The Ford Mustang Shelby GT350 is a track-trampling showcase of American muscle
Alex is a New York based automotive writer and content producer. He drives a '08 Mustang GT/CS when not driving everything else.
The term “American muscle” didn’t just pop out of thin air. It springs from the country’s well established legacy of developing powerful vehicles. It’s also no coincidence that the name Mustang has been a part of that heritage for generations, given that the horse’s reputation is one of being strong, capable, and reliable, while still having something of a wild streak.
Over the years, the Ford Mustang has truly lived up to its name, remaining a wild animal at its core, but proving to be a stalwart companion when treated with care and respect. This is most evident when you see that in the wrong hands, the Mustang has garnered a reputation as the bane of every “Cars and Coffee” meet-up, while also establishing a substantial performance legacy by those who have cautiously embraced the car’s eccentricities.
This rings true even in the current generation of Mustangs, one that features the most sophisticated engineering the nameplate has ever seen. The finest example of which is the Shelby GT350, a barely domesticated Mustang that reveals its true majesty when unleashed.
The GT350 sits at the top of the current Mustang lineup, just beneath the GT350R – the same car but another degree removed from civility by being lighter, lacking rear seats, and having its suspension adjusted further for performance. As such, the “standard” GT350 still packs everything offered on the R, but with just enough of the rough edges smoothed out to make it suitable for non-track use.
Under the hood is Ford’s 5.2-liter flat plane crank V8 that churns up 526 horsepower and 429 pound-feet of torque. The only gearbox available is a 6-speed manual. Rudimentary as it may seem, it all sits on a sophisticated damping system that adjusts itself 1,000 times per second to deliver the best handling possible, which I planned to put to the test with some scheduled track time.
Starting up the GT350 means alerting everyone within a two-block radius of your business. The V8 barks awake, and even with the exhaust valve’s default “quiet” setting, it’s still muffled shouting. It’s a sound that heralds wheel-shredding burnouts, high-speed straightaway screamers, and apex-clipping corner exits… But before all that, you have to take it out of town.
In the meantime, the Mustang GT350 is about as graceful as an actual horse would be in urban and suburban environments. Parking and maneuvering through towns takes that extra bit of care and attention to avoid dings, scrapes, and the pedestrians who have stopped to gawk at the rumbling monster rolling across their path.
On the highway, the temptation to thrust the GT350 into light speed towards the horizon is almost unbearable, as are the body-gripping sport seats, but for different reasons. Even in its most subdued configuration, the GT350’s ride is still very far on the stiff side. After all, your comfort is secondary to dynamic performance as far as this Shelby is concerned. I couldn’t help but think that this would get old very quickly if the Shelby was a daily driver and there wasn’t a race track waiting for me at the end of every journey.
Mustang sallies forth
Monticello Motor Club’s twisty 4.1-mile track in upstate New York would be my testing ground, and here the GT350 was in its element. In practically no time, I was able to find my comfort zone with the Mustang, allowing me to use most of my time at the track for pushing faster and harder.
Let’s be clear on one thing, though: the GT350 isn’t engineered to cover your mistakes. All the grip and handling it delivers feels very natural, not the result of a myriad computer calculations keeping the car pointed in the right direction. Enter a corner too early or push out of one too sharply, and you’ll pay the price, be it a loss of speed or something far worse.
It will, however, reward good driving with amazing stability and effortless straight-line dashes. Every behavior is well communicated and predictable, but the beast within was always present underneath, and I could imagine how a driver could put themselves in real danger if they failed to treat the GT350 with a degree of finesse.
With a starting price at $59,140, the GT350 is in a good place for those looking for a weekend racer that can punch above its weight in the right hands. There are a few optional extras, but nothing that makes the bottom line skyrocket. Whatever money saved will be better used for all the fuel the GT350 begs for, as it is a thirsty horse both on and off the track. Beyond that, the GT350 is a stellar, long-term companion that suffers no fools but will give you excellent performance if you know how to treat it.