast, toting 650Nm of torque.
The more astute will already be correcting me as I’m missing out a very important piece of the name. This particular GT500 is no normal GT500, it is one of a rare breed, a Super Snake.
But if it’s so rare, how on earth did we land one here in New Zealand?
It all started from a conversation between Dave Murtagh and the team at Stevens Ford. Dave, an avid Mustang fan and already an owner of a ’71 Mustang Mach 1, had only just returned from visiting Carroll Shelby’s workshop in Las Vegas. Having already imported a couple of late-model Mustangs, the team at Stevens Ford in Lower Hutt were already familiar with Shelbys. However, until that conversation they hadn’t considered bringing in the Super Snake version.
At that point, Dave owned a Mitsubishi Evolution X and was looking to upgrade, with serious consideration given to the spectacular Nissan R35 GT-R. But even with the GT-R on his mind, it was a no-brainer for him to choose the Super Snake. Dave’s conversation progressed from a ‘pie in the sky’ chat to Paul Bond of Stevens Ford sending an email to the dealership’s agent in the US to explore the possibility of sourcing one for Dave.
The Super Snake designation adorns GT500s that have had the privilege of being upgraded by one of the two licensed Shelby mod shops in America (Quantum Performance in Dallas or TASCA in Rhode Island), or by Shelby’s own workshop in Las Vegas. To have one built for you, you must first purchase a GT500 and then expect to queue for 12 months before one of the workshops is available to upgrade your Mustang.
With this knowledge in hand, the idea was to remain just that — an idea. But little did Dave know that a week later he would be saying yes to the purchase of a Super Snake. Perhaps it was meant to be? A Super Snake owner in America wanted to pull out, the agent contacted Stevens Ford, and Dave treated himself (after first making sure the boot would fit a set of golf clubs).
The transfer from America isn’t straightforward — they drive on the opposite of the road to us, remember. So once Dave’s Super Snake landed in New Zealand it went straight to our local conversion whizz, Willie Roach of Eagle Automotive in New Plymouth. Regarded by many as the best in the business, his handiwork really shows. Or rather, doesn’t. The Super Snake looks like it came out factory in right-hand drive.
Looking the Part
The first thing that strikes you about the car is its immensely muscular form. Shelby has done an impressive job, pumping the Mustang full of testosterone without turning the mighty stallion into an equine Frankenstein. It’s not too ostentatious, though you’ll still feel compelled to give way should you see it in your rear view mirror, breathing down your neck. Carbon fibre touches seen on the front fascia splitter, mirror covers and rocker panels herald the 21st century. Side scoops, quarter window blackouts and the Shelby Super Snake hood blend seamlessly into the factory form.
There are six colours available to choose from: Grabber Orange, Vista Blue, Tungsten, Performance White, Ebony Clearcoat and Alloy. Dave’s example is coloured in the same Ebony Clearcoat as KITT from the new Knight Rider, and it’s simply stunning. The matte-finish stripes are a tasteful addition and complement the whole look rather well, like ketchup and mustard on an American hotdog. The whole package does really take your breath away, it’s an orgasm for the eyes.
Not just a facelift
It’s not subtle, but thankfully it delivers on the promise made by its looks. The GT500, with 500 horses, is no slouch as we’ve said, delivering around 650Nm of torque. The Super Snake upgrade, keeping with the supercharged 5.4-litre 32-valve DOHC V8 formula, increases that power to either 605hp or 725hp. No half measures here: Dave has the high-power Kenne Bell Twin Screw Supercharged 725hp version. A six-speed manual gearbox with short-throw shifter transfers power to the custom driveshaft installed specifically on this model to handle the grunt.
But performance is not just about power figures, and power is nothing without control. The Super Snake gets some Shelby upgrades in the handling department as well, ensuring all four wheels stay firmly planted while it serves up some torque. Those gorgeous wheels are 20-inch Shelby Alcoas, measuring nine inches wide at the front and 10 inches at the rear. Low-profile Pirelli P-Zero tyres adorn the ensemble. Eibach adjustable coil-over suspension and sway bars, among other Shelby/ Ford Racing modifications, are coupled with a forged Baer six-piston calliper braking system
to confound the stereotype that American cars don’t handle. A brake duct kit feeds cool air over the front and rear brakes to minimise fade during hard driving.
Entering the 21st Century
Slipping into the car, you soon notice the attention to detail that applies to this breed. Super Snake badges and embroidery are evident, with a plaque denoting the production number of each car — Dave’s is #306. Above this, Carroll Shelby-signed Auto Meter gauges inform Dave of the boost level, fuel pressure and oil pressure. The interior’s angular lines and bulky shapes repeat the aggressive theme of the exterior, though an air of civility is present within the cabin. The leather seats are comfortable and spacious yet functional, and the usual mod-cons such as air conditioning are accounted for. The audio is matched to the style of the car by way of a powerful ‘Shaker’ system.
With such low-profile tyres and track-ready coil-over suspension, one would expect the ride to be stiff and bone jarring. Surprisingly, Shelby has managed to maintain a respectable ride quality. The suspension feels firm and planted on the road, yet it gives you the sense you wouldn’t need a chiropractic appointment after a prolonged drive.
Put your foot down and the power surges forth, but somehow it feels as if you’re on a Sunday jaunt. The Super Snake feels settled and calm, and the only hint of exertion is the high-pitched note of the supercharger. It feels effortless. Thankfully, this false sense of slowness soon dissipates as you are pressed into the seat and the world spins under your wheels. Don’t worry, wind it out and that wonderful V8 note is ever present, singing via the Borla cat-back exhaust system.
It’s impressive, it really is. The combination of modern technology and retro styling blends seamlessly, and the Super Snake is a great revival of the original. The 21st century rendition is one to have, and really could be your daily driver. Drive it hard and it’ll fight and roar for you. Drive it civilised and it’ll be your chauffeur in suit and tie.
2008 Shelby GT500 Super Snake – Specifications
Engine: Kenne Bell twin-screw supercharged 5.4-litre V8
Driveline: Six-speed manual transmission with Ford Racing short-throw shifter, 3.73:1 differential ratio, strengthened driveshaft
Brakes: Shelby/Baer six-piston forged front brake callipers with cross-drilled and vented rotors all around
Suspension: Eibach adjustable coil-over suspension and sway bars, tuned stabiliser bars and front strut tower brace
Wheels/tyres: 20×9 and 20×10-inch Shelby Alcoa Wheels (Dura-bright finish), Pirelli P-Zero 255/35R20 front and 275/35R20 rear
Exterior: Carbon fibre front fascia splitter and mirror covers, sequential tail lights, Super Snake striping, side scoops, fibreglass Super Snake hood, quarter window black-outs. Super Snake body kit
Interior: Leather seats, Super Snake seat embroidery, sill plates, mats, gauges, plaques
Performance: 725hp (541kW)
Dave Murtagh – Owner Details
Occupation: Drainage contractor
Previously owned cars: Mitsubishi Evo X, ’71 Mach 1 Mustang
Dream car: Shelby Super Snake
Length of ownership: Approximately four months
Dave thanks: Stevens Motors Lower Hutt, Eagle Automotive
Story: Victor Yuen Photos: Sean Craig
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