Mustang on the Autobahn
FEB
28

Before I accepted the mission, they swore me to secrecy. “You’ll leave for Germany in two days,” they said. “Are you in?”

Here was the deal: Somehow, somebody had gotten their hands on a brand-new Shelby GT500—the scorching 650-hp, 200-mph number produced in collaboration with Carroll Shelby—and shipped it to Germany. The plan was to quietly unleash this prodigy of American automotive engineering into the German industrial heartland, to go head to head with the world’s most fanatically performance-conscious drivers on the legendary no-speed-limit autobahn. Then I’d head off to the country’s endless skein of narrow, serpentine country roads. My pilgrimage would ultimately take me to the storied Nürburgring Nordschleife racetrack, there to answer the ultimate questions: How would the Shelby GT500 perform on the track that a world champion racer once labeled “The Green Hell”? And more to the point, would the passionate driving fanatics who gather there throw bouquets or brickbats?

I was in.

GERMAN CONQUEST

This was a mission, not a meander. I had just two days to put the Shelby through its paces. After a red-eye from New York to Frankfurt, I showed up at Ford’s sprawling plant alongside the Rhine River in Cologne, where I was ushered into a hangar-like maintenance facility, given some papers to sign, and told to wait. After a moment, I heard an animal-like growl from beyond a set of exterior doors, a low menacing rumble, like a caged lion who’d spotted a hunk of meat. The door slid open, and there it was: deep impact blue, vivid white racing stripes running up the hood and over the roof, a venomous jaw-like grill, and a hood that bulged like an action hero’s chest just before his shirt rips off.

I’d written about the autobahn before, and spent enough time talking to German drivers to have my doubts about how the Shelby GT500 would go over. Don’t get me wrong, Germans love powerful cars. But they view performance cars the way classical musicians look at violins; they prize precision and efficiency above all else. The Shelby tramples over such delicacy. It’s got swagger, and it’s unabashedly loud. As I headed out for my first run on the autobahn, I felt like a man showing up at his parents’ 50th wedding anniversary with a Parisian runway model.

Did I attract some sidelong glances? Sure, I guess I did. But the really remarkable thing about driving the GT500 in Germany is the magnetic force field it seems to exert. Every time I stopped for gas or a bite to eat, I’d inevitably come back to find at least one German man kneeling to examine the grille or peering through a side window. There’s simply nothing like it on the German road. I asked one admirer why he liked the Shelby so much. “German cars, they are so soft, so round,” he said. “This is a muscle car. It looks strong and powerful. And the sound, it’s incredible.” He looked again at the exhaust, as though his eyes could not accept what his mind already knew. “This one has four pipes!”

In truth, it’s not even one sound, but a whole vocabulary of noises: the beastlike roaring and popping as you start it up, then the impatient grumble of first gear, the excited thrum of second, and all the way up to the unexpectedly deep, exuberant growl of sixth gear, which kicks in just as you’re about to do that Millennium-Falcon-goes-warp-speed thing and the speedometer knifes up into triple digits, trailing a wake of acoustic chaos across the tidy countryside.

Nobody, I think, was really surprised that the Shelby could go fast. If anything, the stereotype of American automotive engineering in Germany is that we can build cars that go fast in a straight line. So the real test was to get off the autobahn and switch gears for the other side of German driving, the country roads.

This is not a car, I found, that suffers fools gladly. Like a half-tame stallion, it will throw you if you don’t show enough respect. Punch the gas, and that impatient rear end will push you around and fishtail in a heartbeat. Get sloppy with the clutch in first gear, and it will stall before you can blink.

It demands a lot from the driver but pays it back in dividends. Slaloming up steep switchbacks through forests garlanded in autumn gold, zooming over hilltops past fields of sheep and cattle, I felt as though I had achieved some seamless fusion of technology and nature. I stopped for the night in the historic little village of Altenahr, whose half-timbered buildings and narrow, winding streets sheltered in a dramatic, steep valley. After a good night’s sleep, I got up early to hike up to the thousand-year-old ruins of a castle that enjoyed a bird’s-eye view over the village and the winding, swiftly flowing Ahr River. Then I hurried back down to strap myself back into the driver’s seat.

TRACK TRIALS

It was just a half hour to the Nürburgring, the only world-class track that regularly allows ordinary drivers to use it with no prior arrangement. When it’s not closed to the public for racing or industry testing, all you have to do is show up, buy a plastic card (€26, about $33), drive to the entrance gate and hold the card to the magnetic reader. Hey presto: The gate arm goes up, and you’ve got 20.8 km (roughly 12.9 miles) of hairpin turns, S curves and straightaways at your disposal. This is truly performance driving for the masses, yet I wouldn’t be surprised to see an Italian count in a supercar.

As I rolled onto the track I found it wet and quite slippery from a recent rain. My heart was in my throat as I worked the steering wheel, the gas pedal and the clutch, vividly focused as I tore through the famous sections of the legendary track: the tight 270 of the Caracciola Karussell, the steep rise and sharp plunge of the Flugplatz. Ahead of me, a German sports car lost control and screeched to the left, then to the right, before managing to regain control. When I pulled off the track at the end of a long, fast straightaway, I knew I hadn’t maxed out the car, but I don’t think that I’d ever felt more alive.

I was burning daylight, and there was one last thing I wanted to do before I had to turn in the keys. Heading east, winding through farmland and forest, I got to the Rhine just as the sun was sinking over the ridgeline to the west, painting the autumn-tinged forest on the far side of the river a deeper shade of gold. A ferry drifted out into swift current, working at an angle to the flow. Just downstream rose the iconic Lorelei, the most famous rock formation in Germany.

