When I get to test cars each October at Willow Springs International Raceway during the Motor Press Guild’s Track Days event, I have procedure I follow when taking out cars I have never driven.
As I exit the hot pits, I’ll roll on the gas to about two-third or three-quarters to see what kind of response I get so I can get an idea of how a car puts down its power. It always fun and enlightening in sports cars and hot hatches. In muscle cars, such as Ford’s GT 350R, it’s all that and more.
As I exited the pits, I stabbed the gas pedal and all 526 horsepower sprang to life. I wound it up through first and second gears, entered the track and eyed the apex of Turn 1. Rolling past the apex, I matted the throttle and reveled in the glorious soundtrack of the flat-plane V8. Thinking it was time to upshift, I glanced down at the tachometer, which hovered around 5,000 or 6,000 rpm, and I noticed the redline was 8,200 rpm! Even though the car was still making great power, I short-shifted it at 7,000 rpm.
Let that sink in for a moment. I short-shifted a 5.2-liter V8 — at 7,000 rpm.
For comparison, the AP2 Honda S2000’s redline is 8,000 rpm. What’s even better is that the GT 350R is making twice the power and emitting a raucous wail you never dreamed could come from an American car. It doesn’t have Vtec like the S2000, but the additional bank of four cylinders will make you forget all about Vtec. This car is glorious, a primal scream of American-ness that GM and Chrysler can only wish they had built. Good God, what a machine! And I hadn’t yet even completed one lap!
“The Shelby GT350R Mustang is a no-compromise car in the pursuit of maximum track capability,” said Raj Nair, Ford group vice president, Global Product Development. “It is a thoroughbred street car making use of technology and ingenuity to deliver performance few enthusiasts have ever experienced.”
I hope people will race these cars, and I’m sure they will, but I know there are collectors out there that will buy them and use them sparingly, counting on their values rising over the years. We need both these buyers to do this car justice. It’s a future classic in every sense of the word, and I’ll venture to guess it will be highly sought.
Ford engineers strived toward weight reduction. At 3,655 pounds, it’s no featherweight, but it is better than the 3,800 pounds of the standard Mustang GT. According to Ford, if a part did not make the car faster around road course, it was considered for deletion. Removed items include air conditioning, the stereo system, trunk trim pieces, backup camera, emergency tire sealer and inflator. Ford also removed resonators in the exhaust system, which saves weight and helps create that roar from the tailpipes. You can get A/C, navigation, an audio system and turn-signal mirrors in the electronics package, but I think the value will lie in the stripped model.
The GT 350R also includes lightweight carbon-fiber wheels, which makes Ford the first major automaker to introduce this technology. No, they are not hand-laminated, but rather a molded composite blend of resin and carbon fiber. Measuring 19 x 11 inches at the front and 19 x 11.5 inches in the rear, the wheels weigh roughly 18 pounds each, a 16-pound weight savings at each corner compared with an aluminum wheel.
Ford also improved the aerodynamics over that of a garden-variety Mustang. For example, the GT 350R features a hood vent for heat extraction and reduced lift. It also uses underbody belly pans, a rear diffuser and vented wheel wells. The wheel air curtains and side skirts also reduce turbulence. Front to back, the splitter works with the carbon-fiber rear wing to move the center of pressure rearward while improving lift balance and downforce.
“Shelby GT350R’s highly efficient aerodynamics, innovative light-weighting and world-class chassis deliver a truly spectacular driving experience that makes you feel like a professional racing driver,” said Kerry Baldori, Ford Performance chief functional engineer.
That seems a bit hyperbolic, given how rare good drivers are as a percentage of the population, but to be fair, this car is huge fun to drive and extraordinarily competent on a racetrack. It’s sway bars are thicker than those of a GT350, it sits lower and it uses R-exclusive MagneRide dampers. It’s suspension is compliant yet firm enough to get the job done on track. Sure, it could benefit from race coil-overs at the corners, and a set of slicks on spare wheels — though the carbon fiber wheels aren’t listed on Ford Performance website —but this car lives up to the hyperbole. All of it.
As pointed out earlier, the GT 350R comes with a hood with an air extractor to pull heat and minimize lift, but Ford also did something with it that might go unnoticed, yet is important nonetheless. In addition to its function, the hood also is shorter than last year’s Mustang GT, which doesn’t sound like much, but really improves how it feels to sit in the driver’s seat. It gives a more commanding view and gives the car a more diminutive feel. The car feels more tossable, believe it or not.
In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve never owned a Mustang or played with Fords. Sure, there have been a few that have piqued my interest over the years, but this car inspires full-on, unbridled coveting. I want this car with every ounce of my soul, and I only spent 10 minutes in it. If you test-drive one, be prepared to feel the same way.
|5.2-liter flat-pane V8|
|526 @ 7,500 rpm|
|429 @ 4,750 rpm|
|Double-ball joint, McPherson strut|
|Integral link independent with coil springs|
|Tremec TR-3160 six-speed manual|
Rear axle ratio:
|3.73:1 limited slip|