Ford Mus­tang Shelby GT350R

A Wor­thy Suc­ces­sor to the Track-Bred Leg­end


Let’s be blunt: Call­ing a mod­ern Mus­tang— any mod­ern Mus­tang—a “Shelby GT350” takes some balls. In cre­at­ing the orig­i­nal in 1965, Car­roll Shelby was in­stru­men­tal in es­tab­lish­ing Mus­tang’s cred­i­bil­ity as a per­for­mance car. I would ar­gue that his trans­for­ma­tion of Ford’s re­skinned Falcon boule­vardier into a le­git­i­mate sports car was the most im­por­tant fac­tor in set­ting the tone for not just the Mus­tang but the en­tire pony-car genre.

But as in­flu­en­tial as the GT350 was in terms of mar­ket­ing, that’s not why he built them.

His true mo­tive is epit­o­mized by the 36 (34 pro­duc­tion, two pro­to­type) cars that car­ried the “R” des­ig­na­tion. Those bare-bones rac­ing models were built specif­i­cally to wrest the SCCA B Pro­duc­tion Na­tional Cham­pi­onship away from Chevro­let’s Corvette, which had won it ev­ery year from 1957 to 1964. The GT350R did so hand­ily—and it added the ’66 and ’67 cham­pi­onships too, just for good mea­sure. That a sedan (which the Mus­tang tech­ni­cally was) bested “Amer­ica’s Sports Car” must have been es­pe­cially galling to Chevy, but Shelby knew what he was do­ing. 289-pow­ered Co­bras had won the A Pro­duc­tion class in 1963–64. He used that same “Co­brafied” 289 en­gine in the GT350, but the real se­cret was the sus­pen­sion tun­ing and a strict weight-loss reg­i­men that had R models tip­ping the scales at just 2,550 pounds—roughly 200 less than a stan­dard GT350 and a whop­ping 500 less than a stock ’65 Mus­tang fast­back.

Those are some big (if light­weight) shoes to fill. Par­tic­u­larly since Ford had taken con­sid­er­able grief for sul­ly­ing the “GT500” name with a series of over­weight, over­pow­ered brutes with lit­tle to rec­om­mend them be­yond a prodi­gious tal­ent for turn­ing gaso­line into noise and tire smoke. Then there was the GT350 put out by Shelby Amer­i­can (Car­roll’s orig­i­nal com­pany) in 2011–12. If you didn’t no­tice, don’t feel bad—al­most no one else did ei­ther since Ford com­pletely over­shad­owed it by re­viv­ing the Boss 302 about 10 sec­onds later. What then was Ford think­ing when it an­nounced it was res­ur­rect­ing yet an­other leg­endary name­plate for 2016? As it turns out, it was think­ing that it was fi­nally time to do it right!

Let’s be clear. With the GT350, Ford didn’t just set out to build a faster, bet­ter-han­dling Mus­tang. In­stead, like Shelby him­self did back in 1965, Ford sought to el­e­vate the Mus­tang into a whole dif­fer­ent class—and then take the rest of that class to school! Orig­i­nal GT350s were some­what roughly slapped to­gether in Shelby’s bustling Venice, Cal­i­for­nia, shop that was si­mul­ta­ne­ously full of par­tially as­sem­bled Co­bras, Day­tona coupes, and the GT40s Shelby was de­vel­op­ing for Ford’s as­sault on Le Mans. Not so the new one. Ford minded ev­ery minute de­tail down to wind­ing the left and right coil springs in op­po­site direc­tions to avoid even minis­cule dif­fer­ences in con­sis­tency. The sus­pen­sion fea­tures mag­ne­torhe­o­log­i­cal fluid dampers that ad­just damp­ing force ev­ery seven mil­lisec­onds. Imag­ine ex­plain­ing those to Car­roll! But boy, do they work. The new R laps a race track faster than a Corvette St­ingray or a Nis­san GT-R Track Edi­tion, and it ties a quar­ter-mil­lion­dol­lar Lam­borgh­ini Gal­lardo Su­per­leg­gera!

The new GT350 has a mean-look­ing vis­age, which AUTOart ex­pertly cap­tures, but it’s not merely for aes­thet­ics. Par­tic­u­larly with the R, the up­per and lower grille open­ings (three of each, sep­a­rated by an­gled black air de­fec­tors) have spe­cific pur­poses. The cen­ter sec­tions of each are for pri­mary cool­ing, while the side open­ings feed the brake ducts as well as oil cool­ers for the en­gine and trans­mis­sion. You can see the shapes of the ex­tra cool­ers be­hind the grille screens on the model. The more prom­i­nent front split­ter is also R-spe­cific, and AUTOart gets its con­tours cor­rect as well. The only slight in­ac­cu­racy is the color of the marker lights: the model omits the am­ber color on the in­board half of the lenses. The rear valance is equally sat­is­fy­ing, with a well-rendered lower dif­fuser, big-bore ex­haust tips, and a faith­ful ren­di­tion of the R-spe­cific rear wing. In pro­file, there are a lot of sub­tle char­ac­ter

lines and fea­tures well repli­cated, from the lit­tle winglets on the ground-ef­fects pack­age to the vent be­hind the front wheels that helps dis­si­pate air pres­sure from within the wheel wells.

