Photo credit: Derek Mau
I couldn’t help myself. Within 5 minutes of grabbing the keys to our Ford Mustang Shelby GT350 test car, I was grinning like an idiot and giggling like a schoolgirl. And I hadn’t even fired up the engine.
Part of my immaturity I blame on Ford, which provided a red test car with white racing stripes right down the middle. The GT350 is hardly inconspicuous in any color, but this was definitely as close to a teenage boy’s dream car as I’ve driven in at least a few years. Much of the giggling probably had to do with nervous thoughts about how I was going to retain my license.
What makes the GT350 truly grin-worthy is that it doesn’t just look good on a poster, but it drives like an honest to goodness sports car. Riding on huge Michelin Pilot Super Sports that are suspended from trick magnetorheological dampers, this is one pony car that actually knows how to dance.
And then there’s the engine. Just firing up the Voodoo V8 is enough to generate goose bumps. A 5.2-liter motor with a flat-plane crank and an 8,250 rpm redline. 526 horsepower and not a turbo to be found. Hallelujah, this is what muscle cars are all about! The sound is intoxicating, and trying to find the lofty redline on public roads is downright dangerous. Redline second gear and you’ll break the speed limit. On the freeway.
Upping the performance credentials, even more, is the fact that you have to row your own gears, as the GT350 is only available with a manual transmission. The Tremec 6-speed manual is firm and just a bit notchy, but with a surprisingly supple clutch that perfectly compliments the character of the engine.
Launching the car can be tricky, as not enough revs will cause the engine to bog, while too much gas just lights up the rear tires. Get it just right and you should be able to hit 60 mph in around 4 seconds. Although not the quickest car in a sprint, wringing the engine out through first and second gear is far more thrilling than just mashing the throttle and listening to a bunch of turbo whine.
There’s also a launch control function to take out some of the guesswork, but racing the GT350 from one traffic light to the next really misses the point of the car. Rumor has it that Ford benchmarked a Porsche GT3 when developing the GT350, and after a few days driving the car, I don’t doubt this claim at all, even given the huge cost differential between the two.
In the firmer Sport setting the suspension keeps the car nicely glued to the road and helps hide the fact that the GT350 still weighs close to 4000 pounds. The handling limits are high enough to discourage exploring them on anything other than a track, which sadly I did not get to experience.
I did spend an afternoon exploring some of the backroads in the nearby Santa Cruz Mountains, which was quite the treat. Although probably not the best tool for the job, as these roads are narrow, twisty, and don’t really allow for higher speeds, railing the car from corner to corner while listening to the remarkable wail of the engine was simply exhilarating.
With a base price of well under $60k, I honestly can’t think of a better performance car for the money. For 2017 the formerly optional magnetic shocks and other track ready hardware now come standard on the GT350 – which sweetens the pot even more. Sure, there’s always the Corvette that is also quite brilliant, but the 6.2-liter small block just isn’t very special, especially compared to the glorious Voodoo under the hood of the Shelby.
Anyone looking for even more capable track toy can pony up an additional $7k for the GT350R, which adds some aero bits to the front and back of the car, as well as a set of seriously trick carbon fiber wheels shod with even stickier Michelin Sport Cup 2 tires. A truly track ready car with an absolutely glorious engine, and for $80k less than a GT3.
The only thing that makes me sad about writing these words is that the GT350 is bound to be one of the last of its kind. Affordable sports cars that offer both exceptional performance and a real sense of character appear to be a dying breed, replaced by even faster speed machines with hybrid powertrains and other technology that make the skills and the pleasure of the driver seem less and less relevant. Hats off to Ford Performance for providing one more example of a car that makes driving a thrill, and car ownership a passion worth pursuing.
2017 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350 Photo Gallery
|2017 FORD MUSTANG SHELBY GT350 SPECS|
|Price as tested||$60,365|
|Engine||5.2L flat-plane crank V8|
|Power (hp)||526 @ 7,500 rpm|
|Torque (lb-ft)||429 @ 4,750 rpm|
|Drivetrain layout||Rear-wheel-drive w/Torsen limited-slip differential|
|Curb weight||3,760 lbs.|
|EPA-estimated fuel economy mpg||14 / 21 / 16 (city/hwy/combined)|
|Wheels and tires||19- x 10.5-in. aluminum alloy, Michelin Pilot Super Sport 295/35ZR19, front | 19- x 11.0- in. aluminum alloy, Michelin Pilot Super Sport 305/35ZR19, rear|
Watch again our “Run What You Brung Mile High 0-60 MPH Challenge” where we put a new Shelby GT350 to the test to see if it can run a sub-5-second quarter-mile at sea level.