There are many great roads for car enthusiasts in North America but few are within minutes of the centre of a major city. An exception to that can be found on California Highway 2, known better to locals as Angeles Crest Highway. Picking up a 2020 Shelby GT500 Mustang in downtown L.A., we accelerated up the ramp onto Freeway 110 North and quickly found out that the supercharged 760 horsepower from this 5.2 litre V8 will take to from 30 kph to “go directly to jail” speeds in an eye blink!
Knowing that I didn’t bring enough money for bail, a judicious press of the brake pedal brings the Brembo calipers (6-piston in front and 4-piston rear) in contact with the huge brake rotors. The car scrubs off speed so fast it gets the adrenaline flowing almost as much as its acceleration will. This straight line performance at any speed is jaw dropping but the steering still feels a little heavy. Was this the right car to test the twisty canyon roads that lead up to the top of Angeles Crest highway?
Merging onto California Highway 2, the road leads you north east through residential areas and a few minutes later you are on a two lane road starting the climb through hills into the canyon. Opened in 1956 as a route through the San Gabriel Mountains, the Angeles Crest highway is 106 kilometres long, ending where it joins State Route 138 and from LA it climbs from just above sea level to over 2,400 metres, making this one of the highest roads in Southern California. Some of the eastern part of the road is often closed in winter due to rock fall and slide conditions so many enthusiasts only go part way before turning around to enjoy the road the other direction.
Most of the drive is through protected park land and there are few side roads and even fewer buildings. Our destination is Newcombs Ranch at mile marker 50.93 for good food and refreshments, a popular stopping point on the road that caters to enthusiasts. On the weekend you will find hundreds of motorcyclists, car clubs of many makes and individual enthusiasts parked around the restaurant and discussing the finer points of vehicles and the road over a late breakfast or lunch.
As we started into the curves, it was important to remember some etiquette rules of the road. These “rules” are generally unwritten but I found some posted more formally at the entrance to the restaurant at Newcombs Ranch.
First, there are few passing opportunities on the highway but there are many turn outs along the route. Don’t pass on a solid yellow line. Instead wait for the vehicle ahead to pull off the road into a turn out. If you see another vehicle in your rear view mirror, pull off the road yourself. There will always be faster drivers than you and on a warm weekend the road will have hundreds of motorcycles and car clubs on that stretch of road. Instead, spend a few minutes to enjoy the scenery, both natural and mechanical from the viewpoints at pull offs. Watching other cars and motorcycles go by is like viewing a mobile auto show – customs, hot rods, supercars, and motorcycles motor past in an almost endless stream.
Stay in your lane and don’t make U-turns. This is common sense with the amount of traffic on the road on weekends, almost all of them there for the corners. If you miss a viewpoint, there will be another just a short distance ahead.
Treat others with respect. There is limited cell phone coverage through the canyon and the person you just passed may be the person you need help from if you have an accident or run into mechanical problems. Hint: Watch for rock on the road around corners. The pavement is smooth and clean but there is always the possibility of a pointy rock on the road ruining a tire or more. Look out for cyclists and even the occasional small motorhome. Fortunately, the twisty road discourages drivers of trucks and bigger motorhomes from going that route. The more challenging the road, the more important these common-sense rules are.
Carving corners isn’t about speed. It is about feeling the responsiveness of the throttle and predictability of the brake pedal, taking the perfect line around a corner by turning in at the right time and accelerating smoothly away. Smoothness is the key! When you get it all right, it brings an instant smile to your face.
The GT500 is an instant hit! Throttle response is immediate and the seven-speed dual clutch transmission shifts rapidly using the paddle-shifters. With the torque of this engine, you could leave the transmission in Drive range but it is so much fun to shift up and down and hear the perfect rev matching of the engine to vehicle speed.
The supercharger adds about 100 pounds to the front of the vehicle but this Shelby GT500 follows a line like it is on tracks. Even when pushed hard around a tight corner there was no sense of the front or rear ends losing traction. I have no problem saying this car’s capabilities are way more advanced than my own driving skills are, especially on a public road. My experience in the Shelby GT500 Mustang brings an ear to ear grin to me every time I think of that drive.
Many many years ago I had the fortune to take the latest Shelby Mustang around a tight slalom course with Carroll Shelby as a passenger. I will never forget what he said: “You can tell a lot about a car at low speeds”. We went on to discuss suspension bushing flex, shock damping and steering inputs. Looking back, those simple words were very wise – it is easier to feel how a vehicle handles while at lower speeds rather than sense it all at racing speeds. The engineers and test drivers designing the suspension of the 2020 GT500 must have been listening, because it is a master of carving the corners on Angeles Crest highway. I am sure Carroll would approve.
2020 Mustang Shelby GT500