The Oxford White fin­ish looks good, but as with many scale models, the shade on the pair of Light­ning Blue stripes down the cen­ter seems a tad dark un­less the car is in­tensely well lit.

The doors open and close smoothly on in­vis­i­ble hinges, and in­side, we see sharply molded edges and tex­tured sur­faces through­out. The seats de­serve spe­cial at­ten­tion: The R gets its own spe­cial rac­ing seats with slots for shoul­der har­nesses just be­low the head­rests, em­bla­zoned with red-stitched “R” lo­gos—all present. One item that’s not in­cluded is the metal­lic shift pat­tern medal­lion on top of the gear lever. The sup­ple­men­tal gauges in the top of the cen­ter stack between the vents look va­cant too, but those might be op­tional, so I won’t knock the model for omit­ting them. Ev­ery­thing else—the Shelby steer­ing wheel, metal trim around the gauges, seat belts, a drilled alu­minum pedal set, the re­moval of the rear seat, even the spe­cial R em­blem on the dash pad and the door-sill plac­ard—is spot-on.

Lift the hood on its scale hinges (which feel nice and tight, al­though AUTOart does pro­vide a wire prop rod if needed) to see the magic wo­ven by Ford’s pow­er­train engi­neers. It’s lit­er­ally “Voodoo”—that’s the nick­name given to the 5.2L V-8 that that is ex­clu­sive to the GT350. Not even the ’65 R got unique en­gine unto it­self! And the Voodoo is some­thing spe­cial, start­ing with the flat-plane crankshaft (like Fer­rari uses), which gives the V-8 a sin­is­ter howl and a soar­ing 8,250rpm red­line. Spe­cial in­take, heads, and ex­haust of­fer up

enough breath­ing im­prove­ments to yield 526 ponies. It’s a pretty en­gine too, as mod­ern en­gines go. AUTOart does a nice job with the open-top air box and high­flow con­i­cal fil­ter in the left front. You can trace the in­take tube to a nicely rendered alu­minum throt­tle body on the front of the com­pos­ite in­take man­i­fold. The fluid reser­voirs look con­vinc­ing, and the blade-style shock-tower brace is a nice touch. Sadly, the fun ends just be­low the cylin­der heads; the lower half of the en­gine ter­mi­nates into the body cast­ing, so there is no at­tempt at the four-into-one head­ers that give the Voodoo its voice.

We get some re­demp­tion for the ex­haust on the chas­sis side. An aero­dy­namic un­der­tray cov­ers the rest of the en­gine, but there’s a fair swing at trans­mis­sion de­tail, along with the rest of the ex­haust sys­tem and even some sat­is­fy­ing rear sus­pen­sion. The GT350R’s brakes are ex­otic stuff—pin­mounted float­ing ro­tors that (at 15.5 inches) are larger in di­am­e­ter than the en­tire wheel on the ’65 model. You can see the drilled and cham­fered discs through the gaps in the wheels, along with the Brembo calipers. And speak­ing of ex­otic stuff—those wheels! The R’s rims are made out of car­bon fiber—to­gether with the Ford GT, they are the first such pro­duc­tion cars to get such a thing. Each one is 13 pounds lighter than the stan­dard GT350’s alu­minum wheel, to­gether ac­count­ing for more than half of the R’s 90-pound weight sav­ings. The model’s are painted the ap­pro­pri­ate semigloss black, and they are beau­ties. They’re even mounted with a no­tice­able amount of neg­a­tive cam­ber, just as a proper track car’s would be.

The R-spe­cific rac­ing seats are ac­cu­rately molded with their shoul­der har­ness slots; even the red “R” lo­gos on the head­rests are present. Other items like the metal trim around the gauges and the drilled pedal set are thought­fully rendered as well.

Al­though the white color masks them some­what, there are a lot of sub­tle char­ac­ter lines molded in to the AUTOart GT350R’s flanks.

One of the things that dis­tin­guishes the R is track-ori­ented aero­dy­nam­ics. The R-spe­cific front split­ter and rear wing are both ac­cu­rately de­picted, and check out the de­tail on the oil cooler be­hind the grille on the right front cor­ner.

Shelby’s “Voodoo” V-8 is me­chan­i­cal magic. The top half of the 526hp mo­tor is nicely de­tailed—par­tic­u­larly the in­take sys­tem.

R models wear ex­otic car­bon fiber wheels and AUTOart’s ren­di­tions are sim­ply bril­liant, as is the de­tail on the gi­ant float­ing-ro­tor Brembo disc brakes.

AUTOart gives us re­ally nice chas­sis de­tail on the trans­mis­sion, ex­haust, and rear sus­pen­sion.

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