Pontiac, MI - The GT350 history was born from Ford's desire to have the Blue Oval badge shine on the track. When it arrived in 1964, the Mustang was very pretty and very popular, but not really that sporty. Ford decided to entrust a batch of them to Carroll Shelby, the man behind the Cobra; the automotive designer had slipped big Ford engines into a small British AC chassis to make that unique model.
Ford wanted to succeed on the SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) circuit and needed muscle to do it. But to be able to enter a car there, it was first necessary for the company to build a minimum of 100 models destined for the real world, the road. So off went a batch of cars built in San Jose, California, to Shelby's small workshop on the grounds of the Los Angeles airport. The cars arrived without a hood, or a rear seat or a radio, and equipped with steel wheels.
On site, Shelby's team modified the 289 engine slightly to pull 306 hp from it, the suspension was lowered, the brakes were modified for more bite and a fiberglass hood was added. Obviously, beautiful stylized wheels replaced the manufacturer's steel wheels.
All Shelby GT350s would be white with a blue stripe on the lower rocker panel; the two blue stripes on the hood and roof were optional. A total of 562 Mustang GT350s were produced in 1965 including a prototype, four pace cars, two racing R prototypes and 34 R racing cars.
As for the name GT350 name, it’s said that Carroll Shelby was looking for a name for his model and asked his foreman what was the distance between his workshop prepping street cars and the one working on race cars. The man replied, "About 350 feet." To which Shelby replied, "Then it will be a GT350!"
50 years later
Ford brought back a Shelby GT350 in 2015 to celebrate the model's 50th anniversary. In the performance tradition of the model, Ford didn’t skimp on the power and racing aspects of the model. A car born for the track with 526 horses under the hood that would have made Carroll Shelby smile.
For 2019, Ford's engineers kept the basic recipe of the 2015 edition, improving some details to make the car even more efficient on the track and more comfortable on the road.
An eye for detail
Needless to say, on a race track the differences in lap times are calculated in the tenths of seconds. To make the GT350 as fast as possible, Ford has worked with several partners to fine-tune performance.
For the tires, Michelin has designed, specifically for the GT350, new Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires with a different component for better grip, lateral acceleration and improved braking. The 295/35 front and 305/35 rear tires have been adjusted for stiffness and to optimize the new 19-inch aluminum wheels. The R version comes with 305 front and 315 rear tires.
An all-new Gurney spoiler (named after Dan Gurney) offered as an option was developed based on wind-tunnel testing for Ford Performance’s race cars and the upcoming Shelby GT500 model, and it delivers extra downforce that literally sticks the car to the ground.
The MagneRide suspension adapts to the driving style while improving comfort on the road and more efficient on the track. As well, the Brembo brakes go from four to six pistons in the front and keep four pistons in the back for greater control and response.
The electronically controlled power steering and three-mode electronic stability control settings of the Shelby GT350 feature enhancements resulting from hundreds of hours of track testing carried out by Ford Performance.
Still the same engine
All those dynamic changes aside, Ford kept the same engine under the hood. The GT350 is still powered by a 526-hp flat-crank V8 revving up to 8,250 RPM. The torque is at 429 lb-ft, and all power is sent to the rear wheels via a 6-speed Tremec manual transmission.
Ford also improved the quality of the interior finishing. There are some new sport elements such as an aluminum dashboard or an optional carbon fiber version, as well as redesigned Miko Slate Suede door trim with contrasting stitching.
The standard Recaro racing seats with firm side supports and safety harness openings provide both track support and road comfort, while the newly available power adjustable seats with Miko suede inserts provide increased comfort for those who don’t intend to go out on the track.
A new Bang & Olufsen 12-speaker audio system is optional and is controlled by using the SYNC 3 with 8-inch touchscreen. Dual-zone automatic temperature control is included standard, as is the universal garage-door opener.
On the road and on the track
A warning before going any further. If you don’t intend to join a club to take it out on a race track, the purchase of a GT350 becomes much less sensical. This car is designed and built to drive on a closed circuit, and the price tag of $76,600 reflects this reality (it’s $10,000 more for an R model). If for you the pleasure of driving a Mustang involves traveling mainly on public roads, you’re better off getting a GT, or else a spicier Bullitt version, which is the most compelling “road” version of the Mustang.
However, if the Mont-Tremblant or Mosport circuit is your playground, the GT350 will give you all sorts of exquisite chills. Our morning at the M1 circuit in Pontiac, Michigan showed the seriousness of the GT350’s on-track intentions. The few laps we did confirmed to us that the small improvements made on the car raise the bar, yet again. The engine still sings as loudly, the more-powerful brakes allow for slowing later into a curve, and the new tires and the rear spoiler allow for coming out of it a little faster - details that have great importance in racing.
On the road, you have the choice of a comfort mode that is very acceptable and a dampened muffler so as not to awaken the whole neighborhood. On an open road, however, you can open up the exhaust and put everything in sport mode. But beware, you find yourself well above 100 km/h before you know it. This machine is a hard drug and you have to consume it in moderation. If you aren’t taking advantage of a road course, which is the only place the GT350 can express itself, you will remain a frustrated driver.
An exceptional car with top-flight performance capabilities, the 2019 GT350 pushes the limits of the genre just that little bit further, and gives motorists who want to have some fun a perfect tool to exercise their driving skills on a circuit. Ford’s new 2019 GT350 is a worth reflection of the extent of the company’s racing legacy.
We like less
Direction could be more precise
A bit on the heavy side
Interior more practical than luxurious