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.