DEARBORN, MI – The new ’10 Ford Shelby GT500 Mustang builds on the attributes of its predecessor, while drawing inspiration from one of the most iconic cars of all time.

It has a “large one-mouth design like the Shelby AC Cobra (427),” Doug Gaffka, chief designer, Shelby GT500, says at a media event here. “It has strong, powerful proportions.”

From the onset of the program, famed racer and automotive designer Carroll Shelby had input on nearly all aspects of the new 540-hp muscle car.

“He gave us lots of feedback, on the test tracks and took care that he was very comfortable,” Gaffka says. “He was really a good supporter.”

The latest offering from Ford Motor Co.’s Special Vehicle Team, the ’10 Shelby GT500 shares many styling cues with the new ’10 Mustang, but borrows performance attributes from the Shelby GT500KR (King of the Road) Mustang, of which only 1,746 units were produced.

Ford doesn’t reveal volume numbers for the new Shelby, but says they should be similar to the outgoing model.

The new performance car, which makes its public debut at this month’s 2009 North American International Auto show in Detroit, differs from previous Mustangs because particular attention was paid to handling attributes, says Jamal Hameedi, chief nameplate engineer for SVT.

“The feedback from GT500KR (owners) is they like its all-out handling abilities,” he says. “It is a big step forward from the (outgoing model). It’s better at everything, and didn’t’ give up a lot of ride.

“That’s the philosophy we’ve used with this car: improved body control and confidence, better pitch control and roll stiffness.”

Springs and dampers have been optimized for improved roll control, while the chassis tuning placed emphasis on primary body control.

Under the hood, the new GT500 packs a 5.4L supercharged DOHC V-8 that lays down a tire-shredding 510 lb.-ft. (691 Nm) of torque. The redline has been upped to 6,200 rpm from 6,000 rpm.

Additional performance advances include an upgraded twin-disc clutch and 6-speed manual transmission, new cold-air intake, hood extractor to remove heat from the engine and a “Gurney Flap” spoiler to increase rear-down force.

“The muscle-car segment is becoming more competitive,” Hameedi says. “We need to uphold the Mustang badge with honor, the Shelby badge with honor, and most importantly, the Ford badge with honor.”

Despite the GT500’s impressive power, which boasts a 40-hp improvement from the current model, Ford took great care to improve fuel economy.

“In addition to the numerous performance and refinement improvements inside and out, the ’10 Shelby GT500 is estimated at 2 mpg (0.9 km/L) more fuel efficient (than the current model) on the highway,” says Derrick Kuzak, group vice president, global product development.

Ford has yet to reveal fuel-economy figures on the new Shelby, but the current-generation achieves 14/20 mpg city/highway (16.8-11.7 L/100 km).

To keep noise, vibration and harshness levels to a minimum, the Shelby GT500 team placed a patented resonator between the air filter and engine throttle body.

“You still hear the supercharger, but not that it’s intrusive,” says Kerry Baldori, chief functional engineer for SVT. “It’s the same with the exhaust. You want people to know you’re driving something special, but you don’t want an exhaust note that overpowers the whole interior.”

Inside, the GT500 boasts real leather seats, aluminum on the instrument panel and Alcantara inserts on the seats and steering wheel.

Additionally, a racing stripe that adorns the outside of the car is carried into the cabin, flowing across both the front and rear seats.

Ford hopes the new GT500 will boost interest in its bread-and-butter Mustang and stave off competition from the Dodge Challenger and upcoming ’10 Chevrolet Camaro.

“Building on what we learned to create the Shelby GT500KR, this new car offers a great combination of power, handling and braking,” says Shelby. “It is truly a special car that is a great deal of fun to drive.”

The high-performance derivative will be produced alongside the standard Mustang and Mazda6 at the AutoAlliance International Inc. plant in Flat Rock, MI, a joint venture between Mazda Motor Corp. and Ford.

Pricing for the ’10 Shelby GT500 will be announced closer to its arrival in dealerships this spring, Ford says.

bpope@wardsauto.com