HE MANDATE went something like this: “starting with the Coyote engine, make a naturally-aspirated V8 that produces at least 373 kilowatts and revs to 8000rpm.
Then figure out how to make a Mustang lap the Nordschleife like a Porsche 911 GT3. Leave off anything that doesn’t make the car quicker around a road course and come up with a better idea. Nothing is out of the question”. It took three years, but those orders were met or exceeded and the result is the game-changing 2016 Ford Shelby GT350R Mustang. Ford Performance is pretty chuffed about this car and it has every right to be. This is a real sports car. Unfortunately, you guys Down Under won't be getting the GT350R (officially), so sorry to make you jealous. But it's also a limited edition model T in the US, so not many of us will get to own one either, The GT350R packs a new 5.2-litre powerplant, aptly dubbed Voodoo, and it's the first production flatplane crank V8 Ford has built, with connecting rods at 180-degree intervals rather than the customary 90 to allow it to breathe and rev more.
The Voodoo V8 is also the highest-output naturallyaspirated engine Ford has ever built, with 392kW and 582Nm. Ferrari builds smaller flat-plane V8s but uses a different firing order that makes them shriek rather than rumble. Voodoo has some shriek too, but there’s still a lumpiness to the glorious noise it makes.
When the baffles open wide for that distinctive eightpart staccato chorus, it takes your breath away. And because it revs to 8250rpm, the aria seems to go on without end. What’s more, it’s buttery smooth from idle to redline.
From a low speed start, power builds steadily until about 3000 rpm where the voodoo kicks in and things get really interesting and there's still more than 5000 revs left on the tacho. Unofficially, the 1656kg GT350R should reach 100km/h in 3.8 seconds – in second gear, which takes it to 120km/h – and cross the quarter mile mark in about 12 seconds at 193km/h.
And as any good Mustang should, it will do ludicrous burnouts, especially with the line-lock engaged. It's also got launch control but we didn't get to try the drag strip settings. The latter softens the rear suspension for an optimal rear-biased launch stance then snugs everything down for both upshifts.
Launch control won't be available on Aussie Mustang GTs but you do get the Performance Pack standard and that includes four driver modes: Normal, Sport, Snow/Wet and Track, which is the nearest to the US drag pack. Accelerometers in the Track App monitor and log acceleration and braking forces (up to 100km/h) and you can select three modes of steering feedback. But back to the GT's big brother.
The GT350R is billed as the “most race-ready, roadlegal Mustang ever,” so our expectations of it being driveable anywhere other than a smooth racetrack were about as high as its low-profile tires. But the drive from Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca to Big Sur on the California coast was a revelation.
This is a real-world car. The clutch is as light and linear as a Honda four-pot’s, its newly-modified Tremec TR-3160 shifter could be right out of a new MX-5, and the engine is a velvety sweetheart. Power is sent to a Ford-fettled Torsen LSD with a 3.73:1 ratio, which has been tuned for cornering grip and straightline traction. It’s a smooth drivetrain and at one point I covered the tacho and asked my passenger to guess the revs. He said 3000. The Voodoo was spinning at 5000rpm in second. But what about torque? While making a hasty three-point turn, I snatched third gear instead of first and from a dead stop the car just pulled away effortlessly. That's torque.
The Shelby comes standard with third-gen magnetorheological dampers that can react in seven milliseconds so cringe-inducing potholes or hotmix transitions that would normally upset or even damage a track-bred car's suspension were a non-event.
Carbonfibre wheels – the first on a mass-produced car and designed and fabricated Down Under by Geelong company Carbon Revolution – also play a large part in making the GT350R ride remarkably well. Each composite rim eliminates almost 7kg of unsprung weight and reduces rotational inertia by 40 percent to allow the suspension to work better.
The steering is just a little reluctant or sticky on-centre but once the meaty Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres (same as on a 911 GT3 and Ferrari 458 Speciale) are loaded and turning, the feel comes back to a linear, predictable weight with the precision now common of electrically-assisted steering. There’s also an occasional tendency for tyre nibble on road irregularities but it’s hardly the stuff of race cars.
With such a broad rev range and so much low down torque, some drivers on the drive program
restricted themselves to a top speed of 160-odd kays by leaving the car in third gear for the entire track.
Those comfortable with more speed used fourth (good for 217km/h) on the front straight and the run up the hill before braking for the famous downhill Corkscrew, and this is where you appreciate the twopiece 390mm rotors with six-piston Brembo calipers (380mm/four-piston rears) which never showed signs of fade under pressure.
Standard oil, transmission, and differential coolers keep the heat down and a new aero kit comprises a revised front splitter, more aggressive diffuser, side skirts and lift- (bonnet) and turbulence-reducing (quarter panel) vents and ducts. A new carbonfibre rear wing improves downforce and reduces lift and the whole package is said to produce twice the downforce of a Porsche 911 GT3.
At Laguna Seca, corners could be taken 25km/h faster in a GT350R than in the base GT350 fitted with the Track Package, which we also drove, and that's mostly down to the GT350R’s improved aero and the low weight of those wonder wheels.
But you can’t simply put the trick carbon rims on a base Mustang and expect it to perform as well as the GT350R. Besides different suspension tuning, ABS and electronic stability control are tailored for the lighter wheels and grippier tires.
In total, Ford found almost 60kg in weight savings by removing the air-conditioning, stereo, rear seats, reversing camera, exhaust resonators and boot floor and carpet, and that translates into a more nimble and eager performer everywhere. Owners who like creature comforts as well as racetrack performance can option the Electronics Package which includes dual-zone air-con, eight-inch touchscreen with satnav and a seven-speaker sound system.
The Shelby GT350R's combination of power, torque, aerodynamics, suspension tune and weight reduction make it a dexterous, capable, and precise track car and an uncommonly good road car.
Sure, the “make it faster or leave it off” mandate might discourage some, but it has led to the creation of what just might be the best American sports coupe we’ve ever driven. It really is that good. M
Imagine the sound of a Ferrari V8 at redline.
Now, drop it by an octave and you get the exhaust choir of the GT350R thanks to its flat-plane crank, which has conrods set at 180 degrees instead of 90. This Shelby has the bark and the bite.
Apart from big wings and deep splitters, most aerodynamic aids are subtle. Like the GT350R's bonnet vent, which not only extracts engine heat but also reduces lift, helping to keep the nose pinned to the tarmac at speed.
The GT350R has reportedly lapped the ’Ring in 7:32.19, 5sec quicker than a Z28 Camaro! Much of this can be put down to Ford's new computer-controlled MagneRide dampers and re-engineered suspension parts.
The one thing better than going fast is stopping faster. The GT350R gets the most powerful anchors ever on a production Stang.
Huge 394/380mm iron – not carbon – rotors are clamped by six- and four-piston Brembo calipers.
Ford Oz may not be importing the GT350R, but the Yanks are bolting Aussie tech on to it.
Carbon Revolution's ultra-light composite 19-inch rims are a vital cog in the Mustang's weight loss and handling program.