I remember a time when the only type of attention I paid to Ford Mustangs was when they peeled out and crashed from cars and coffee. But then I drove one, which was very good. Then I drove another, which was better. After that, I drove yet another, which was excellent. And then I got to drive the most track-focused Mustang of all, the Shelby GT350R. And it ruled so goddamn hard.
No, this isn’t an official Jalopnik Review. This was a casual Saturday of me going to check out my friend’s newest acquisition. I didn’t even have my camera with me, so I apologize for using press photos. You all know what the car looks like anyway. For the sake of authenticity, my friend’s car is a very, very, very light gray, almost white color with black stripes and red accents.
But because the car is so awesome, I’m going to tell you about it.
I’d driven the regular (if you could call such a thing “regular”) GT350 before and I loved it. I loved the engine, I loved the transmission. The GT350R is supposed to be that, but more. No power upgrade, but louder and with carbon fiber wheels. No rear seats.
The first thing I noticed after climbing into the car and setting my seat (manual adjustments for the driver’s side) was how freaking loud the thing was. Of course, we had it in loud mode, but the Shelby was piss-off-your-neighbors noisy, even at idle. Maybe that’s because the R has its exhaust resonators removed, but it grumbled noisily while stationary. And it was a thunderclap hell-demon of fury when it got moving, especially in the upper rev-range.
It was close to 100 degrees on Saturday, but no way were those windows staying up.
The clutch felt surprisingly light. I was actually pretty shocked when I first pressed it in all the way. Is this for faster shifting on the track? Perhaps, and it indeed did make quick-shifting in town easier. Add that with the snappy, short-throw transmission and you’ve got a recipe for tactile perfection.
Third gear is your best friend if you ever have the incredible fortune to drive one of these cars. Third gear is the power gear. Third gear feels like it has a redline somewhere up in the clouds. First and second are joys in their own rights because the GT350R is geared incredibly tall, but third will always be your happy place. It was mine.
Even doing perfectly normal things, such as driving the speed limit through town or merging onto a busy, two lane road, had the Shelby always feeling like it was ON! ON! ON! The exhaust was always bellowing, the power was always so, so present and the engine perpetually awake and ready for action. I’ve been behind the wheel of other naturally aspirated V8s, but this is the only one that feels truly turned up to 10. It made driving through New Jersey, which is largely very mundane, an event in itself.
The ride quality wasn’t as rough as I thought it was going to be. You won’t forget you’re in a track-tuned machine, obviously, but you get used to it pretty quickly. Even the tramlining, surprisingly aggressive, is controllable. You just need to be paying attention. Visibility through the back window isn’t great because the wing is so huge, but why would you be looking back there in the first place?
Once we got back to my friend’s house, there were rocks and pebbles stuck all over the sticky Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s. I went around back and looked in the tailpipes. More rocks and pebbles were in the exhaust tips themselves, which had small holes drilled into the bottoms for rock drainage. My friend tapped the plastic piece beneath the back bumper lightly with his foot. It rattled noisily because it, too, was full of rocks and pebbles that had been kicked up by the tires.
The car is silly. There’s no doubt about that. But it’s also everything I’d want in an American muscle car. It’s loud, obnoxious, brash, uncouth and completely vulgar at times. You get waved at by every oncoming Mustang driver. You’re the popular kid in the club. You just can’t help but laugh at the audacity of thing.
My friend picked up the car used after buying a one-way flight down to Florida and hoping for the best. He didn’t tell me how much he paid for it, but it came with only about 3,000 miles on it. It apparently burns oil like a motherfucker, though.
We were out for about 40 minutes. I took 20 and he took the other 20. By the time we were back, we had used up half a tank of gas. That’s something Shelby owners just have to get used to, I guess. Worth it, because it’s a car that turns gas into noise and smiles.