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Special Features - SHELBY GT500: A HISTORY OF SUPERCHARGERS
  • First supercharged Shelby Mustang was the 1966 Shelby GT350
  • Ford Thunderbird offered a supercharger beginning in 1957
  • Ford SVT’s first supercharged engine was the 360-hp 1999 SVT F-150 Lightning
  • Lightning was followed by the 390-hp 2003 SVT Mustang Cobra
Carroll Shelby has always been a fierce competitor, both on the track and in business. He does not like to lose.

"About the only thing I like less than losing is losing and not learning from it," says the racing great.

That philosophy sums up how Shelby, superchargers and Mustangs came together in the first place.

The story begins in 1965 when a supercharger manufacturer tried to interest Shelby in putting its product on his then-new GT350 Mustang. At the time, Shelby’s plate was full with building, selling and racing cars. He declined.

Then the manufacturer’s rep showed up at Shelby’s shop in the shadow of the Los Angeles airport with a supercharged GT350. Shelby agreed to a race on the vast expanses of empty concrete that surrounded the airport. He jumped behind the wheel of a 289 Cobra roadster – a vehicle much lighter than the 289 GT350 – and soundly lost.

"Well, I figured if that rep was going to teach me a lesson I might as well profit from it," he says. "So for the 1966 model we made a supercharger a factory option on the GT350 as well as an aftermarket accessory."

A supercharger remained in the Shelby catalog right through the end of production of the original Shelby Mustangs. It was offered on GT350 models. In 1966 and 1967 these were powered by the 289 cubic-inch V-8. In 1968, displacement was boosted to 302 cubic inches. Beginning in 1969, the GT350 sported Ford’s then-new 351 cubic-inch V-8.

Using a Blower to Call Down the Thunder
However, these were not the first – nor, obviously, the last – production Ford passenger vehicles to be supercharged.

Thunderbird and supercharger have long been synonymous. The relationship began in 1957 when a supercharged version of the "Y-block" 312 cubic-inch V-8 was offered as a more powerful alternative to the two non-blown engine choices. Output of the standard Thunderbird four-barrel 312 was rated at 245 gross horsepower. A dual four-barrel version generated 270 gross horsepower. However, the supercharged engine topped them both with a gross rating of 300 horsepower.

Thunderbirds and superchargers would not meet again until the 1989 model year when the Thunderbird Super Coupe was introduced. This time around, the engine was a V-6 displacing 3.8 liters. From 1989 through 1993, the Super Coupe carried a net rating of 210 horsepower and 315 lbs.-ft. of torque. This was upgraded to 230 horsepower and 330 lbs.-ft. for the 1994 and 1995 model years.

SVT Finds Special Uses for Superchargers
Superchargers have also played an important role in the history of the Ford Special Vehicle Team.

SVT’s first production vehicle to use a supercharger was the F-150 Lightning. An all-new F-Series platform gave SVT engineers a "clean-sheet" opportunity for the 1999 model year. SVT started with the smallest, lightest F-150 chassis for optimum acceleration and handling – the sporty short wheelbase, Regular Cab FlareSide configuration. Engineers lowered the truck two inches in the rear and half an inch in the front, added big brakes and a sport-tuned suspension as well as unique front and rear styling treatments.

However, the big news was a special SVT-developed supercharged 5.4-liter Triton™ V-8. Output was an arresting 440 lbs.-ft. and a mighty 360 horsepower – 40 more horsepower than even SVT’s flagship 1999 Mustang Cobra generated. Needless to say, the 1999 SVT F-150 Lightning set new standards for full-size sport trucks. For 2001, SVT bumped up the Lightning’s output to 380 horsepower and 450 lbs.-ft.

Meanwhile, engineers were learning the lessons that eventually would pay off in the form of the 2007 Shelby GT 500.

Introduced as a 2003 model, the SVT Cobra took Mustang horsepower to as-yet unseen heights with a new, Eaton supercharged DOHC 4.6-liter "Terminator" V-8. Rated at 390 horsepower and 390 lbs.-ft. of torque, it was among the most powerful Mustangs ever to leave the production line up to that time. It also featured a 6-speed manual transmission, redesigned front and rear fascias and a new "heat-extraction" hood.

A blueprint for the future had been drawn.

 

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