One of the biggest criticisms in today’s auto industry is manufacturer naming conventions for their vehicles. A caveat of many car reviews is some comment or rant about the name of a model, especially if that name is a throwback to a previous model. In so many words, the question is: does the car lives up to the name it has been given? In the case of the Shelby GT350R, the answer is an astounding “yes.”
The original 1965 GT350 left behind a pretty big pair of shoes to fill for any other Mustang that resurrected that nameplate. Labeling a Mustang with the “GT350” badge requires more than just throwing on a few cosmetic parts, a supercharger, upping the MSRP and calling it a day. The GT350 name is a legacy with an incredibly rich and proud history, based in performance and championships; to place that name on a Mustang requires passion from those involved in its genesis and ultimately a Mustang worthy of its title.
Luckily enough for modern day Mustang enthusiasts, the day has come for the return of the GT350. With the global launch of the S550 platform, Ford seized the opportunity to recreate a legend that shatters the common perception of the American muscle car as well as truly embodies the spirit of the Mustang.
Beginning with the Boss
The commonly held public perception of the Mustang used to be that it was just a drag car, something to run in a straight line. That perception was thrown out the window with the Boss 302. Paul Breary of Ford Performance commented that, “When the Boss came out, the conversation changed. This [Boss Mustang] is not a straight-line car, we mean business. The Boss set expectations.”
The resurrection of the Boss 302 program can be seen as a contributing catalyst in Ford’s latest approach to the Mustang, specifically in regards to the handling. The automotive enthusiast community of Ford and non-Ford fans alike, rejoiced and relished in the prowess of the Boss Mustang and what it offered to handling-focused racers.
In the development of the S550 platform, several Ford Engineers stated that the Boss Mustang was the bench mark for the 2015 Mustang; the goal was to achieve a faster track time than the outgoing Boss model with a 2015 GT Performance Package and it was accomplished. While the Boss 302 was and is an incredible track performer, the new GT350 actually shares much more in common with the S550 GT Performance Pack.
Influenced By Enthusiasts
Ford has always stood out from the competition for the mere fact of how much they value enthusiast’s feedback and input on their vehicles, and the GT350 is no different. “The GT350 took a good bit of time to develop. There was a lot that went into the process, from concept to testing and pre-production,” Breary commented. “We started with the program approval, which ultimately came down to the question of ‘can you make that car [GT350] credibly; are you going to do it justice?’ You don’t want to ruin a name.” Given the track record of the vehicles put into production by Ford Performance/SVT/SVO over the past two decades and the vehicles they have in the works, it is quite apparent how seriously they take that question.
With a legacy and history as legendary and revered as the GT350’s, how do you do a car like that justice in the 21st century? You take the passion from the enthusiasts and ingrain it within the DNA of the car itself. “We are enthusiasts. We work on them, we race them, we’re driven by our passion for these cars,” said Breary. “We made a lot of adjustments to the GT350 based on the feedback from enthusiasts on forums who had already driven the S550.” Through the passion of the engineers and their attentiveness to what Ford fans want, they have given way to the rebirth of a legend.
Putting Together the Perfect Package – The Engine
One of the most important aspects of any Mustang is its distinctive exhaust note, and the GT350 has arguably the most distinctive of them all. With the electric baffles open, the naturally aspirated 5.2L flat-plane crankshaft (FPC) engine screams all the way up to its 8,200 RPM redline in the blink of an eye, with a crackle and pop that could bring the dead back to life.
The GT350’s 5.2L FPC “Voodoo” engine is based off of the 5.0L coyote, but it is much more than a bored out engine. With the focus of the GT350 being racing, Ford engineers opted for a flat-plane crankshaft instead of the common cross-plane crank due to the low rotational mass of the FPC as well as the improved exhaust scavenging, which is thanks to the firing order. With the 5.2L FPC layout that gives it an 8,200 RPM redline, the GT350 throws down a staggering 526 HP and 429 TQ.
The Suspension and Drivetrain
The Shelby GT350 is much more than just its incredible engine—it is the total package from power to handling. “The GT350 is a showcase for system thinking and how it all works together,” said Breary. The GT350 is equipped with Magneride suspension, large brakes, a light weight Tremec Transmission, and an assortment of carbon fiber parts. The GT350R takes things a step further with even more reduced weight and a set of carbon fiber wheels—a first on a factory production car.
“You take the base car and you tune, tune, tune until it’s dialed in,” said Breary. “The car feels together—it is wonderfully balanced. You have to understand the vehicle and the balance that it projects.” All of the components and small details of the GT350, even the most minute of them, factor into being the most track capable car you can buy today for less than $50,000.
From 1965 to 2015 – Reclaiming the Crown
As 2014 was the 50th anniversary of the Mustang, 2015 is the 50th anniversary of the GT350, and the year the GT350 returned to the race track. The order banks for the 2015 GT350 have already opened up, but it will be tough to get one at first as only 100 GT350s will be produced and 37 GT350Rs—a nod to the 1965 production numbers.
There is no other car on the market currently (aside from the Mustang itself) that lives up to the name and the legacy of its predecessors like the GT350, a true accomplishment in today’s automotive industry. The GT350 has returned and it has come back with a vengeance, ready to take on anything the competition can throw at it.