I got out and had just started to take pictures when three nine-year-old boys on bikes appeared. They crowded around the front of the car, mouths open, eyes wide, and started taking photos and movies with their phones. “Musta! Ford Musta!” they shouted to their friends, until a small crowd had gathered, milling like gulls around a fishing boat.

They spoke even less English than I speak German, but I answered their barrage of questions as best I could. I started the engine and they oohed and aahed at the colored lights that line the dials and cup holder, and broke into enormous grins when I gunned the 5.8-liter V-8 and unleashed its throaty roar. “Nochmal! Nochmal!” one shouted, staring wide-eyed at the screen of his smartphone: “Again! Again!” They made me write the address of the My Ford website on pieces of paper—one for each of them—then one asked me to sign my autograph as well. It’s that kind of car.

A church bell clanged. It was getting late, and the boys had to be home for dinner. “We’ve never had a car like that in this town before,” said one as he shook my hand.

It was dark. At last I was alone. I had a long way to go, to get the Shelby back to the Ford folks by midnight. There were miles of country road ahead, and miles and miles more of autobahn. I climbed in, gunned the engine, and smiled.

Visit Ford.com to learn more about the Ford Mustang.

This article originally appeared in My Ford Magazine. Story by: Jeff Wise. Photography by: Daniel Byrne

Related Tags
mustang
open track
racing
shelby gt500

19 COMMENTS ON THIS ARTICLE
Ron D Leno i agree there is nothing i mean nothing better than sitting in the drivers seat with pure ford power!!!!. no viagra needed. Ron D....L From Smallsville.
1 months(s) ago via
Gerd I'm from Germany using the Autobahn every day, but unfortunately not in a Shelby GT 500 - it would be great to test it without any speed limit  - to chekc out whether it is realy doing 200+ miles an hour
5 months(s) ago via
Jet I miss the Autobahn.
8 months(s) ago via
Matt C Would have liked to read about the different exotics he raced with and how the Shelby fared. Not all the nonsense. Not on this site to read a boring novel. Send me there I will race the best o them with a ull repot and pictures.
9 months(s) ago via
oscar medalla The sound of the mustang growl really gives you the smile in your face with it 600 plus horsepower!! I cant imagine riding in the almost 1000 hp, shelby gt 500 super snake!!...heard a lot of very good reviews on this stock mustang shelby!! This one has Carrol's signature in it!! A man I met many yeas ago in laguna seca!! An experience driving this in the autobahn!!
1 year(s) ago via
Chris4CE6 Horne from an email sent August 22 2012 had a magical early morning - took the Alfa in to the Fiat/Alfa garage in Isen - (about 50 clicks from Munich) to have the bi-xenon headlights adjusted - it took only 41/2 minutes to adjust them - but they start work at 7 AM! so had to be there early - had a good run on the emptish autobahn - around 180 cruise on the way there and had a most amazing run back - a Ford Mustang Cobra followed me onto the start of the A 94 autobahn and he went for it - had the window down as he planted the big V8 in second third fourth(5th &6th) and then dissapeared into the distance - I looked down and the Alfa was pushing 200 and he just became a small dot and then nothing…rolled up the window and settled back into its natural cruising speed of around 170…mein gott in himmel… I do love the autobahn... not a Cobra but a Shelby GT 500 - my boo boo... Shelby GT500 Compare $54,200 Starting MSRP1
1 year(s) ago via
Gary Kelley I would love to get my '13 GT-500 over there or to a track like that. High speed road driving would be a blast. 130 is nothing in these cars.
1 year(s) ago via
John_Doe @Larry L you know, American Muscle Cars prices are really less than European sports car. The fact is, a Mustang starting price is 22,220$ (about 18,000€) while a BMW or a Mercedes SLK starts well over that. However, the price you have in the US is different from here. In the US, a starting price for a Corvette is about 40,000$ (32,000€) while here a Corvette on the Chevrolet list price is 78,000€ (which means more than 80,000$!!).
1 year(s) ago via
David J Reading this article has left me with goosebumps. Lets hope that the next totally new Mustang, the 2015 ,model, improves the handling, ride, braking and fuel economy of this brilliant car. May the 2015 redesign match the current models tough and aggressive muscle car look and feel.
1 year(s) ago via
Donna S That Shelby sounded so good!
1 year(s) ago via
Larry L I have said for years that there is not a single European car that will match up to the Mustang in price, looks, or speed.
1 year(s) ago via
nathan h that mustang would look great cruising next to my T bird Supercoupe!! wonder how hard to get from here to there?
1 year(s) ago via
Ian B love to get my Australian GT 335 over there with it's basically "big brother" GT 550 what a picture that would make for the "one Ford " project, I might have to get my passport ready.
1 year(s) ago via
VLT-Aiden That same car M600FMC was in front of my house today. I ran outside to take pics and a short video. And the sound gave me goosebumps. Awesome car.
1 year(s) ago via
Trent A German engineering my behind! Great read. Legendary car! Awesome how everyone was in love with it over there. The kids screaming Ford Musta! Priceless.
1 year(s) ago via
bernard and india walker hey boys will be boys and girls will be girls. love the way these cars go. didn't get to drive a shelby. but my dealer had a gt . 6sp. nice can see this on a track too. cool now who can show up against us. bmw or porsche maybe aston martin. i can get ford there easy as cake!
1 year(s) ago via
Olivia T Neat build one in Michigan.....wow that would be so nice
1 year(s) ago via
Markie S This Mustang should do a tour of the UK coastline,Including coming to Essex and the old Dagenham plant!
1 year(s) ago via
Joshua M Great looking mustang...Its ok really nice paint job..Go ford its your brithday..
1 year(s) ago via
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