The words “Shelby” and “GT” have become synonymous with performance and passion, striking a chord with just about any enthusiast. With Ford’s release of the all-new Mustang GT—which features independent rear suspension for the first time in its storied history—it was clearly time once again for the legendary tuner to brush on its magic.
This year is the 50th anniversary of the Shelby GT350, which—whether as a street car, a racecar or the famed Hertz rent-a-racer—has continued to thrill enthusiasts and collectors while also rising in value at the high-profile auctions. For 2015, Shelby has introduced a 650-bhp tuning package that not only makes the car a track monster, but also refines it as a comfortable grocery-getter.
Recently, under the close supervision of Shelby Chief Designer Vince LaViolette and Shelby factory drivers Gary Patterson and Rick Titus, I had the opportunity to sample the new Shelby GT’s performance on the short course at the beautiful Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch near Las Vegas. Also available for testing were the 750-hp Super Snake and a GT500, which gave me the opportunity to feel how powerful—and developed—these ponies-turned-snakes really are.
For the enthusiast seeking a docile daily driver that will be comfortable for your usual commute, yet deliver plenty of both “Go” and “Stop” on weekend track days—while possibly scaring the living daylights out of you—this supercharged 5-liter can be as much garter snake or cobra as you want. With a rated top speed of 190 mph and 0-60 times under four seconds, this is one serious machine. The tuning packages start at $23,000— not including the 2015 Coyote 5.0 Mustang that has a base price around $35,000. All the options on our test car would total an additional $46,000, but when you consider the all-in price tag of around $80,000 versus the performance you get, it’s a lot of bang for the buck.
The cabin is nice. As you settle in to the leather Recaro racing seats, you can adjust your driving position to be as laid back or as aggressive as you want. The short-throw shifter and the view over the carbon fiber hood immediately remind you that this is not your typical commuter car, yet the ambiance of touch-screen display, nice stereo and cup holders makes it a good car for a date too. The stereo didn’t get much of my attention as I found the most enjoyable sound to be the rumble and roar of the Shelby-tipped Ford Performance exhaust. A paddle-shifter automatic, which does not denigrate the performance, is available too.
Consider the torque alone. The short course at Spring Mountain has one medium-sized straightaway leading to a decreasing radius right turn and another flowing right-hander that allows you to generate some g-forces—despite a brief upshift to fourth and return to third that is so quick as to be almost non-essential. The power comes on strong and is immediately relayed by the 3.73 rear end and Ford Racing halfshafts to the Weld wheels and Pirelli tires that deliver it to the pavement. And thank goodness for the giant Wilwood brakes—six-piston calipers in the front and four-piston calipers at the back—that saved me from overcooking it a couple of times. The car’s crisp handling points readily to the apex, then hustles you to the next corner like an arrow shot from a bow.
My own experience with Pony Cars had been in hard-tailed versions that required more muscling around corners and catching slides off the sweet-spot. Ford’s new IRS changes this game. Without the typical driver aids found in so many sports cars today, the GT makes it easier to drive through use of great components that work seamlessly together to keep the driver from running out of talent. It can happen—and has—as the temptation of all this power, handling and sex appeal can go right to a driver’s head. Approaching a tight corner after a short blast on the throttle, I was trying to keep up with Rick Titus and came close to overcooking the entry. The brakes, however, were like an anchor dragging a piano… Phew! Having beamed with pride over saving what was a heart-stopping moment, I laid the power back down and found my instructor in the next corner, just in time for him to laugh over the radio and tell me I owed him yet another couple of dollars for missing the previous apex by several feet! –Tom Stahler