Named after one of the company's greatest racing icons, the alpha stallion of Ford's factory-built Mustang corral showed up in Chicago this week. Created by Ford's SVT (Special Vehicles Team) division with input from Carroll Shelby himself, both coupe and convertible variants of the 2011 Shelby GT500 boast the enviable combination of more power, less weight and even greater overall dynamic refinement.

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Visual changes to the 2011 Shelby GT500 are minimal, confined mainly to slightly detail tweaks, standard HID headlamps and new 19-inch forged alloy wheels shod with Z-rated 255/40 front and 285/35 rear Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar tires. Those with extra sharp vision will notice the ride height also has been decreased by 11 millimeters up front and eight millimeters in the rear while a quick peek underneath reveals an even lower-drag aero configuration. Story continues beneath the video.

The most telling upgrades for the 2011 Shelby GT500 are felt rather than seen. It all starts with the new 5.4-liter supercharged V8 that resides underhood. Although the displacement carries from 2010, it's now based on an all-new aluminum block that borrows design elements from the engine in Ford's limited-run GT supercar. In addition to being 102 pounds lighter than the previous iron-block V8, it's the first to use Ford's patented Plasma Transferred Wire Arc (PTWA) process that substitutes a low-friction nanoparticle composite coating for the cast-iron liners typically used in aluminum engine blocks. Rounding out the hardware mix is a new intercooler with 40 percent more charge-chilling capacity and a freer-flowing exhaust system. The net result is an engine that makes 550 horsepower -- 10 more ponies than before -- and 515 lb.-ft. of torque. Equally important, it's slated to earn 15 mpg city/23 mpg highway EPA numbers -- up from the 2010's 14/22 mpg stats and sufficient to make this the first Shelby GT500 to escape Gas Guzzler tax. Backed with a mandatory Tremec six-speed manual transmission, it also should be slicing 0.1 second off of the car's current sub-4.5 second 0-60 mph time.

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In addition to trimming the Shelby GT500's total weight, this new V8 significantly improves the front/rear distribution on both models. Also new to the 2011 vehicle dynamics formula are electric power-assist steering (EPAS) in place of the former hydraulic booster, more effective brake cooling ducts and a redesigned pedal box that yields better feel on the brake and clutch. Returning features include a multi-mode AdvancTrac stability control setup, limited-slip rear differential and upsized ABS disc brakes with Brembo front calipers. Convertible models have been reinforced to gain 30 percent more structural rigidity while both Shelby variants benefit from a 20-percent reduction in road noise.

For those demanding the ultimate Shelby GT500, Ford will offer the SVT Performance Package that brings stiffer springs/shocks/roll bars, a deeper (3.73:1) axle ratio, special staggered-size (19/20-inch) lightweight alloy wheels with even-stickier 265/40 front and 285/30 rear Goodyear Eagle F1 SuperCar G: 2 ultra-performance tires, a unique rear spoiler with adjustable Gurney flap and special Shelby accent stripes. Coupe buyer seeking a little more "transparency" can also opt to have their Shelby GT500's fitted with a new glass roof when the cars start arriving at Ford dealers in the spring. Pricing for the 2011 Shelby GT500 Coupe will start at $49,495 while the 2011 Shelby GT500 Convertible is set to open at $54,495.

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